Every organisation produces some printed materials, and whether you want to start a
newsletter, create an annual report, or publish a book, the same principles apply. This
Technical Brief explains the basics, and will help you to organise your materials production,
or perhaps reorganise it.
The main reason for producing printed material is to share useful or interesting information
with others. You may also wish to publicise your organisation, or to raise money by selling
your material, but whatever the case the information had better be useful or interesting too!
Start by asking yourself ‘What is the purpose of disseminating this material?’ and ‘Who is the
audience?’. Keep the answers to these questions in mind throughout the publishing process;
they determine what format, language, level of detail, and system of distribution you should
If you are new to materials production, following these established procedures will help you to
avoid costly mistakes. Depending on the size of your organisation, you may have some or all
of the following skills or resources ‘in house’. This Technical Brief will assume that you do
not, but the same rules with regard to consultation, scheduling, and budgeting apply to both
staff and freelances. Make sure that you use the expertise of your fellow professionals. For
the purposes of this Technical Brief we will call the printed material the ‘publication’, even if
it is not being published for sale.
The first step is to produce a schedule that notes key dates and internal deadlines. It is
imperative that a schedule is drawn up from the very beginning, and that everyone involved in
the process has a copy and knows their own deadlines. An Annual Review, for example, may
need to be ready for a launch, but cannot be produced before your accounts are ready. The
schedule should include a period for consultation to allow time for you to get quotes or
estimates from designers, artists, or printers. Once you have chosen your editor, they will
help you to revise the schedule, which should be finalised once you have chosen your
designer and printer and agreed deadlines with them.
The amount that you spend on a publication should be determined first and foremost by the
purpose of the publication, and its target audience. You may have a set amount of money to
spend on a publication, and this budget may limit what you are able to achieve. If, on the
other hand, you are constructing a budget in order to try to raise the money to produce a
publication, then you should aim for the best format for the purpose. The main costs that
you will need to budget for include:
translator (where necessary)
typesetter (if your designer is not doing the typesetting)
photographic reproduction fees
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T +44 (0)1926 634400 | F +44 (0)1926 634401 | E firstname.lastname@example.org | W www.practicalaction.org
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Patron HRH The Prince of Wales, KG, KT, GCB
Producing printed material
Even if some of these resources are in-house, find out whether you need to budget for staff
The role of editor varies, but in most cases the editor is the manager of the project, and the
smooth progress of the publication will depend on them. If there is to be a project manager
and an editor, it is important to clarify the roles at the beginning. It is usually the editor’s job
to get quotes from, choose, and commission all the external members of the project team,
such as the author, designer, artist, and printer, and to ensure that everyone knows exactly
what they are contributing, and that they complete their work on time. The drafts of the
publication will return to and be checked by the editor between each link in the production
The editor will also plan the publication, and commission the author. The editor must ensure
that the author understands exactly the subject to be covered, the purpose of the publication,
and the target audience. After the author submits a manuscript, the editor works through it,
compiling questions for the author where the text is unclear, correcting spelling and
grammar, marking up the text to highlight headings, bullet points, captions, etc. for the
designer. The editor will also compile a list of graphics, illustrations, or photographs that are
needed from the artist to clarify or illustrate information in the text. At each subsequent
stage of production, the editor will proof-read the text, read it carefully for mistakes and
check that any earlier alterations have been incorporated. Finally, the editor must ensure
that the draft and final manuscripts are authorised by a nominated person within the
The editor should get quotes from more than one designer if possible, telling them the aims
of the publication and who the target audience is. Show the designers examples of other
similar publications that work particularly well, and the finished manuscript if there is one.
If a manuscript does not already exist, the editor will commission an author, who will
research, collate, and write a manuscript to the editor’s detailed specifications. Agree the
topic to be covered, the tone and style, the number of words, the deadlines, and the fee, and
confirm everything in writing.
It may be necessary to commission drawings, illustrations, or photographs to complement the
manuscript. Brief the artist on the style that you want, the number of illustrations and the
content, the size that is needed, the deadline, and agree a fee per illustration or for the entire
job. You may also want the artist to provide an illustration for the cover of the publication.
Photographers need to be briefed in the same way, specifying colour transparencies or black
and white photographs, agreeing a fee, a deadline, and what expenses will be covered. Again,
confirm everything in writing.
