Publish effectively on the web and in print – Communications Strategy, Research, Writing, Editing, Design, Digital/Print Production Supervision

PubMaster℠ Detail

Roll the cursor over the box for the step you want to see described.

  • Define your purposeA publication or a Web site is a strategic tool. Its success depends on how well it helps to achieve your goals, whether they are to make people …
    • Buy something
    • Understand facts or ideas
    • Feel a certain way
    • Change their behavior
    • … or do something else that your organization considers beneficial.
    Whatever your objective, you need a way of knowing if you have achieved it. Special phone numbers or offers available only in the publication or on the site, queries to new customers or callers (e.g., “How did you hear about us?”), Web hits before and after a new publication comes out—they all work, as do more creative measures like tracking the trajectory of site visitors to see if a makeover is driving more visitors to more places.
  • Identify the target audienceWhom do you especially want to reach? Members of your organization, prospective clients or customers, people who can benefit from information you provide—any may be your target audience. Identify their distinguishing characteristics so you can …
    • Find them
    • Make your publication speak directly to them
    Accurate targeting is not always easy. People don’t wear their interests on their sleeves, so you need distinguishing characteristics that are either self-evident or documented.
    “People interested in alternative medicine” are not a target audience. How can you tell them from everyone else?
    “People who regularly shop in health food stores and subscribe to one or more publications about wellness” That’s a target audience. You can buy mailing lists of people with these characteristics and select media where they are likely to see your message.
  • Decide on main messages
    Writing, editing, and graphic design take on lives of their own, making it important to stay focused on your original purpose. Write down in simple, declarative sentences the central ideas you want to get across. This is your main message. Use it to inform others about your publication and provide a reference point for writers and graphic designers.
    Examples of main messages:“You can feel better and treat minor disorders by using remedies that are alternatives to mainstream Western medicine.”“This technology will enable you to send encrypted e-mail that only the intended recipient can read; it works easily and reliably, and you can afford it.”“By supporting basic research in the sciences and engineering, the government helps to stimulate discoveries and inventions that ultimately benefit taxpayers.”
  • Assemble a teamThe project team is the core group with final responsibility for a publication. The team should be led by a single project manager. Other team members may include a lead writer and graphic designer and possibly other editors, subject matter experts, researchers, photographers, illustrators, and additional writers and designers. Give everyone on the team a unique and important role. “Kibitzers” can be reviewers or pre-testers, but reserve team membership for people who will be held accountable for their work.
  • <Get facts
    Early fact-finding provides assurance that the main messages can be supported. Encyclopedic knowledge is not required—only enough information to satisfy the project team that they are on solid ground.
    The Internet is a good and easy place to start. A Google or Lexis-Nexis search can get you moving down the right path. Look for scholarly research online by starting with the Library of Congress ( or an archival search at JSTOR ( Most public libraries also maintain subscriptions to various knowledge databases that you can use for free from home or the office with your library card.Once you’ve located an article (or book) that seems on the mark, use its bibliography to find other relevant articles, and do searches for other articles or books that cite it as a source.
  • Generate ideas
    Good publications meet unique needs. To find your publication’s niche, explore a broad range of publications with comparable objectives. Once you know what’s out there, brainstorm new approaches. Encourage everyone to express thoughts freely. Try to suspend criticism until all ideas are out on the table. Have a moderator write ideas down on flip chart paper taped to the walls. This helps people remember points and build on them. It also creates a record for future reference. To provide continuity, have the moderator summarize from time to time.Great publications seldom spring full-blown from a project team’s original brainstorming session. Dedicated individuals, working together, create them by responding to one another’s evolving insights. A self-confident and courageous project manager will encourage team members to continue expressing ideas throughout the publications development process, even though it can make the process more challenging.
  • Establish a budget
    The budget for a publication is sometimes determined from the start, or it may evolve. Most organizations do not budget staff time for a particular publication. Instead, they set budgets for outsourced services, such as graphic design, writing, editing, printing, photography, illustration, or research, and accept staff time as a “given.”Budgeting always raises chicken-egg questions. Management asks how much the publication will cost, and the project team asks how much money is available for it. Around and around they go. A solution: Develop low and high estimates, and associate a representative product with each. Ask management: Is the high end product worth the cost? Is the low end product good enough for the purpose at hand? Is compromise possible?
    Once the cost elements are identified and estimated, set priorities. You may face choices such as:• Add a fourth color or buy a better photograph?• Use clip art abundantly or commission custom illustration?• Draft completely new text or recycle text from an earlier publication?In spite of your best efforts, you may find costs getting out of hand. It will help you keep the overall project within budget if you know your options at every stage, so if you exceed budget in one area you can cut back in another.
