The last stage in producing your document is perfecting its layout. This is what enables your reader to see the overall quality of your text at a glance.
Table of contents
A table of contents is a display at the beginning of a report, listing the sections, parts and, possibly, paragraphs, together with their page numbers. This section enables the reader to find the page they need to consult and the information they are seeking.
It’s best to produce an automatic table of contents, rather than producing it manually. That way, if you add a paragraph or change items, the table of contents will update itself automatically.
Here's how to add an automatic table of contents in a word processing program:
Assign a style to each header (Header 1, Header 2, Header 3 etc.)
Click the ‘References’ tab;
Click ‘Table of Contents’ and choose the style; and
Finish by updating the table.
Remember to display the words “Table of Contents” at the top of the page. Also, consider using dotted lines and increasing the spacing between lines to improve legibility for the reader. Finally, you can use different sizes of font. For example, you can use size 14 to indicate a section, size 12 for a part and size 9 for paragraph etc.
By “graphic layout” we mean a guide that enables you to standardise all the graphics (text, images, layout etc.) of a document or, more generally, of an organisation. This involves maintaining consistency throughout a single document: the same font, colour of text etc.
There are two types of font:
Serif fonts, i.e. fonts that have a small extra stroke at the end of the main strokes of letters (e.g. Times New Roman).
Sans serif fonts, i.e. fonts that don't have that extra stroke (e.g. Arial, Calibri).
Reading from a screen is easier when the text is written in a sans serif font.
Avoid decorative fonts (e.g. Comic sans MS). Use of such fonts will prevent you from being taken seriously.
In general, it’s essential to standardise the font for the whole text, i.e. to choose the same font for all the text (or one font for the headers and another for the body of the text).
Give preference to dark colours, like black or dark blue. Red, green and purple should be banned from your minutes and letters, as well as from your emails.
Use bold type sparingly. Used correctly, it can enable you to stress particular keywords and useful words, helping your reader to read and, especially, to re-read your text. However, used too often, it can make your text unreadable.
A keyword is a word or concept of great significance. Using bold type thus enables faster assimilation of the ideas elaborated in the document.
A useful word is a word that is hard to memorise but which, nonetheless, is helpful for understanding (e.g. a date).
Signing an email
You can configure your mail box so that a signature appears by default, i.e. so that certain text appears automatically at the end of your emails.
Consider including the following points:
Your full name;
Your post or professional title;
The name of your company;
Your phone number(s); and
Your office address, if necessary.
To help you create an email signature, here are some examples of how it’s done:
In Outlook, go to Tools > Options > Email format > Signatures.
In Gmail, go to Settings > General > Signature.
A complete signature will give your reader all the information they need, without them having to search for it. This will improve the effectiveness of your messages without taking up your time.
You now know how to prepare, draft and complete your professional written documents. This will enable you to better demonstrate your communication skills and your mastery of the subject!