Power Tools for Technical Communication:
Creating Templates for Technical Reports


As you know from Chapter 13 of Power Tools for Technical Communication, you use templates for documents such as memos and business letters that have a common format, style, and content. Instead of having to define margins, page numbers, and other background items every time you write one of these documents, you use a template.

If you read the "style approach" section in Chapter 7, you also know that you create paragraph and character styles and store them in templates. That way, if you want your body paragraphs to use 11pt Arial with .5-in left and right margins, and 12pt bottom margins, you create a style and apply it to every such paragraph — rather than making all those individual settings to each paragraph.

Exploring Templates

Chapter 13 of Power Tools for Technical Communication provides an introduction to using and creating templates. Chapter 7 provides an introduction to using and creating style. A related web page here provide additional details on templates. If you have not seen that additional information, you might want to review it before getting started with templates for technical reports.

Creating Your Own Report Templates

To create a set of templates for a typical report, you will need several different ones to handle the different way page numbers are traditionally displayed (or not displayed) in reports. You will also need to define a number of paragraph and character "styles" to handle all of the different types of text your report will contain. We'll use Microsoft Word as the example software here, but these procedures are conceptually similar in virtually all other mainstream word-processing and desktop-publishing software.

Define page templates. It's way too much trouble trying to trick software to display or not display page numbers, display them in different ways (arabic or roman numerals), or to start over at 1 or i in the same document. Notice in Chapter 15 that no page number is displayed on the transmittal letter, the title page, the first page of the TOC, or the first page of the body of the report (the introduction). To make things easy, set up a template for front matter and body text, the first with lowercase roman numerals and the second with arabic numerals—not displayed on page i or page 1 and centered at the bottom of the page.

To create the front-matter template:

  1. Start your word-processing application.

  2. If you use Word, click File > New, in the dialog box check Template, and click OK. Name this one frontmatter_report.dot — it will handle the transmittal letter, title page, TOC, list of figures, and executive summary.

  3. Set the page margins: click File > Page Setup and set 1.5 inches for left and leave the other margins at 1.0 inches. (This is to allow binding on the right edge of the pages.)

  4. Set a page number, bottom center. Use lowercase roman numerals and 9pt Arial for the font of these page numbers. Specify that page number should not display on the first page.

  5. Save this template, making sure that it includes the .dot extension and that it saves into the Templates directory.

To create the body-text template:

  1. Start your word-processing application.

  2. If you use Word, click File > New, in the dialog box check Template, and click OK. Name this one bodytext_report.dot — it will handle the everything from the first page of the inroduction to the last page of the report (which will most likely be the information sources).

  3. Set the page margins: click File > Page Setup and set 1.5 inches for left and leave the other margins at 1.0 inches. (This is to allow binding on the right edge of the pages.)

  4. Set a page number, bottom center. Use arabic numerals and 9pt Arial for the font of these page numbers. Specify that page number should not display on the first page (which will be page 1 of the introduction).

  5. Save this template, making sure that it includes the .dot extension and that it saves into the Templates directory.

If you wanted to get fancier, you could insert ruled lines in the background of these templates, the title of the report, or other such excitement.

Define paragraph and character styles. Now, you want to define every unique text element that your report will contain. Instead, of having to aply Arial, 14-point, bold, center, 24 bottom margin to every first-level heading, you just set up the style and apply it to every such heading.

Use the following table to create your styles (you might want to change the my_ part to your initials). See the notes below this table.

