Information Project Design:
Prototypes, Templates, and Style Guides

Prototypes, templates (upon which the prototypes are based), and style guides—along with the information plan—are important guiding documents that keep your information-development project consistent and according to plan.

About Documentation Prototypes, Templates, and Style Guides

The prototype is a model of how your user document is going to look and contains a sampling of every distinctly different section of the document: for example, cover page, title page, edition notice, table of contents, one chapter, an appendix (if any are in the plan), a glossary (if planned), an index, and a back cover. Each of these typically uses dummy text from Lorem ipsumLorem ipsum. The prototype enables people on the project team to review and evaluate the model of your document and make suggestions or design other aspects of the project in a similar fashion.

The prototype also contains a sampling of each distinctly different type of text: for example, a regular body paragraph, an indented paragraph, a bulleted list, a numbered list, each type of notice to be used (note, caution, warning, danger, for example), a table, a graphic, each level of heading to be used, footers, and headers. Once again, Lorem ipsum is typically used for the text of these samplings.

And finally, the prototype should contain samplings of each inline style to be used (italic, bold, color, and other fonts).

All of these elements of the prototype must exist as elements in the electronic templates for the document. Consider the example of FrameMaker. The template would have master pages for each type of page in the document (for example, master pages for the front cover, back cover, title page, edition notice, TOC, body pages, index). Also, the FrameMaker electronic template would have paragraph and character tags for each distinct body-text type and inline-text type.

The style guide is different kind of blueprint for document, compared to the information-development plan. It stipulates specific rules about formatting, highlighting, writing style, and terminology in order to keep the documents of an organization consistent.

Information Resources

The following resources focus specifically on documentation prototypes:

The following resources focus specifically on templates:

The following resources focus specifically on style guides:

Project

In this course, there is not likely to be time to develop a formal style guide. Instead, someone on the team (the editor?) can create a style guide page in the wiki and describe its purpose and contents and then keep simple style and format notes on that page.

However, the prototype and templates are a different matter altogether. Your team must develop these things to enable your work to have some minimal consistency when you get to the first-draft edit stage. Here are two possibilities to consider:

In another course, you might do one of the following:

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