  • Plan a schedule
    People lead busy lives. They need to know when something is expected of them. Key people, especially, need to be available when the time comes for them to write, design, edit, review, or sign off.To plan a schedule, work backward from your anticipated distribution date. If you are developing a first-time publication with major uncertainties—top management reactions, for instance—prepare two schedules, one ideal and one worst-case, so somebody can stand by to work on Christmas Eve if it comes to that.
  • <If publishing on the Web: Plan site architecture
    If you are writing for a new site, the first your Web developer will ask for is a site architecture. Where can the visitor go from the home page? What are the main secondary pages, and where do you want the visitor to go from each of those pages? The site architecture should resemble an organization chart, showing the primary and secondary relationships among pages. Get the architecture clear in your mind before you write anything. That way, copy will flow logically, without unwanted redundancy or gaps in your train of thought.
  • If publishing in print: Outline text
    Remember what your English teacher said: always make an outline. But take a fresh, conversational approach. Instead of thinking in formal terms, with headings and sub-headings, tell your story as if you were telling a friend. Write complete sentences and, if necessary, rearrange them to make logical sense.Why complete sentences? Because the logic of your message becomes much clearer that way. Consider the difference between …“I. Background of the program”and“I. The program grew out of a pilot study, which had surprisingly successful results.”Sentences give the reader—and the writer—an idea where the story might go next. In fact, they may turn out to be topic sentences of your final text.
    Among the best short books on writing:
    Meyer, Herbert E. and Jill M. Meyer, How to Write: Communicating Ideas and Information. Friday Harbor, Washington: Storm King Press, 1993.
    Ueland, Brenda, If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit. Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2007.
    Zinsser, William, On Writing Well. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.
    Before you outsource writing assignments, check out the American Society of Journalists and Authors’ Freelance Writer Search Web site ( for useful information about negotiating fees and terms.
  • Write a first draft
    Many people may contribute to the first draft, but in the end, it is the lead writer’s responsibility to pull it all together. The first draft doesn’t need to be perfect, only complete. Consider any significant gaps to be cries for help. Maybe more research is needed, or the outline doesn’t work, or the facts don’t square with the intended message. The project manager reads the first draft, and perhaps an editor, as well as the lead graphic designer, who needs to begin getting a feel for the text, its length and organization, and the potential for illustration.
  • <Express design concept
    The lead graphic designer expresses the design concept to the project team by articulating how visual imagery will reinforce the main messages. Because people visualize things differently, it helps if the designer shows examples. What feelings do they evoke? Does the team agree that these are right for the message? Is there critical information that can only be imparted visually? The project manager bears responsibility for giving meaningful feedback to the graphic designer before a major investment of time and energy.
    Examples of design concepts:
    “Preserve visual continuity with the organization’s existing publications.”“Excite the imagination with original, fantastic photocomposites and cartoon colors.”“Create a low-key, dignified setting for text using muted colors and simple line drawings.”
  • Do thumbnails
    Thumbnails are sketches that show the general look of a publication’s key sections, including the cover and an inside spread. A designer often renders thumbnails in pen or pencil rather than computer to get close to the desired image without technical distractions.
    Project managers: Ask for at least two or three clear alternatives, as radically different as possible, not variations on a theme. Why? Every design concept has many possible executions. A successful publication takes collaborative effort, and the designer cannot be certain that his or her favorite thumbnail will also be everyone else’s favorite, or will be the most effective way to get the message across.
  • Edit for content
    First drafts rarely satisfy everyone’s hopes, not even the writer’s. Think of content editing as a summit conference between the project manager, or a designated editor, and the lead writer. Now is the time to figure out what’s missing and plan next steps.
    Content editing focuses on the big picture: factual accuracy, logic, organization, emphasis, and tone. Save grammar, punctuation, spelling, and style changes for later (that’s copy editing). Writer and editor should communicate directly, face to face if possible, or by telephone if separated by geography. A content editor who merely hands back a marked-up draft, unless the edits are minimal, is asking to be ignored or disliked. The writer deserves the respect of an attentive, intelligent editing session in which the editor delivers his or her comments point by point. The session should be a constructive dialogue, and it should end with both parties agreeing on what the writer will do next.