Name Type Font
Size (pt)
Face Alignment
Margins
Color
Other
Top (pt)
Bottom (pt)
Left (in)
Hanging (in)
Right (in)
my_head1 Paragraph Arial
16
Bold Center
0
18
0
First-level heading;
set page break before
my_head2 Paragraph Arial
14
Bold Left
0
9
0
Second-level heading
my_head3 Character Times New Roman
12
Bold
Third-level heading;
apply to text.
my_paragraph0 Paragraph Times New Roman
12
Regular Left
0
12
0
Regular paragraph
my_paragraph1 Paragraph Times New Roman
12
Regular Left
0
12
0.5
0.45
Indented paragraph
my_bullet0 Paragraph Times New Roman
12
Regular Left
0
6
0
0.25
Bulleted list item;
set left tab 0.25
my_number0 Paragraph Times New Roman
11
Regular Left
0
6
0
0.25
Numbered list item
set left tab 0.25
my_table_title Paragraph Arial
11
Bold Center
2
4
Title is first row;
spans all columns
my_tablecol_center Paragraph Times New Roman
11
Bold Center
2
4
Center table column heading
my_tablecol_left Paragraph Times New Roman
11
Bold Left
2
4
Left-aligned table column heading
my_tablerow_ital Paragraph Times New Roman
11
Italics Left
2
4
Italicized row heading
my_tablecell_center Paragraph Times New Roman
11
Regular Center
2
4
Center table (data) cell
my_tablecell_left Paragraph Times New Roman
11
Regular Left
2
4
Left-aligned table (data) cell
my_tablecell_right Paragraph Times New Roman
12
Regular Right
2
4
Adjust
Right-aligned table (data) cell;
adjust right margin to center in cell.
my_table_footnote Paragraph Times New Roman
10
Regular Left
2
12
3
Footnote outside just below table
my_figure_title Paragraph Arial
10
Regular Center
12
12
Center figure title, below figure
my_toc0 Paragraph Times New Roman
12
Bold Left
0
6
0
Regular-text TOC item;
tabs: 5.8 (leader), 6.2 (right)
my_toc1 Paragraph Times New Roman
12
Bold Left
0
6
0.25
First-level TOC item;
tabs: 0.5 (right), 0.7 (left)
5.8 (left; leader), 6.2 (right)
my_toc2 Paragraph Times New Roman
12
Regular Left
0
3
0.7
Second-level TOC item;
tabs: 5.8 (left; leader), 6.2 (right)
my_toc3 Paragraph Times New Roman
12
Regular Left
0
0
1.0
Third-level TOC item;
tabs: 5.8 (left; leader), 6.2 (right)
my_figlist0 Paragraph Times New Roman
12
Regular Left
0
9
0.5
column heads for the list;
tabs: 5.0 (left)
my_figlist1 Paragraph Times New Roman
12
Regular Left
0
0
0.6
for individual list items;
tabs: 4.75 (left; leader), 5.2 (right)
my_page_number Paragraph Arial
10
Bold Left
Center in footer box
my_title_title Paragraph Times New Roman
14
Bold Center
Report title on cover, title pages
my_title_other Paragraph Times New Roman
12
Bold Center
Other material on cover, title pages
my_abstract Paragraph Times New Roman
12
Regular Left
0.5
0.45
At bottom of title page

Here's an idea of how the TOC will look (notice how the roman and arabic numerals right-align):

Here's an idea of how the list of figures (or tables) will look (notice how the roman and arabic numerals right-align):

Notes:

  1. To create leader dots, click Format > Paragraph > Tabs, and select 2 in the Leader area of the tab dialog box.
  2. Some of these settings may not look right in your software; experiment with them.
  3. Remember: in Word, first set up the text the way you want it using the paragraph (Format > Paragraph) and font (Format > Font) dialog boxes; then press Format > Style, and then give the style a name.
  4. To use my_toc1, first press Tab, type the Roman numeral of the section, press Tab again, type the title of the section, press Tab again (to create the leader dots), press Tab again, then type the page number.
  5. In TOCs, you don't indicate lower-level outline numbers or letters (A., B., 1., 2., a., b., etc.)
  6. my_head3 is simply a run-in heading (regular text in a paragraph) that you highlight with this character style.
  7. my_tablecell_right is for numerical data that you want right-align but center in the column. (You cannot just center the data or just right-align it either.)
  8. my_toc0 is for top-level TOC items that are not numbered (for example, LIST OF FIGURES or EXECUTIVE SUMMARY).
  9. Set page numbers as you normally would, then apply my_page_number to the page number.



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