Study guide design elements
May 10, 2006 11:12 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to be writing a certification workbook, and am trying to come up with an engaging design. I'd like ideas for study guide features/layouts you like and those you hate.

I'm going to be designing a certification program intended mainly at hobbyists and new professionals (age 15-150, median age 30). I've done several regular books that have done very well, and now I want to develop a structured self-study learning program as I've gotten lots of requests for such a thing and now's the time for me to do it.

The subject material is somewhat dry, so I want to make the workbook layout engaging. Obviously the simple, dull way is to do a block of content, then cap off each section with ten questions followed by a long underline in which to write answers. That's not the way I want to go.

Better ways include practice exercises and hints/tips up and down the margin, multicolor layouts, subtle but "catchy" graphics (i.e. dotted boxes) for answer blocks, and so forth. Do you have any ideas for design that can really engage the reader? On a related note do you find occasional quotations, cartoons, and humor refreshing or distracting?

I'll head to the bookstore next week and look at some study guides for ideas, but I just wanted to toss this out and see if anyone had some thoughts on "features" or layouts that captured them. Also I'd like to hear about things you've hated.
posted by hodyoaten to Writing & Language (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Study guide humor is generally neither relevant or particularly funny. Anecdotes can be informative and even memorable, but the key is to use them sparingly, and only when the protagonists are widely known figures, whose experience as related in an anecdote is still likely to be novel to the general reader.

The value of illustrations is proportional to their common suitability for expressing key concepts in your field of interest. If your study guide is intended to help people learn a skill that is not generally visually intensive, or that doesn't have significant analytical content, illustrations may not be too helpful. On the other hand, if you are writing a study guide to be used in some kind of network certification, detailed and appropriately captioned network diagrams are essential. Further on the topic, IMO fewer illustrations of greater detail and density are far preferable to the approach of sprinkling what amounts to decorative clip art all over the place. If I'm comparing books for sale in a book store, I eliminate the ones with "study point icons" from consideration, as soon as I discover such features. Typography and whitespace are far more valuable to far more readers than are margins cluttered with pull quotes and "bullet" icons.
posted by paulsc at 1:42 PM on May 10, 2006

If its for certification, I'd rather have it be nice & dry. If you want to be helfpul, you can have a couple levels of detail in each section... a one-sentence, this is what its about, then maybe bullets, and then the details + qusetions. Please don't screw around with it, or, if you do, provide a 'straight' version as well.

If I'm learning something on my own, an engaging book helps, but if its *for* a certification test, I want the information as plainly as possible, & nothing else.
posted by devilsbrigade at 3:36 PM on May 10, 2006

I think the Head First series of books are good - not so much for the humor aspect, but the different presentations of information.
posted by gnash at 5:55 PM on May 10, 2006

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