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22 September 2019
Career skills toolkit part 3 of 7: How to conceptualise a Research Uptake publication formula and how to brief a designer and editor Print
Wednesday, 12 March 2014 13:30

Your Research Uptake Publication may take the form of an e-book, a brochure or pamphlet, a poster series or something else. It may be something you only use in digital, or print – or in both. This section covers how to nail down the look and feel of your concept, and how to communicate this to an editorial and design team.

Q: What value is there in a ‘formula’?

A: In the publishing world we often talk about a successful publication as ‘knowing what it is’. In other words, the publication’s purpose is clear and the content and appearance practically support the strategic purpose in a way that make it really easy for a reader to see, read and understand. This is also known as the publication ‘formula’ or recipe.

It’s important to consider your publication’s formula – i.e the way in which you present your text and visual package – before production begins. This is so that you have a fit-for-purpose concept in mind to streamline your brief to content contributors.


Q: How do we devise our Research Uptake Publication formula?

A:  There is no single or correct way to do this. It depends very much on what you are producing (an e-book, a brochure or pamphlet, a poster series, a powerpoint presentation or something else) and why you are producing it i.e. what is the purpose of the publication and who do you want it to reach? It also depends on the budget available, and if you are producing your publication using internal or external resources.


These factors will all impact on your Research Uptake Publication formula (note: we use the term ‘formula’ in the context of ‘recipe’, rather than ‘cliché’!). If you need some help in devising your publication formula here are some suggestions you can draw on.

  • If you already have a clear idea in your head, then write it down or sketch it out.
  • If you hit a blank then look through publications that already exist, be they posters, brochures, flyers, e-books etc. Identify elements that are effective or make an impact in a way that’s appropriate to the potential form and function of the publication you’re planning. Take this jigsaw of different elements and rework and refine them until they fit in a manner that works for your publication’s purpose.
  • If you have the budget you may want to bring in an experienced editor, designer or project manager at this stage to help you devise a strong publication formula. Again, remember you can probably consult with staff at the University press to give you some suggestions on this, or even to collaborate with you on the publication as a whole. Get in touch with them to look into this.
  • However you decide to go about devising your publication’s formula, you’ll probably want (and need) to look at and discuss a few options before you decide on a formula ‘fit’ for your publication to be. 
  • TIP: At this stage it’s helpful to think about whether this publication is a once-of, or if it could potentially become part of a series. If it is going to be part of a series then you need to factor this in to your formula so that you can keep a strong visual and editorial identity/thread running through from this first publication to potential future publications.

Q: How did DRUSSA work out the formula for PLATFORM2013

A: This is a good place to start. If you work backwards from the final PLATFORM2013 publication to the [1.]‘PLATFORM2013 Editorial and Design brief’ 

written up in the early stages of the project and compare the two, then you’ll see how the finished publication is a product of the brief.


It might be useful to you to work through the following stages when analyzing PLATFORM2013 with a view to learning how to create your own publication formula and brief. Taking a step-by-step approach will help you to see the links between a briefing formula that was planned and devised ahead of a publication, and how this influenced the final product.


Stage 1 – Creating a formula and/or editorial and design brief

  1. Flip through the whole of PLATFORM2013 looking at how we chose to ‘formulate’ the representation of regions.
  2. Then take a close look at any of the Research Uptake articles in PLATFORM2013 – it may be interesting to choose your own University’s article.
  3. Read the ‘PLATFORM2013 Editorial and Design Briefsupplied. In this instance the brief was written by the editor and then used to brief the design team that worked on the publication. Note that for individual articles the brief takes very practical elements into account including: word count per page; headline styles; the number of words for introductions; type and number of images needed; and a spec for pull quotes. [“A pull quote (also known as a lift-out pull quote) is a quotation or excerpt from an article that is typically placed in a larger or distinctive typeface on the same page, serving to entice readers into an article or to highlight a key topic,” Wikipedia] etc.
  4. Look at the example of the rough sketch of the article layout that we drew up when conceptualizing the ‘formula’ for the PLATFORM2013 articles.
  5. Think about how you can adapt the process DRUSSA used to suit your own Research Uptake Publication.


Stage 2 – Creating a flat plan

Take a look at the example of the [2]PLATFORM2013 Flat Plan

A flat plan is a publishing term for the planning sheet that shows how the articles in a publication are ordered, or laid out. It’s also referred to as a pagination or page plan.

  1. As articles commissioned for the publication come in (or don’t come in, and therefore need to be dropped) pages are ‘moved around’ on the flatplan to accommodate the inevitable changes. Without a flatplan, the editor, designer and/or publication manager can struggle to keep control of which pages go where. This can make completing and signing off a publication very difficult and time-consuming. Note – the flatplan is a work-in-progress document and you will undoubtedly work through several versions before you publish.
  2. If you compare the PLATFORM2013 flatplan to the finished PLATFORM2013 publication you’ll see that we worked out: the number of pages we had budget for; a ‘formula’ to present information bundled into regions (eg. West Africa, Southern Africa and East Africa); each region has an opening Double Page Spread (called a DPS in publishing lingo); and each article is a DPS i.e. a 2-page double spread.  We also took into account the:

·   Cover

·   IFC – or Inside Front Cover

·   IBC – or Inside Back Cover

·   OBC – or Outside Back Cover

·   As well as other relevant content relevant to the publication such as a list of all the DRUSSA Universities websites, introductory articles from the DRUSSA Programme leaders, an editor’s leter, copyright credits; and information to create awareness of DRUSSA’s social media sites, with a ‘call to action’ to encourage readers to go and take a look and ‘Join the Research Uptake Conversation’.


Stage 3 – Scaling and adapting this information for your own publication

Think about how you can adapt this information when devising a formula for your own Research Uptake Publication. In terms of scaling the flatplan for use in project of different sizes – you can make use of the flatplan for an e-book of any length – just add or delete pages as you need to. Similarly, for a brochure or pamphlet you can delete pages so that your flatplan is customized to the amount of pages you have. For a poster series you could adapt the flat plan to show a progression of poster themes over specified dates. The flatplan is there to help you and your team control what goes where and why, so adapt it to suit you. It’s a very useful tool to keep track of page numbering in a longer length publication.


Stage 4: Drafting your brief.

Use the [3]Research Uptake Publication Briefing template

and the [4]Flatplan/pagination template

to conceptualise and write up an editorial and design brief for your publication. They may be useful to you whether you work out your own publication formula and want to write it up as a brief, or whether you work with an editorial and design team to work out a publication formula.


Q: What happens after I’ve briefed the editorial and/or design team?

A: If you are working with an editorial and/or design team they will get to work after you’ve briefed them and typically present a few design ‘mock-ups’ or ‘dummy layouts’ i.e. early imitations of page layout design options for you to consider. These mock-ups will be based on your brief. A good designer works within a brief if that brief is on the mark, and will also push the boundaries of the brief if they feel the publication can benefit from this. Work with the designer to fine tune the visual representation of your publication, so as to create a strong and cohesive design identity, where form meets function.


Discussion: Once you’ve paged through PLATFORM2013 and the example documents provided, did you start to get a feel for how the briefing process for a publication rolls out in practice?

Find the previous post in this series: Career skills toolkit part 2 of 7: How to begin a ‘Publishing for Research Uptake’ campaign’


Find the next post in this series: Career skills toolkit part 4 of 7: How to project manage a ‘Publishing for Research Uptake’ campaign.’