Another course

Some years ago, I used to edit and typeset the course handbook for a three-year theology degree. This spelt out in detail the content, educational methods, asssessment criteria and so on for each module of the course. Or more accurately, each module or half module, a module being equivalent to a sixth of a year of full-time study. Course tutors would write their course outlines, which I then had to edit into a standard format agreed with the university before sending them off for validation.

The course had its own jargon and conventions. For example, we didn’t refer to students. They had to be participants. I was quite surprised that the tutors were still called tutors; wouldn’t learning enablers be more in the inclusive-language spirit?

Immerse yourself in this for weeks on end and it’s inevitable that the language starts to make its way into your brain. Everything you see around you begins to look like course outline material. The 30,000 words of Handbook start to look like five modules’ worth of assessed work at 6,000 words per module . . .

And so it was that when April 1st arrive, I felt obliged to leave copies of the following in certain tutors’ pigeonholes, together with a note asking whether it had been sent to the Board for Validation at the university.

I’m particularly proud of the assessment options.


Five modules (100 credits)


  • to gain a good working knowledge of desktop publishing in an educational environment
  • to apply such knowledge in a specific context


For successful completion of the course, participants will be able to

  • recognise the circumstances under which Pagemaker 6.5 is likely to crash
  •  understand why many people ask for layouts which cannot possibly work
  • interpret such requests and produce layouts which do work but which also appear to be what was asked for
  • unravel confusing long-winded sentences written without punctuation in order to
    • identify the most likely intended meaning
    • make them comprehensible through editing and/or layout
  • with due reference to contextual factors
  • apply intelligent punctuation to hasty writing from highly qualified writers
  • understand the application of desktop publishing in a specific context, viz. the Course Handbook.

Course Content

See Educational Methods.The following areas must be included:

  • printing terminology
  • detailed knowledge of Pagemaker 6.5 or another DTP package
  • characteristics of competing typographical paradigms such as
    • the Aesthetic Model: beauty before clarity
    • the Semantic Model: structure of document content determines document layout
    • the Anarchic Model: Never Use The Same Typeface Twice
    • the Anaesthetic Model: avoid visual interest since this may influence interpretation of the text
    • the Pedantic Model: footnotes should dominate the text and booklists should include authors’ dates of birth and publishers’ full postal addresses
  • aesthetic and psychological effects of different fonts, layouts etc.
  • the course taught at this institution, with particular reference to
    • course structure
    • Major Themes
    • conventions of layout and terminology
    • standard format for course outlines.

Educational Methods

The subject will be entirely self-taught, through a combination of

  • critical assessment of existing material from a variety of sources exemplifying the typographical paradigms identified above
  • analysis of the participant’s own work to determine which details contribute to or detract from the overall effect and specific requirements of a document
  • random events such as
    • computer crashes
    • inadequately thought-out layout suggestions
    • last-minute, far-reaching changes to document specifications.


One of the following:

  • Submit a document of at least 30,000 words which you have designed, edited and produced. This must be in our institution’s standard course format and of a quality suitable for offset lithographic printing; OR
  • a set of five shorter assessments chosen from the list below.

Note: for administrative reasons, at least one participant must choose the first option above.

For those who choose shorter assessments

Submit five of the following (6,000 words each; portfolio counts as two.) Equal weight will be given to content and presentation.

  • Some pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels contain decorative details too small to be easily seen by the naked eye. These raise questions as to how they were drawn, and are considered to be there for the glory of God. Discuss the application of this principle to a document such as the BA Course Handbook.
  • The full stop, the decimal point and the dot all look similar, but have distinct meanings. In your essay:
    • discuss the historical development of the form and use of these typographical symbols.
    • relate this to current semiotic theories.
    • explain their contemporary relevance.
  • (Alternatively you may consider the hyphen, the underline, the minus sign, the em and en rules and the dash.)
  • Essay: The application of Boolean logic and linguistic analysis to written descriptions of the criteria by which academic qualifications are awarded.
  • Show how differing theological positions lead to differing typographical paradigms, and discuss the implications for ecumenical ministry and interfaith dialogue.
  • Discuss the spirituality of document design with particular reference to Christian and Buddhist monastic traditions.
  • Printing terminology contains many religious terms such as font, chapel and chapter. Why?
  • A local Churches Together meeting is considering the design of an outreach leaflet for distribution to the local community. The only people to have turned up are
    • a newly converted, young Evangelical whose fundamentalist views are considered extreme even within his own church (he recently burnt his godchildren’s potato prints as examples of “graven images”), and
    • an Orthodox priest who is a world authority on icons and the history of liturgical calligraphy.
  • Submit a portfolio containing
    • three versions of the leaflet, all designed and produced by yourself:
      • one representing the priest’s idea of how it should look
      • one representing the young convert’s idea of how it should look
      • one representing a workable compromise acceptable to both parties
    • (vegetarians are not required to use parchment or vellum);
    • a detailed analysis of each design, showing how its features reflect the theological position of the designer;
    • an account of the likely dialogue, if any, which takes place at the meeting. Pay particular attention to any conflicts that are likely to arise between the two parties’ differing typographical paradigms.


  • Tim J (ed.) BA (Hons) in Theology, Undergraduate Diploma in Theology and Certificate in Theology Course Handbook, 1997
  • Mayes J, The Design of Instructional Text
  • The printed or online documentation of the DTP package studied

Aesthetic Model

Participants should own a copy of  one of the following, preferably in the original edition:

  • The Book of Kells
  • The Lindisfarne Gospels

Anarchic Model

  • Any document produced by someone who has just bought a computer
  • Church newsletters of appropriate style

Anaesthetic Model

  • IMPORTANT: Before You Open This Package, Microsoft, distributed free with all software
  • Conditions of Use, Barclaycard, 1997

Semantic Model

  • e. e. cummings, Selected Poems, Faber & Faber (also a good guide to imaginative use of punctuation)
  • John Cage, “Lecture on Nothing” in Silence.

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