  • Pre-test
    A typical pre-test uses a focus group, in which a small number of people (usually fewer than a dozen) representative of your target audience come together for a one- to two-hour discussion of your publication’s message and execution. A moderator leads the discussion using a topic guide. The session is ordinarily recorded (audio, video, or both) and observed by individuals from your organization. A designated scribe writes a summary of the focus group’s conclusions and key observations, noting any areas of disagreement.
    Market research firms organize and run focus groups. Another option is to hire a freelance moderator. If you have sufficient in-house capability, you can put together your own focus group. Or you can ask for feedback from pre-testers individually. Just be certain you give everyone the same material to pre-test: main message; edited first draft or, if it is too lengthy, a summary or a few key paragraphs; and thumbnails. Record their responses honestly—no prompting or explaining.Pre-testing a publication with a small number of people won’t give you a statistically reliable indicator of success. This is why publishers planning a new publication often pre-test concepts or pilots using quantitative surveys as well as focus groups. But even a limited test can give you a storm warning. If unbiased reviewers react negatively or express confusion, consider it a red flag and rethink your approach.
  • Revise text
    Rarely does a pre-test give you an unqualified “go.” Some points will need to be addressed or clarified, or the tone may not be right. Revise text with the pre-test in mind, taking the pre-testers’ comments as seriously as if they were members of the project team. Some issues that arise during pre-testing may require collaboration between the writer and graphic designer. For example, if people don’t fully comprehend a print message, try adding an illustration.
  • TitleText
  • Get comments
    Every organization has an approval process, and while the process can be time-consuming, you need to be sure everyone understands where your publication is headed.
    Technical experts and supervisors usually assume that what you give them is final and complete. So if you plan to use graphics, show them. If you plan to provide a glossary, attach it. But don’t expect everyone to review your work with the same professionalism and care. Some people may read it once and say it’s fine, others may write treatises in the margins, and still others may write inscrutable, vaguely negative remarks or nothing at all.When possible, give text and graphics to reviewers in an electronic format so they can comment on the spot via e-mail and edit in revision mode. You are more likely to get comprehensible responses that way. Set a deadline with a negative default option—that is, let them know that if you don’t hear from them by a particular date, you will proceed as if you have their approval.
  • Fine-tune
    Once comments are in, the writer makes whatever changes seem consistent with the original tone of the piece. Comments that call for major changes, conflict with other comments, or question the project team’s entire direction may need to be dealt with by the project manager.
    Project teams sometimes make a mistake in taking critical comments too seriously. Comments need to be addressed, but they need not always be taken at face value. Someone who marks through an entire page and says “omit this” may simply be saying it’s outdated. A reviewer who provides two pages of additional information may expect you to boil it down to a sentence. If the reviewer is the boss and he or she wants something a certain way, you may have no choice, but most reviewers will negotiate.
  • Satisfied?
    The project manager’s moment of truth: Does the text work or not? If the first draft has undergone numerous revisions, the project manager may feel too close to it to render an objective judgment. A trusted reviewer or pre-tester may help evaluate the current version. Remember, most people don’t want to give you bad news. You have to ask for it. But it’s far better to invest the time now than to wait until the pages are laid out and a graphic designer must make changes a line or a word at a time. To avoid costly design alterations, delays, and mistakes, be ruthless now—or sorry later.
  • Choose design direction
    With pretest results in hand, the project manager and lead designer reach agreement on the publication’s basic look and feel, and the design process moves from draft to final execution. If the pre-testers were lukewarm, look carefully at what they said and choose a new design direction.
    Project manager: Know what you’re choosing. If you can’t visualize what the designer is proposing, ask for a more detailed rendering. Leaps of faith are risky; the entire design effort will flow from this step.
  • Develop elements
    The lead designer supervises the selection or development of design elements to achieve the project team’s visual objectives. This usually means conducting picture research, organizing a photo shoot, or commissioning photography or illustrations (discussed in subsequent steps). To assure that the project stays within budget, the designer and project manager should reach agreement on exactly what they want and can afford to pay. Take into account the usage rights desired by the organization; the more all-encompassing, the higher the rate or royalty. Unless the work is in the public domain, providers of visual images ordinarily charge for one-time usage based on the purpose (commercial versus nonprofit) and exposure. If you frequently outsource graphic design, invest $25 in the American Institute of Graphic Arts’ AIGA Professional Practices in Graphic Design.
  • Commission photography, illustration
    Sometimes a photo shoot will take place in a remote location or under highly specialized conditions that make art direction impractical—underwater, for example. Or the artwork being commissioned may be an illustration. When the photographer or artist must rely entirely on his or her own aesthetic judgment, clear assignments are critical. Any preliminary exchange of materials with the lead designer, such as representative samples (“We’re looking for something like this”) will improve your chances of success. The contract should specify a kill rate, to be paid if the commissioned artwork is not used, which varies but is generally at least 50 percent of the negotiated rate.
