You want to create a workbook for your course, your workshop, or your webinar.
Fantastic. (Perhaps you read this article?)
You’ve spent time crafting your content, and you’re about ready to send your workbook off to your valued participants.
Wait a minute.
How does it look?
All your text is in 10-point Comic Sans (really?) Your margins are slim (not good for printing). Your indentation needs an alignment job. And not only is it hard to distinguish between your questions, there’s no room for answers.
You’re not a designer. Your budget and time are both stretched.
What can you do?
You don’t have to be a graphic designer. And you don’t have to invest in expensive tools or training.
I surveyed people just like you to find out which tools they are using. Along with my findings, I’ve put together an approach to help you create a workbook format that’s easy on the eyes and attractive.
Here’s a how to guide for the do-it-yourself-er:
1. Consider the anatomy of your workbook
A workbook can be a small document with a few pages or a larger document with a cover, table of contents (TOC), and different sections (modules, chapters, lessons, topics, etc). A TOC provides your readers with an at-a-glance overview as well as easier navigation. For a small workbook, you might consider building your TOC onto the cover page. For on-screen use, consider adding hyperlinks to the pages in your TOC. What else will you include in your workbook? Worksheets? Images? Fill-in-the blanks? Make a list so you can factor those items into your design.
2. Choose your design elements
Unless you’re a graphic designer, keep your design simple. Consistency of elements is essential to a professional look. Consider these design elements:
You have two choices:
- Portrait — good for print
- Landscape — best for viewing on a screen because most computer screens are closer to landscape mode
The standard 8.5” x 11” page size works best for home and office printers.
You have two types of font:
- Serif fonts have little tails on the letters, which makes reading easier. Times, Garamond, and Cambria are serifs.
- Sans serif fonts don’t have the tails. Arial, Helvetica, and Verdana are sans serifs.
For body text, serif fonts are popular for readability. However, you can choose sans serif fonts as long as the text is legible. You might need to bump up the sans serif font size to improve legibility.
For headings, sans serif fonts are popular. What makes for a good design is the contrast between the body and heading fonts. Whichever you choose, readability should be key.
If you don’t have a set of fonts for your brand, consider the tone of your subject. You can find different fonts or inspiration on font sites like dafont.com, fontsquirrel.com, or 1001freefonts.com.
To keep it simple select two different fonts: one for body text and the other for headings.
Stick with two or three colors at the most. Have a purpose and consider your brand or tone you want to create.
White space (also known as negative space) is any area that is free from text, graphic elements, or images. White space helps to chunk content into visible blocks or groups, direct the eye to highlight areas, and improve readability. Notice the white space on this page for example. To make your workbook professional, use sufficient and consistent white space in your design.
Graphic elements and images
Consider your use of symbols, icons, lines and other graphic elements to add a bit of visual interest and to call attention to different types of content. Include relevant images such as photos, cartoons, illustrations, diagrams, and screenshots. Use a convention to ensure your use of graphic elements and images is consistent. For example, you could add a small icon or symbol to indicate an exercise and a different one for a tip. Make sure your icons match in style to each other and complement your text.
3. Pick a tool
Based on my extensive research (aka Facebook group surveys), these are the most common tools for the Do-it-yourself-er:
- Word — Microsoft’s word processing application
- Pages — Mac’s free word processing application (you can download it from the Mac App Store)
- Google Docs — Google’s document editor, which anyone can access with a free Google account
- PowerPoint — Microsoft’s presentation application. People use PowerPoint as a layout tool.
- Keynote — Mac’s free presentation application, similar to PowerPoint (you can download it from the Mac App Store)
- Canva — a free graphic-design tool website (www.canva.com) that provides easy to use templates, graphics, fonts, and photos. (Some features you have to purchase.)
Note: Some people are also using InDesign or Adobe Illustrator, which are powerful but not free or easy to learn if you’re not good with tools.
When picking your tool, consider your learning curve, access to the tool, and whether you need to share your files with others. If you’re choosing between available tools, you might consider the choice of templates provided with each.
4. Pick a template to customize
The easiest way to ensure you have an appealing design is to borrow a professional template. Your template can standardize the look of your material, ensure consistency, and save you time.
Most tools come with a set of templates. Choose a simple template and customize it with your fonts, colors, logo, and images.
Tip: Use the footer for your company name or website URL. Include page numbers in the header or footer. And consider a revision number or date to keep track of revisions.
Let’s take a look at the templates for each of the popular tools.
To create a Word template, try one of these two methods:
- Choose an existing Word template you can customize. Copy the template. Make your changes to the Word Styles and save as a new template.
- Open a new document. Apply a page layout (orientation and margins). Try using a Theme to set different fonts and colors for text. Save the document as a template file. Use a convention for naming your file.
For more details, check out this article.
Pages 6.3 has a Digital book (ePub) template (under Miscellaneous), which makes a nice workbook template because it has a cover, TOC, and multiple pages. You can modify the styles and save as a new template. For instructions, read these articles:
Once you log in to your Google account, you can access Google Docs here. You have access to many different templates. If you are creating a workbook with many pages, you might choose one of the Report templates. You can modify the cover page to your liking or use another tool like Canva to create a different cover.
For more information about creating a custom template in Google Docs, read this article.
Although PowerPoint is a slide presentation tool, some people are using it to create workbooks. How? You can change the slide size to a standard page size and then use PowerPoint’s features as a layout program. Choose one of PowerPoint’s templates as your base. Customize the template. Save it and then use it to add the text for your workbook. When you’re finished, you can save your PPT file as a PDF (File> Save as>PDF). For more details, you can find videos on YouTube. Here are two to get started:
Bonus: You can download free slide templates for PowerPoint and Google slides at Slides Carnival.
If you’re a Mac user and comfortable with presentation software, you can use Keynote to create your workbook. When you open Keynote, it presents you with a set of themes to use as templates. Follow similar steps to using PowerPoint to customize a template.
Canva has a huge selection of templates covering all types of materials. For a workbook, you might choose a book cover template and the A4 document template to layout your interior pages. To get up to speed with Canva, try their free design tutorials.
5. Add interative elements to your PDF
Did you know you can add editable fields to a PDF? You might need to add hyperlinks or annotations or make minor changes to text. Adobe Acrobat lets you edit PDF files. If you don’t have Acrobat, try a free tool like PDFescape.
A DIY professional look is achievable
You understand the importance of creating an attractive and professional looking workbook. Visual appearance sends a message about the quality of your work. (People do judge a workbook by its cover.) A well-designed document also increases the likelihood your readers will use it.
You don’t have to be or hire a graphic designer or use tricky and expensive design tools to create a professional design. You can choose one of the many tools available for free or on most computers and customize one of the tool’s templates.
Consider the design elements for your workbook. Keep your design simple. Base your template on a professional design. And be consistent in applying styles.
Give your participants an easy to read eye catching workbook. Show them you’ve got style and quality.