GUIDE – Rhetorical Strategies for Blog Design

The design of the study guide blog includes elements that impact its visual appeal. Although you may not have thought about it this way, you have to make design decisions whenever you write anything to anyone, no matter what medium you’re using.

When you’re using a medium you’re familiar with, like Microsoft Word or your email app, or when you’re designing a document to meet formatting standards that existed long before you were born, you may no longer notice that you’re making these decisions. When you’re using a medium like a WordPress site, to design documents for web audiences, at first you may stumble a bit over having to learn how to use a new tool for designing your message. But don’t let that process distract you from the main goal of the activity: to say something interesting, insightful, and relevant to your readers, using the tools at your disposal.


Although the web gives writers many more options for how to format their messages than print does, the options are not unlimited. And in the case of a WordPress site, the options are notably limited by the themes you have to choose from, as the theme is the primary device that controls what the site looks like.

Study Guide: Choosing Themes

Watch this overview of how to choose a new theme. The basic process is pretty easy, but there are a few things you need to know beyond simply clicking on a new theme, so watch all the way through.

A theme is a collection of files that control how a site looks. Choosing a theme requires no technical skill on your part, as it’s as simple as clicking on the theme you like to activate it. The hard parts were taken are of by the folks who designed the theme, who made the decisions about layout and design that control what each theme looks like.

I’ve installed over 80 themes on for you to choose from, but keep in mind that not every theme will work well for a study guide, given its particular rhetorical situation. I’ve deliberately left some themes available that are not well suited to study guides so that you can get the experience of having to think carefully about which theme to use — and why — rather than just having someone hand you a pre-approved theme.

Some themes are a lot more flexible than others, and unfortunately it’s hard to tell what kind of customization options might be available for a particular theme until you activate it and see what appears. If the theme does have customization options, they’ll appear under the Appearance tab on the dashboard. Options might include custom headers, custom backgrounds, and/or a variety of choices about layout and design.

If a theme doesn’t offer customization options on the dashboard, that doesn’t mean that customization isn’t possible, just that it’s a bit more tricky because it requires knowledge of PHP, HTML, and CSS, which are the basic languages of web design. If you find a theme you really like but discover that it has a particularly annoying aspect, contact me because I may be able to modify the theme, depending on how the designers put it together. I’ve made extensive modifications to the themes that drive this site and our class blog, but some themes are harder to work with than others. In most cases, the easiest thing for me to change is the color of links, but you’d need to pick new colors in hexadecimal code (a scary word for a simple concept: a six digit code for your preferred colors).


If your theme allows you to customize the header image, you can use one if the other options it provides, upload an image you’ve found and crop it, or create your own. If you’d like to create your own, whether for your study guide blog and/or the class blog, watch the screencast below.

Learn how to create your own header:

And how to upload it:

See related screencasts on the Using WordPress and WRTG 3020: Projects Screencasts channels.


While the theme you choose will impact most aspects of the design of your blog, you can also make additional decisions about design elements, like how to format posts and pages and whether to use a consistent format for headings, subheadings, images, and so on. For example, you might decide to always put posts longer than two paragraphs behind a “more” tag, or to always use Heading level 2 for section headers or to include an image with every post.

You can control most of these formatting elements from within the editing window of a post or page, using the options available in the built-in formatting toolbar. The “more” tag button is available on both the Visual and HTML editors, and the Heading level options are available under the Paragraph menu on the second row of the Visual editor. (Or you can use the html codes for heading level, which are easy, like this: <h2>this text would be in heading level 2 format </h2>)

You can also use inline CSS to apply a custom style to a particular element, like level 2 headings. Inline CSS allows you to use CSS codes for things like font size, color, borders, and so on right in the post, without having to edit the CSS file, and that can be a nice way to add your own touch to certain parts of the site. But this is definitely optional, as it requires some experience with HTML.

It’s worth noting that you won’t be able to make all your design decisions once, early on, and be done with it, as good design requires as much of a process as good writing does. The design will likely grow and evolve as you work on the study guide and start looking at it from the target reader’s perspective.

STYLE GUIDES (optional)

When working with multiple writers/designers on a site, some find it helpful to develop a “style guide” that spells out some of the design elements everyone should follow, although of course these style guides evolve along with the site, as it’s impossible to map out every relevant aspect of a design before you start building the actual site.

In that sense the design process is very much like the writing process, in that you have to go through a number of drafts and revisions before you figure out what you really want to say and what’s working well and what isn’t. And the design of your site is very closely related to what the site is trying to say, as every element of a web site communicates meaning, not just the words in sentences and paragraphs. (NOTE: See the Project 1: Learning Goals page for more on that concept.)

If you want to create a style guide, do so in a new page, rather than in a post.