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Definition:

In speaking, writing, and page layout signposting is a means of providing cues and directions to listeners or readers to help them understand the conversation or navigate the page. The term is derived from the use of signposts to provide directions to travelers including highway signs, signs on buildings, and signs that point the way to points of interest. In desktop publishing and graphic design, signposting most commonly refers to using visual cues on the printed page or on a Web page. These visual cues are not necessarily pictures (although they can be) but also it's the way words and other elements are placed on the page and formatted or styled. Signposting in page composition uses the elements of design (such as color, value, and size) and the principles of design (including alignment, proximity, and contrast) to arrange page elements and direct the eye to key information.

A speaker uses signposting to alert listeners to specific information or let them know what's coming next in their speech or presentation. A writer uses signposting to alert readers to what has happened, what is happening, and what is about to happen in the story they are telling. A designer uses signposting to show the reader important or the most enticing content and show them how to navigate a document. In all cases, signposting is a method of communication.

Visual Signposting

The visual cues used in page layout fall roughly under one or more of these five groupings:
  1. Artwork. In addition to photographs and clip art, artwork includes rules, borders, and even decorative text elements such as large or elaborate initial caps.

  2. Titles. This is larger text intended to draw a reader into a story such as headlines, subheads, and nameplates.

  3. Paragraph Emphasis and Organization. How body text is formatted with indents, leading, bullet lists, and even pull-quotes provide the reader with visual cues.

  4. Character Emphasis. The use of bold type is one example of signposting by highlighting specific characters or words. The use of small caps, italics, and letterspacing are also character level signposts.

  5. Explicit Navigation. Page numbers and a table of contents are the most recognizable navigational cues but it also includes elements such as end signs and jumplines. Web site navigation also provides visual cues.
One key aspect of print design is providing visual signposts or visual cues that let readers know where they are and where they are going. Signposting breaks up text and images into readable, easy-to-follow blocks or panels of information.Visual Signposts, About.com Desktop Publishing

For more on visual signposting topics see:

  • Should Websites Have Ratings? - Ratings are a type of signposting that can alert parents to potentially inappropriate content.

  • 10 Tips for Creating Successful Business Presentations addresses key phrases, slide layout, photos and charts, and transitions — all of which can provide visual signposts within a presentation.

  • Hypertext links (hyperlinks) in Web pages are a form of signposting that visually alerts the reader where to go for more information. Instead of flipping to a page, the reader clicks to a page.

Other Forms of Signposting

  • About.com Grammar defines signposting as a copyediting term for "Cross-references to topics previously discussed in a document."

  • What is Signposting? addresses the topic from the perspective of conversation and oral presentations.

  • Sequencing is a form of signposting when telling a story, as detailed at About.com English as a 2nd Language.

  • Look at some of the words and phrases that represent Signposting during a presentation.

Quotes on Signposting

Good writers are in the business of leaving signposts saying, Tour my world, see and feel it through my eyes; I am your guide. — Larry King
Symbols are the imaginative signposts of life. — Margot Asquith
Also Known As:

signposting: visual communication | sequencing | signaling
signposts: visual cues | readers' cues | signs

Alternate Spellings: sign post or sign posting
Examples:
In visual signposting, a newsletter nameplate is the equivalent of the introduction in a speech or presentation or the title of a book. It identifies the publication just as a speaker might identify his or herself or a writer might identify their work.
Terms Related to Signposting

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