  • Conduct photo shoot
    Ideally, a photo shoot is a collaborative effort between a photographer and an art director in which both parties share a clear understanding of the publication’s objectives and how the photographs will be used. Photo shoots typically entail so much logistical and technical detail that many photographers include an assistant in their rates. The photographer’s client usually takes responsibility for preparing release forms and obtaining signatures from individuals being photographed. Obtaining caption information, with names spelled correctly and other factual information verified, is also the client’s responsibility.
  • Do image research
    When the subject is of a general nature, stock photography services can be a useful resource. Custom research by stock services is usually expensive, but you may not need it since the Internet makes a wide array of resources available cost-effectively. The catch: You have to find the perfect image yourself.
    All-digital or nearly all-digital services on the Internet make it possible to search for graphic images using key words or natural language search engines, obtain prices, and download images, low-resolution for comp purposes and high-resolution for the final.Two of the largest stock photography sites are iStockphoto, which offers more than 2 million royalty-free images, with 14,000 new images added each week, and GettyImages, originally a high-end site but now a more populist vendor of enormous creative, editorial, and video resources. Prices vary widely, depending on the service and the image. Licensable images vary in price depending upon the intended use; royalty-free images are much less expensive because the artist has been paid a flat rate. For illustrations, try FolioPlanet. All the sites let you search by subject or artist, but search terms tend to be imprecise, so be prepared for feast or famine.
  • Copy edit
    Once your text is complete and properly organized, tackle spelling, grammar, punctuation, style, and usage. Some classic references:
    Associated Press. AP Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law.New York, NY: Basic Books, 2007.Bernstein, Theodore M., The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage.New York, NY: Free Press, 1995.Strunk, William Jr. and E.B. White, The Elements of Style.New York: Longman, 1999.The University of Chicago Press, The Chicago Manual of Style.Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.Style guides don’t agree on every point, but it doesn’t matter. Just pick a style (e.g., capitalize titles such as the President of the United States, or lowercase them) and stick with it—if only to save time making little decisions.Much of the copy editor’s work is in pruning text to eliminate extraneous verbiage. This requires sensitivity and, often, knowledge of the subject matter. Unless edits are minimal, the copy editor must always show them to the writer. If possible, use word processing software with revision mode to indicate what changes are being made or recommended, and explain if necessary. Otherwise, attach notes or write a memo to accompany the edited text.
  • Check facts
    The project manager decides what facts need to be verified, based on considerations such as the ability of reviewers to spot mistakes. Always recalculate mathematical functions, even simple addition. Double check charts and graphs; if line X is supposed to be 25 percent of line Y, measure the lines. Check the table of contents, index, and any cross-references. Are all graphics properly referenced in the text? Sometimes they get moved during the design process.
  • Proofread
    Someone who has not been closely involved in writing or editing should compare the final text with the copy editor’s mark-up to make sure all editorial changes were made correctly. A good proofreader will work from the outside in, tackling such often-missed items as headings, photo captions, and bibliographic citations first. He or she will also read the text for sense and flag apparent mistakes. It may seem obvious, but work when you are calm and alert, not tired or stressed. And take your time. This is—or should be—your last shot at the text.
  • <Cut or lengthen to fit
    If it’s “lengthen,” you can fill space with pull quotes and other quasi-graphic elements. It’s usually “cut,” which is more difficult. Type and graphics can be shrunk, but before you go this route, always get a second opinion. The point of a well-designed page, printed or on the Web, is to invite the reader’s attention and make him or her comfortable enough to stay awhile, comprehend your message, remember it, and act accordingly. Look at your space as an entity, and consider how it can best be used to achieve your goal. Usually, you will decide to cut the copy to fit rather than sacrifice graphic integrity. In copy-fitting, try to find:
    • Short lines that can be eliminated by cutting a word or two earlier in the paragraph.
    • Long, complicated explanations.
    • The same point made two different ways.
  • Rough comp or page proofs
    This step is often combined with copy-fitting. When assembling the comp (comprehensive layout, so named because it includes text as well as graphics), the designer may call on the project manager or writer for help in setting priorities among text elements; rewriting headings for a more aesthetic effect; adding or rearranging subheadings or captions; or for other reasons. Often, graphic designers struggle to make elements fit together when a writer or editor can solve the problem in a fraction of the time. The project manager wants to see comps that are close to final and should be prepared to work alongside the designer upon request.