The shape of your publication, the number of pages, and the number of copies you print (the
‘run’) will determine the cost of printing, which is often one of the largest budget items. An
unusual shape may mean that the printer has to use large sheets of paper and trim off a lot of
waste. Consult with your printer (or several printers) to see what shape their machines are
best equipped to print, and whether the sheets of paper they use cover 4, 8, or 16 pages at a
Producing printed material
Most publications are printed in black (one colour) on white paper. You can add another
colour (a ‘spot’ colour), a second colour (two colour), or go for ‘full colour’ (i.e. four colours).
Each of these steps is progressively more expensive, and if you are interested in using colour
at all you should get a series of quotations from your printer to see what is the optimum use
of colour for your needs.
There are a minimum number of copies that the printer will need to print to make the setting
up of the machines worthwhile. After that minimum is printed, it becomes much cheaper to
print more copies. It may cost, for example, £3000 to print the first 3000 copies, and only
£100 for each 500 copies after that.
Your printer will also advise you on the weight (or thickness) and surface of paper that you
should use, although you should show them examples of what you had in mind. If you are
printing in colour you will need a heavier paper, and you may need one that has a special
coating to make the colour printing work better.
Every publication follows a basic outline, although it may not include all of the sections
The front cover should include the title
and sub-title, the author’s name(s), and
the name of your organisation. The
back cover usually includes a short
description of the aims of the
publication and who it is written for; a
short biography of the author, if
relevant; and a description of the
organisation producing the publication,
along with their contact address. If the
publication is to be sold through
booksellers then a barcode should also
be included. The inside pages of the
cover can include more information
about the organisation, advertisements,
This is the name given to the first
‘preliminary’ section of a book, which
includes the title page, reverse title
page, acknowledgements, contents
page, list of abbreviations or acronyms,
glossary, and preface. This section is
numbered (whether they are printed or
not) with roman numerals (i,ii,iii).
The main text, usually starting with an
introduction, and numbered with Arabic
numerals (1,2,3). In English a
publication begins with a right-hand
page, so right-hand pages are odd and
left-hand pages are even numbered.
The production cycle
Project manager sees need for publication, defines purpose of
publication and target audience, and creates initial schedule,
taking into account internal deadlines
Project manager appoints editor
Editor and project manager agree on important final deadlines
and overall budget
Editor consults with designers, typesetters, and printers,
obtaining quotes and advice
Editor plans publication and commissions author
Author writes text and delivers to editor
Editor corrects manuscript, refers queries back to author, and
Editor gets organisational approval for finished manuscript
Editor gives revised manuscript with illustrations to designer
Designer produces ‘flat plan’ for editor’s approval
Designer lays out publication, and produces page proof
Editor reads thoroughly, correcting any mistakes
Editor gets organisational approval
Designer produces revised proof
Editor delivers revised proof, disk, and artwork to printer, with
Printer plays out film
Editor checks against proofs
Printer prints publication
Publication distributed according to plan
Producing printed material
If the publication includes references, these must be consistent and must include at least the
title, author, publisher, date, and place of publication.
Appendixes - At the back of the publication list, in appendixes, any other information that
could be of use to the reader.
Indexes are very helpful to the reader. Try to include one if it is appropriate.
Designer and typesetter
Traditionally the role of the designer was to create an overall style or look for the publication,
specifying page sizes and formats, typefaces and sizes, and sometimes creating original
artwork for covers or illustrations. The typesetter would use the designer’s specifications to
lay out the publication in preparation for printing. Today designers often work using desk-top
publishing (DTP) packages on computers, and they may do the work of the typesetter in some
cases. Clarify from the beginning what the role of the designer will be, and if there is a
typesetter decide what their role will be.
One of the main roles of the copy editor is to make the text of a publication consistent. Some
English words have more than one correct spelling, for example organise and organise, but these
must be standardised. There are other variables too: whether headings are set in bold; where
upper case letters are used; in what order the information in references is written; whether
foreign words are italicised, etc. Every organisation must make a ‘ruling’ on these variables, and
the collected rulings – the House Style – should then be issued to all staff and freelances.
