Document Makeover

The Document Makeover is the first major module in Professional Writing, which is an undergraduate course on workplace writing. See the schedule to understand how this project fits into the course.

The overarching goals of The Document Makeover are to help you think about

  1. memo writing conventions
  2. rhetorical principles,
    • especially the importance of rhetorical analysis and audience in professional and technical writing
    • the importance of document usability and accessibility
  3. document revision and style, especially the attributes of a Technical Writing Prose Style* as opposed to an Academic Prose Style and a reader-based prose style as opposed to a writer-based prose style.

More specifically, students reflect on and better understand

Key Terms: Usability Analysis, Rhetorical Analysis, Design

Overview of the Module

Welcome to Module 1 for Professional Writing.

By the time you’ve completed this module, you’ll be able to

  • Analyze the audiences, purposes, and context for an existing document
  • Apply technical editing skills to an existing document
  • Apply basic document design and text formatting
  • Create documents that are accessible for readers/users with one or more access challenges
  • Report on your own learning progress following memo conventions


This module has four deliverables:

  1. A copy of the syllabus you are revising (PDF or screenshots).
  2. A Rhetorical Analysis Memo
  3. A redesigned, revised, and edited syllabus that demonstrates some mastery of a Technical Writing Prose Style*
  4. A Project Completion Memo

Summary of Project Tasks

  1. Locate a syllabus that is not as user-friendly and useful as it could be in terms of meeting the exigencies of our current situation—COVID 19
    1. Think broadly about the syllabus as a genre of discourse. Consider your past experiences reading syllabi. Read the brief note on syllabi as a genre of discourse. Search the internet for syllabi on topics of interest.
  2. Engage in rhetorical analysis
    1. Review the Heuristic Exercise for The Document Makeover
    2. Reflect on the challenges that our new context – online delivery of classes – poses for the syllabus target audience, and work to understand – especially – how the change in context might affect readers/users who have access challenges, such as low vision, mobility impairment, etc.
      1. Review the Home Office’s Designing for Accessibility Posters and consider redesigning, revising, and editing a syllabus to better meet the needs of one or more of the audience-types identified by the Home Office Posters.
      2. Consider the Heuristic Exercise for The Document Makeover to help stimulate your thinking about this exercise.
  3. Write a Rhetorical Analysis Memo to your instructor analyzing the rhetorical situation.
  4. Review Professional Writing Guidelines for the Document Makeover. Revise, edit, and redesign the original document (the syllabus) for the new audience and context.
  5. Compose a Project Completion Memo, and turn in the original and made-over versions of the syllabus and your project completion memo.

Introduction to the Document Markover

Thanks to COVID 19, schools are undergoing a remarkable, sudden shift from face-to-face to online teaching. As a result of COVID, our context as students, as readers and users of academic texts including the course syllabus, has changed dramatically.

As a writer of academic texts, you’re probably used to writing texts for audiences that are primarily readers. You can expect that when you turn in an assignment, your intended audience will read every word from beginning to end. But the audiences for workplace writing may be both readers and users. That is, they may have to interact with your document in some way. For example, students may want to read the syllabus for an online class onscreen on their cell phone, tablet, or laptop, or download it and print it out.

For this project, we’ll focus not only on revising the content and redesigning the layout to meet reader’s information needs; we’ll also focus on meeting the particular access needs of a specific user group (or groups).

Ultimately, you can choose the new audience for your document makeover. For instance, if you are an international student studying in the U.S., you could revise the syllabus for high school (or its equivalent) students back home.

That said, to make this project as easy as possible, we recommend that you redesign a syllabus for one of the audiences described by the Home Office in its Designing for Accessibility Posters:

  1. users on the autistic spectrum
  2. users who will read solely online, maybe only via phone
  3. users with low vision
  4. users with dyslexia
  5. users with physical or motor disabilities
  6. users who are deaf or hard of hearing

It is essential that readers and users of your workplace documents can physically access, read, and interact with your documents without regard to physical abilities or challenges. For this project, you’ll analyze the changes in that context, the purposes and functions of the syllabus, and the particular needs of students who are learning online.


You will receive one holistic grade based on the four deliverables.

The revised document will be evaluated for these features:

  1. Effective use of a reader-centered approach and professional and technical writing stylistic principles
    1. Edited for precision and professional style, including
      • clear, informative titles, headings, and subheadings
      • clear, informative paragraphs
      • strong, effectively structured sentences 
      • tone, level of formality, word choice appropriate to target audience.
    2. Effective use of basic information design principles, including using
      • chunking, queuing, and filtering to help readers navigate
      • application of page grids and adequate white space
      • effective typography (including line length and line spacing) appropriate to audience and purpose
    3. Effective use of the technical writing formatting:
      • Text formatting
      • Lists and hyperlinks
      • Page layout
      • Headers and footers
      • Page numbers
      • Headings and subheadings (using Styles)
      • Visual elements: Images, shapes, tables and/or charts
  2. Effective revisions/edits.

The project completion memo will be evaluated for these features:

  • Presentation of complete, clear, concise, compelling information appropriate to audience, purpose, and setting
  • Effective use of a reader-centered approach, edited for precision and professional style.
  • Meets reader expectations for the memo genre.

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