The Peril of Templates


If you have ever spent time studying rhetorical patterns in popular media, you might have a keenly developed *nonsense* detector. I know I do. It isn’t actual *nonsense* we detect – it’s other things, like bias or unfair power dynamics – but the view of our world through a critical lens sets off those tiny little alarm bells anytime we think someone might be trying to influence us against our sensible wills.

One of these alarm bells goes off anytime I leaf through templates. While designing my infographic this week, I was both grateful for the visual support and leery of the many decisions I was agreeing to through this single choice. It is too easy to accept what is offered without considering all the different decisions it bundles. It’s outsourcing your design without drafting an RFP. Uninformed as I was when I made the selection, it was only while I working within its playground that I became aware of its features. It’s choosing something for superficial reasons and hoping it works out.

Move up the title box and a separate dropshadow reveals itself. Select all items in the header and discover that odd symbol (equal parts signpost and speech bubble) is actually hiding a tree top so the eye can so subtly detect similar elements used to frame each section title below. Clever, but I can’t claim credit for the design. At most, it’s because I chose well.

To be fair, it’s not over til it’s over. Choose the wrong story logic, try it out, learn through your mistake, make a better choice, keep going. The writing process of drafting and editing isn’t linear and neither is, nor should be, immune from the welcome influence of outside suggestion.

So maybe that’s the point. When you or I choose a good template, we reap a double benefit of having something that looks the way we want it without having to build it from scratch. We can learn about our message by trying on an offered suggestion, and adjust it ourselves as we go along. Once we press the ‘publish’ button and stamp our name to claim responsibility for the good and bad, we can be assured through our own due diligence as a writer that someone else’s generic template matches the impact we intend. We offer credit to the template designer as credit is due.

And as for being leery of templates, perhaps simply being aware of the influence they can have is half the battle.

Crossposted from the blog, Writing for Learner Engagement. 

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