You too can produce material to magazine standards

18th October 1996 at 01:00
The chances are that the desktop publishing package on your school computer is more or less the same software that is used by the pony-tailed professionals to create the attractive layouts you'll see in most magazines and newspapers.

The programming that makes DTP possible might be sophisticated and push your PC to its limits, but the principle is simple enough. The program provides the blank page. You import text, graphics and headlines which you can then treat as separate objects - rather like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. You manoeuvre them around your electronic page until you arrive at a pleasing effect - or at least one that you can live with.

Unlike with a jigsaw, if a piece refuses to fit, you simply snip a bit off: pictures can be cropped, headlines shrunk and articles trimmed until they are a suitable length. You can adjust the width of the margins, create columns, put boxes round text, allow it to flow around the pictures and add bold lines, borders and other embellishments.

Then, when it looks good enough to print and cannot possibly benefit from further refinements, you decide to tweak it just a tiny bit more. You recklessly impose words on to pictures; you add texture and eerie shadows to the headline letters so they look as if they have been chipped out of granite; you choose a different typeface for every paragraph, and opt for all those little touches which make so many amateur attempts at DTP such an eyesore.

The golden rule is to keep designs simple - but it's one that you will find impossible to obey. Children are less bedazzled by the technology and are thus able to show far more self-restraint. They quickly discover that DTP is ideal for producing magazines and displays they couldn't hope to match with felt-tip and paste pot.

The more sophisticated packages can be intimidating for the beginner, but the educational software houses have produced a range of simpler systems that enable children to do everything they want without having to go through a laborious learning process. Teachers, too, usually find that these user-friendly packages are more than adequate when it comes to producing worksheets and other classroom resources.

Many packages contain templates - ready-made designs - that teachers and pupils are likely to find useful. You'll find you have soon repaid the original cost by being able to knock out your own letterheads, forms, certificates, tickets, report sheets and suchlike.

But think twice before investing in DTP. You may well find that all the facilities you could possibly need are available on that godsend to the teaching profession, the word processor.

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