300 Days of Better Writing

April 9, 2010

You Are Here-Signposts

Filed under: WritingExcellence — preciseedit @ 8:53 am

Signposts are words that help the reader (and the writer) organize information. They are especially useful when you are providing a lot of information or information that is complicated. They tell the reader three things: here’s where we were, here’s where we are, and here’s where we are going.

Not all documents require signposts. However, if your document contains more than 4 or 5 paragraphs, you may need to provide signposts to help the reader identify, understand, remember, and act upon your ideas.

Signposts come in four categories: outline, internal reference, point indicator, and heading (our terms).

A. Outline

Outline signposts help readers order the information. As the name implies, these signposts create a verbal outline of the information. Outline signposts include the words and phrases first, second, part one, next. The actual outline may be explicitly stated in technical documents (as in this writing tip). These are sometimes called “sequence markers.”

B. Internal reference

Internal reference signposts help show how current information connects to information elsewhere in the document. Internal reference signposts include the words and phrases As discussed previously, based on, furthermore, in addition, as will be shown, and explained later.

C. Point indicator

Point indicators are words and phrases that tell the reader that you are about to make a new point, discuss a new issue, or provide a key piece of information. They are the equivalent of a sign that says, “You are here.” Point indicator signposts include the words now, at this point, however, the issue/point/idea is, thus, to summarize, and finally.

D. Heading

Headings are the most obvious type of signpost. They are used to title sections of a document, each of which addresses a single topic. Major headings label broad ideas or document components. Minor headings label narrow or specific ideas. Most style guides will provide specifications for font size, placement, capitalization, and other text style for various levels of headings.

(This is the tip for day 95 from 300 Days of Better Writing.)

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