Steering Readers Through Your Book

February 2002
by Gunnar Swanson

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Finding your way through a book is a bit like navigating in a car. As with driving, it is best if people don’t have to pull out maps. Map reading often indicates a failure of navigation. Reasonable structure and good signage can get most people where they are going. Just as city planning and civil engineering are as important as cartography to finding your way, editorial functions are as important as graphic design to book navigation.

 

Different Roads, Different Signs

In some cases, not much structure is needed. A rural Interstate highway, like many novels, doesn’t give you much chance to get lost. Mileage markers and, perhaps, some clearly marked rest stops suffice since the trip is point-to-point on one inevitable route.

Navigating through an engineering text or a movie guide is more like driving around town. There are more places to go and more choices to make than in a novel. But towns can seem rational (or at least conventional) even to a stranger passing through. Stores and restaurants are on Main Street, houses on Elm, and Central Highway gets you through with the fewest stop signs.

 

Zone Out

One way that towns signal their content to travelers is with clearly delineated districts. Just as building setbacks and lawns signal a residential district, the use of colored backgrounds or alternate typefaces can let a reader know that secondary, auxiliary, or explanatory information lives in th…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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