Add impact to a document: Agenda/Event

When you create a document to share with others, the most important thing about that document is how easily and effectively you can communicate the information you’re sharing. For example, consider a simple agenda or event program. The information in that document is largely practical—events, dates and times, and perhaps information about exhibitors or event sponsors.

Of course, practical doesn’t have to be boring. Using a few visual best practices with a handful of key Word 2010 features, you can create a document that is as beautiful and engaging as it is easy to read and understand. If you want to jump right in, you can use this sample program document or customize a program template.

Compare these two versions of the same Word 2010 page. The first page is the inside of an event program for a local film festival, and both versions shown here contain exactly the same information. Which would you prefer to call your own?

Undesigned version of a film festival program

Version 1: An agenda for a local film festival

Designed version of a film festival program

Version 2: The same agenda displayed using visual best practices to enhance the quality and readability of the page

Both versions of this page use a basic table for layout. They use the same font (Century Gothic) and a few highlight colors to organize headings. They also use paragraph styles to save time applying formatting and keep that formatting consistent.

But version 2 is clearly more engaging, the information on the page is easier to consume, and the page projects a far more professional impression. What’s more, version 2 is probably much easier to create than you might imagine. And you don’t have to be either a professional designer or a Microsoft Word expert to get it done.

Let’s start by taking a look at a few of the key visual best practices that are in use in the second version of this page. Then, we’ll look at how to accomplish them in Word 2010.

Exploring visual best practices

Using visual best practices in your documents essentially means presenting your content in a way that helps convey the information to the reader; a structure that is intuitive for people to consume. For example, changing a simple list of screening times into a calendar-style grid provides an organization that is familiar and easy for people to explore.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind as you examine the following visual best practices is how they can translate to just about any type of document you need to create:

  • Separate unique types of content to enhance meaning and make information easier to find. In this example, notice that the events that are placed in a separate element on the page in version 2 were included with the screenings in version 1.

Unique content elements separated to make information easier to find

A list that doesn't distinguish between content types makes information more difficult to find

By compartmentalizing the different types of agenda items in this program, both the events and screenings are easier for the reader to scan. Additionally, when different types of information are separated, you can use unique formatting to highlight information that may be more important for one type of content. For example, notice that the event names are more prominent than the individual movie titles in the screening section.

  • Use graphic elements that convey meaning more effectively than plain text. In this example, the map provides the same location information for the screenings as the list of locations from version 1 of this document, which are shown below it.

A map graphic conveys more information about screening locations

A plain text list of locations for comparison to the map graphic

However, not only does the map give the reader more information by helping them visualize the location of each theatre and seeing the locations relative to one another—the color-coding of the theatres is repeated in the screening timetable. Using the color coding from the map for visual association, the reader can much more quickly and easily reference the location for the film they want to see.

  • Create a consistent visual hierarchy to help the reader parse information. Just as you might use outline numbering to separate heading levels in a long report, you can use size, placement, or color of content to organize information and make it easier to consume.

    In the program example, each day of screenings is separated into an individual column. The start time for each film is in a larger font and on its own line; the name of the film is in bold, and the run time of the film is indicated by a bold marker at the end of each description.

Screenings shown in a visual hierarchy to help the reader find what they need

Readers often unconsciously search for visual distinctions within repeated elements on a page, making pertinent details easier to find. Notice that the visual distinctions for each type of information in this example are quite simple. It’s not necessary for distinctions to be ornate or complicated to be effective. But also notice that they are used consistently, for every film in the table. When using formatting to visually organize content, consistency is the key.

Creating the document

Just because a document looks great doesn’t mean it has to be complicated to create. Here is a summary of how version 2 of the event program was created, along with tips and cross-references for help getting it done.

The page consists of three parts: the map, the screening table, and the event list, as follows:

  • The map is created using Office 2010 shapes. The shapes are grouped—so that you can move and manage them as one object—and the group uses the layout setting In Line With Text. That setting places the graphic right in a paragraph mark so that you can position it easily using font and paragraph formatting. For example, the paragraph that contains the map is right-aligned on the page, so the map effortlessly sits at the top-right corner, above the screening table, with no extra steps required for positioning.

film festival program map, created using Office 2010 shapes

  • When shapes (or other objects, such as pictures) are part of the same graphic, grouping them keeps the pieces of the graphic in position and enables you to format and place the entire graphic as one object. To group shapes, select all shapes that you want to include in the group and then, on the Drawing Tools Format tab, in the Arrange group, click Group and then click Group. (To select multiple shapes at once, hold the SHIFT key while you click each shape.)
  • To position a drawing object (such as a group of shapes) to sit in a paragraph mark , select the object and then, on the Drawing Tools Format tab, in the Arrange group, select Wrap Text and then select In Line With Text.

The Wrap Text menu on the Drawing Tools Format tab in Word 2010

  • You can draw a map such as this one directly in Word, using shapes. Word 2010 has the same shapes and formatting capabilities for shapes as PowerPoint and Excel. But one of the best things about creating documents in Office 2010 is how well the programs work together, so that you can take advantage of the best each program has to offer in order to do less work and get better results.

