Heuristic Exercise for The Document Makeover

Note: This is an ungraded exercise for The Document Makeover, the first major project for Professional Writing, an undergraduate course on workplace writing. This exercise is graded on a point scale: 1 – 5, with 1 being the lowest score and 5 being the highest.

Considering the questions below will help you plan document revisions for The Document Makeover and the memo to the instructor justifying design, content, and editorial choices.

The questions below are intended to serve as a heuristic–i.e., as an invention tool. Considering these questions will help you begin the process of rethinking the design of the original syllabus from a rhetorical perspective

designed to help you engage in critique and of a syllabus.


  • Who was the audience for the syllabus? Were there multiple audiences? Was the syllabus developed with diverse audiences in mind?
  • Who is your target audience for the revised document? Why did you choose that audience?
    • Here you may want to read about audience and consider the user characteristics defined by the Home Office (see Designing for Accessibility Posters):
      • users on the autistic spectrum
      • users who will read solely online, maybe only via phone
      • users with low vision
      • users with dyslexia
      • users with physical or motor disabilities
      • users who are deaf or hard of hearing
      • users with anxiety
      • users who underprepared.
    • Or, consider your unique experience as a student and learner. Consider defining another user group to address as your audience for this project. For instance, can you imagine
      • users who have poor digital literacy competencies?
      • users who are underprepared for a course?
  • Is any new preliminary research is needed in order to tailor the content of the document to your new audience? What work can you do to do in order to ensure the revised document connects with the intended audience and purpose?


  • What was the purpose for the original syllabus?
  • Given the change in audience (and perhaps medium), do you anticipate purpose evolving for the revised syllabus?


Consider how principles of design inform your document makeover.

A business and technical writing style, as opposed to an essay-writing style, leans on visual rhetoric and document design rather than long paragraphs of discourse. Next week, we will focus more on what distinguishes professional writing from academic prose. For now, though, it’s not too soon to consider how you will use headings, subheadings, bullets, lists, and visuals to redesign the syllabus.

Here, you may find it useful to review Memos by Lee Ann Hodges for an overview of the memo format. You may find the short article on visual rhetoric to be inspiring as well.