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Writing illustrated materials: a couple of tips

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Tip 1

Write illustrated material within a rough layout 

When you are writing anything which mixes text and illustrations (i.e. pretty well anything in the learning materials area except basic teachers' notes, these days!), write the material initially roughly page for page, as you imagine it will be eventually. For example:

- Set the outside margins roughly where you would like them to be in the final product (taking into account the page size you envisage);

- Make it two columns if you think that best fits your needs (usually desirable on a large page size to avoid making the lines of text too long); and

- include boxes where the illustrations should go, with a brief indication of what the illustration shows.

Fonts are bit of a problem, but if you work in 12 point Times Roman, with the space between lines as you would like it in the eventual typeset version, you won't go very far wrong (unless you are writing for very young readers.

If you already have a publisher, it's a good idea to discuss things like overall page size and number of columns with your contact there, so you are agreed in advance on the approximate format - of course, if the material has been commissioned, they may already have included such things in their own initial brief to you.

No one expects an author to be a professional page designer, but doing it the way I've suggested means that you know from the start the text and illustrations will fit together properly. You will avoid, for example, the situation where there is an exercise on one double-page spread, based on a picture which will only fit on the previous spread or the next one. (Or, in practice, doing some annoying rewriting at a late stage to avoid that happening!) You will also have a pretty accurate idea of the overall length of your material.

If your material will go on to a professional designer, for technical reasons you may have to send an electronic version which strips out some of the formatting (e.g. reverting to one column, taking out the illustration boxes and moving any illustration briefs to a separate list) - but this doesn't take all that long, and the effort is outweighed by the advantages of the initial 'rough layout' approach, I think.

All this can, however, be subverted by a failure to take account of Tip 2:

Tip 2

Be realistic about what will fit on a page!

There is always a temptation to try to fit too much on a page. Too liitle white space makes for poor readability.

Because it isn't directly their responsibility, I have found that even authors who are realistic about their own text sometimes expect miracles from the artist doing the illustrations. If you ask for a picture three inches by two, showing twelve items all of which should be labelled, the least you can do is provide a detailed rough drawing showing how this can be achieved (not?) Unlike the old hardcover edition of the complete Oxford dictionary in two volumes, ELT publishers don't normally provide a free magnifying glass with each copy!

Richard Slessor

 

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