    In this case, the map was actually drawn in PowerPoint in order to take advantage of some additional drawing tools that are offered in that program, such as drawing guides and the new Combine Shapes feature. Using combine shapes, you can create the street structure for the map fast and flawlessly, without leaving lines hanging over the edge of the background shape.

    This feature lets you create custom shapes by merging multiple shapes in a variety of ways. Learn how to use the new Combine Shapes feature.

    So what is the benefit of combining shapes in this case? It’s because the map graphic is exactly the size it appears—with no shapes such as the white street lines hanging over the edges—that it can be aligned precisely so easily, as explained in the preceding bullet.

    Because Word and PowerPoint share the same shapes and shape formatting options, after creating the map in PowerPoint, you can just copy it and then paste it into Word and it will look exactly as you created it. Then, if you decided to make changes or need to apply formatting to map elements, you can do that in Word just as easily. See the template version of this sample program for more tips on how to work with this map drawing.

Tip: The template contains a copy of the map with editable street lines so that you can customize your own map. That version of the map is stored as a document building block. To access it, on the Insert tab, in the Text group, click Quick Parts. You can click to insert the editable map into your Word document.
If you want to use the PowerPoint features referenced here to help you customize your map, just copy it into PowerPoint. When done, you can copy it back into Word just as easily. Note that, when you copy it into PowerPoint, the colors are likely to change. This is because the program uses a custom theme for fonts and colors. You don’t need to change the colors in PowerPoint. If you leave the colors unchanged in PowerPoint, it will automatically take on the colors from the program theme when you copy it back into the program document in Word.
To choose a different set of theme colors or fonts for your program, on the Page Layout tab in Word, in the Themes group, point to entries in the Colors and Fonts galleries to see previews of those options on your document. Then just click to apply the one you prefer. Learn about working with themes in Office 2010.

  • The screening table is actually four very simple tables. The “host” table consists of three columns and two rows. This table is right-aligned on the page and set to the same width as the map above.

    In the top row of the table are the date headings. In each column of the bottom row, a table is nested. By nesting one table inside another, you enable the cells of each column to grow independently without any extra effort. Notice how cell height differs based on the length of movie descriptions.

The screening table, created using nested tables in Word 2010

  • Nesting one table inside another can make it simple to create what look like very complex page layouts. Nested tables are easier to edit than a table that contains many split and merged cells, and they’re quick to create.
  1. To nest one table inside another, start by creating the outer (host) table. On the Insert tab, click Table, and then drag across the grid to select the number of rows and columns you need. Then just click to insert the table.
  2. Format that table as you want it to appear. For example, you might want to remove borders so that the table itself is not visible, but is just used for layout. Do this on the Table Tools Design tab, in the Table Styles group.
    The Table Tools Design tab displaying the borders menu in the Table Styles group
  3. Set the host table to use the AutoFit setting Fixed Column Width. This will cause the content you put into each column (such as a nested table) to resize to fit that column, rather than the column expanding to accommodate content you add. To do this, on the Table Tools Layout tab, in the Cell Size group, click AutoFit and then click Fixed Column Width.
    The Table Tools Layout tab, displaying the AutoFit menu
  4. To nest one table inside another, click into the cell of the host table where you want to add the nested table and then just insert a table as you normally would. That is, on the Insert tab, click Table, and then drag across the grid to select the number of rows and columns you need.

That’s all there is to it.

  • The event list is in a text box that is floating in front of the filmstrip graphic. That graphic is also created using Office 2010 shapes. Because the map and table are just positioned on the right side of the page using paragraph formatting, space is available on the left side of the page to float this object.

The Events sidebar text box and background graphic

  • To insert a text box in Word 2010, on the Insert tab, in the Text group, click Text Box and then (at the bottom of the gallery) click Draw Text Box. You can then drag on the page to create a text box that is the size you need. When you do, you’ll see that a text box is just like any shape in Word 2010 and gives you the same Drawing Tools Format tab, where you can format and position it.
  • On the Drawing Tools Format tab, in the Arrange group, click Position and then click More Layout Options for a dialog box where you can quickly and easily set a precise position for the text box to place it perfectly without any trial and error. In this example, the text box and the shape behind it are grouped and positioned at 0.5” from the top and left edges of the page.

The Layout dialog box for positioning floating graphic objects in Word 2010

  • The filmstrip graphic was also created in PowerPoint 2010 to utilize the new Combine Shapes features, and then copied into Word as a single shape. In fact, as you can see when you examine all of the graphics in this document, they are simply a mixture of shapes.

The cover of the film festival event program sample document

The encircled numbers that sit behind the filmstrip on the program front cover were created as shapes and then pasted into the Word document as a PNG picture, in order to use the improved cropping tool in Word 2010 to easily crop the top and bottom edges to what you see on the page. Learn about cropping pictures in Word 2010.

Next steps

Use the sample program document or customize the template for yourself and consider how you might be able to employ some of the visual best practices and Word 2010 tips discussed in this article the next time you create a document to share with others. When you use the best tools for the task and consider key concepts for conveying your information visually, you can more easily create clear, comprehensible, memorable documents. You don’t have to be a design professional to effectively communicate your important information.

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