The importance of document “styles” for teaching and learning

A writer’s style is what makes for a readership. Readers return to an author with a style that appeals to them. Defining “style” in another way, one might consult a style guide, for example, The Chicago Manual of Style, as a source used to keep writing consistent and correct.

‘Styles,’ however,  built into all commonly used word processors can not only make your writing more attractive, they can ensure that your document is web-ready, accessible, and easy to revise. Used effectively, styles can be an important teaching tool (as they make a document more available to a wide variety of readers. For example, reader ‘A’ might need to make the text larger or to increase the contrast, while reader ‘B’ prefers to listen to text read aloud by her e-book reader; reader ‘C’ might need to translate parts of the document into his native language. Styles in a document can also be reinterpreted after-the-fact to facilitate close reading, or as a way to synthesize and absorb lecture materials.

Styling the text in a document defines the structure of the finished work in ways that can help a writer to:

  • Structure a hierarchy
  • Define a thought process
  • Quickly edit a document to follow a style guide

Styles can help the reader:

  • Create meaningful study guides
  • Organize complexity
  • Adapt content to learning needs

Styling, defined in this way, is a critical part of accessible, machine-readable documents. A styled document is easy to transform into a PDF or e-book. It makes trivial the effort needed to change all of a particular style type, say, chapter headings, across the entire document with a few clicks. Certain types of stylings, such as headers, control how a screen reader will interpret the document, and are the basis of web design.

Interested in learning more about styles (using Microsoft Word as an example)?

Come to the Productive Scholar on December 10th, Audrey Welber (update: Willow Dressel — Audrey was out sick that day) of the Library will talk about using Zotero for citation and resource organization. Janet Temos of the McGraw Center will demonstrate how to use styled documents for more effective teaching and learning.

Posted by December 2, 2015