The main way to simplify this task is to specify which dictionary has the definitive spelling (no,
they do not all agree!). ITDG Publishing, for example, uses the Oxford Dictionary, which favours
‘z’ instead of ‘s’. The Oxford Writers’ Dictionary is a smaller reference book full of awkward
words, abbreviations, words that should be in italics, and difficult or often misspelled proper
nouns. Make sure your thesaurus matches your dictionary.
Every organisation should also append a regularly updated list of definitive spellings of words
that are unusual to outsiders but are regularly used within the organisation – for example do you
use drinking water, drinking-water, or drinking-water? – and of words that are new or changing,
and not in the dictionary, such as decision-maker. The spellchecker that comes with most word
processing packages can help. On older packages you can add words to the dictionary but not
delete them, but on newer packages there is a more sophisticated Quick Correct facility,
whereby the machine will always replace one spelling of a word with another once you have
Another very useful book is Judith Butcher’s Copy-editing. This book uses the Cambridge
spellings, and is still the best explanation of the process of editing. It covers all the basics plus
scientific notations, American spellings, proof correction symbols, and devotes a whole chapter
Fowler’s Modern English Usage and Partridge’s Usage and Abusage provide valuable advice
when you are not sure if you are using the correct word, or using a word correctly. George
Orwell’s 1946 essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ will be of interest to anyone who wants
Producing printed material
The designer takes the edited manuscript and the illustrations and lays them out in an
attractive, useful way (on computer or on paper). The designer will first produce a ‘flat plan’
showing the editor on which page each part of the text and illustrations will go. Once that is
approved, the designer or the typesetter sets the text in pages, and the photographs and
illustrations are set into the computer file using a scanner, which converts them into a digital
format that the computer can read and store on a disk. (If the designer does not have a very
good quality scanner, then it is better to get your printer or another specialist to do the
scanning for you.) The designer or typesetter produces a set of ‘page proofs’ for the editor to
proof-read. Once the editor has checked the page proofs thoroughly and made any
corrections (and this is the last stage at which corrections should be made) the designer or
typesetter produces revised proofs. The editor then takes these ‘revises’ to the printer, along
with a disk and any artwork that the printer will need.
The editor (or project manager) issues the printer with a ‘Print Order’, specifying exactly how
many copies should be printed and the paper that they have agreed, and telling the printer
where to deliver the printed publications. The printer scans in any photographs or artwork as
directed, then uses the disk to produce film from which in turn the printing plates are made
from which the publication is printed. The editor (or project manager) checks a set of proofs
from the film, to insure that they are exactly the same as the revises, and then authorises the
printer to print. Printing systems are changing rapidly, and depending on the technology that
your printer has available, this procedure will vary. Make sure you understand from the
beginning what system your printer will be using, and what they expect from you.
The method of distribution that you use will depend on who your target audience is. If the
document is to be distributed free to selected people then you must ensure that your mailing
list is complete, up-to-date, and accurate. Specialised distributors may be able to label,
package, and post your document more cheaply than you can do it yourself, so be sure to get
a quote before you decide. If you are sending out a regular newsletter, then you will need to
budget for maintenance of the mailing list, or maintenance of the subscriber list if you are
charging a subscription. If you want to sell your publication, then you will have to invest in
marketing it, either to booksellers or to your audience, probably both, particularly by sending
free copies out to people who will review your publication in, for example, magazines or
newsletters. Even if you are going to sell the document, there will probably be a small list of
people to whom you will send a free copy, including the author, donors, project team, and the
head of your organisation.
Useful contacts and further information
A dictionary and thesaurus – standardise on one of the main publishers.
Judith Butcher, Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook. 2nd Edition, Cambridge University
Press, Cambridge, 1989. ISBN 0 521 25638 0.
H.W. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Revised edition (Ernest Gowers, ed.),
Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996. ISBN 0 19 281389 7.
George Orwell, ‘Politics and the English Language’ Horizon, April 1946. (This essay is often
included in collections of Orwell’s essays and journalism.)
The Oxford Writers’ Dictionary. R.E. Allen (ed.), Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1990. ISBN
0 19 282669 7.
Eric Partridge, Usage and Abusage: A guide to good English. 2nd Edition (ed. Janet
Whitcut), Penguin Books, London, 1995. ISBN 0 14 051281 0.
New Hart’s Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers and Editors Oxford University Press,
2005 ISBN 978-0-19-861041-0