  • Review
    With design elements and copy in place, the comp or proofs will send a message. Pay attention. Are you achieving what you had hoped for? If not, take courage. Now is the time for creative collaboration between project manager and designer, and possibly with writer(s) as well. Articulate any major problems so everyone can contribute ideas. Review key decisions made up to this point, to see where you may have made a wrong turn. If you’re basically satisfied, work on the fine points: Clean up headlines and subheadings to keep verb forms and modified nouns intact, avoiding awkward breaks between lines (change Mozart’s ‘Cosi/ fan tutte’ to ‘Cosi fan tutte’/ by Mozart). Shorten or lengthen captions to make them the correct length for the graphics.

  • Printers submit bids based on detailed specifications which include quantity, size of finished publication, paper stock, number of colors, number of photographs and other illustrations, special treatments such as bleeds (photographs or colors that extend all the way to the edge of paper), dye cuts, embossing, or metallic inks and type of varnish and binding. Prices may vary widely depending upon the printer’s capabilities and workload. By specifying options in paper stock and other variables, a graphic designer can get a range of bids and negotiate for the highest possible quality for an acceptable price.
  • Review bids
    Solicit bids from printers who can provide samples showing that they have successfully done jobs comparable to yours.
  • Negotiate
    Many factors influence printers’ quotes, including technical capabilities, how busy they are, and how badly they want your business. With competing quotes, you can negotiate for the best price for the quality and service you need. Don’t automatically select the low bidder. A printer’s track record should play an important part in your final decision.
  • Get sign-offs
    This is management’s last look before printing (if it’s a Web site, before going live). Unless the individual(s) signing off have kept up with the project all along, the project manager should try to present the final comps, page proofs, or home page in person. If possible, he or she should stay around while the reviewer looks things over. Show whatever best represents the color you are trying to achieve, and offer a brief explanation if the color will be different than shown. Don’t over-explain, but be sure the reviewer understands the purpose of the publication, and try to tease out any questions, especially if you see a furrowed brow or a puzzled look. If the publication cannot be presented in person, prepare a one-page memo on the objective, target audience, distribution plan, and any other information that is not self-evident.
  • Print file to diskPrint file to disk
    Files provided by graphic designers are seldom 100 percent compatible with a printer’s electronic prepress system. When a printing project has a tight deadline, send a test file to the printer in advance and, even if the test is successful, allow time for redoing the final file if necessary. The more complex the project, the greater the chances for file incompatibilities. Most prepress operations accept files online.
  • Review printer’s proofs
    Color can look entirely different on a computer screen, on proofs, and on the final printed page. Color proofs from high-end proofing systems come closest to resembling the end product. Unless the project manager is also a graphic designer who will be conducting the press inspection, he or she should reach agreement with the designer about the most important goals: vivid color, subtlety, a particular shade which must be matched exactly, etc. Comment on the color proofs, by all means, but leave it in the hands of the graphic designer to do his or her best at the press inspection. It all comes down to professional judgment in the end.
  • Review page proofsThe project manager, or a writer or editor familiar with the project, reviews the layout for accuracy in text changes made on the roughs. Graphic design changes should be reviewed by the project manager as well. Increasingly, publications teams use comment-enabled Adobe Acrobat to streamline the review process.
  • Review proof sheets
    The graphic designer checks the printer’s proof sheets for correct positioning of pages and graphic elements, correct color, and other details. No one besides the designer needs to see them. They are not totally accurate predictors of color, but they can help the designer correct irregularities. For all other intents and purposes, the publication is finished.
  • Conduct press check
    Reasons to conduct press checks: to make sure any changes marked on proofs have been made, to verify that paper stock is correct, to check that four-color process images are in register, and to exercise overall quality control in an important job. A press check requires a meeting of the minds between printer and designer, since many factors at this point can influence appearance, including the speed of the press. When someone other than a designer needs to conduct a press check, it’s helpful to consult a reference, such as Mark Beach and Eric Kenley’s Getting It Printed (Cincinnati, OH: North Light Books, 2004).
  • Distribute
    Trouble-free distribution rewards basic planning. Have envelopes in stock; allow ink to dry completely before shipping to avoid smearing; give the bindery enough time for quality control if assembly involves special inserts or manual labor; and so forth. With everything going smoothly, the project team can make sure that management, special constituencies, and other VIPs get brief, signed notes with their copies of the publication. A personal touch improves the chances of getting positive feedback and cooperation next time.


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