Information and Communication Technology

Making work fit for purpose

Ensuring that a piece of work is fit for purpose and appropriate to its audience

This page is all about getting a message across to your target audience.

No matter how clever you are or how much you know about a subject, if you cannot present information in a clear and appropriate manner, your message will not be fit for purpose and you will probably fail to communicate your ideas.

Different forms of communication use different conventions and formats. You wouldn't write a business letter in the same way as you would a note to a friend.

Different audiences have different expectations and abilities. You wouldn't expect a six year old to understand a presentation about the legal constraints on using digital data.

Essentially, you don't want your message to be the proverbial square peg in a round hole.

This page looks at layouts and conventions that might be used for a range of ICT based communication methods.

How to make a letter fit for purpose

A business letter is not the same as a letter to a friend

In the IGCSE ICT practical examination, the most likely form of letter that you might be asked to produce is a business letter. These have several conventions and are therefore simple to allocate marks to.

Many word processors and desktop publishers come with a range of business letter templates and wizards. This means that in a practical examination you may be able to make the software do some of the work for you.

The letterhead is the first thing to consider. If you have a free choice, don't spend too long selecting a design. The marks will be for the content, not someone else's graphics.

It is more likely that the business will already have been described in the question paper. You may even have done some design work in a previous question. In this case, you must ensure that the letterhead is consistent with the business and previous designs.

Where the business name and other details are supplied, it is essential to spell them correctly. Marks will not normally be given if anything is wrong.

After the letter head comes the date and salutation. The date should be the examination date unless a different one is specified. The salutation is the 'Dear Sir'' or 'Dear Mr. Smith' at the start of the letter.

Dear Sir, is often all that is needed, but read the question carefully, it may specify who the letter is written to.

Next comes the main text of the letter. Pay attention to spelling and punctuation.

What you write in the content of the letter has to comply with the requirements of the question. There will usually be plenty of clues as to what to put in. As with the letterhead, make sure you get all the details correct.

Finally, you will need to include a complimentary close before the signature.

By convention 'yours sincerely' is used if you do not know the name of the recipient, while 'yours faithfully' is used if you do. There are unlikely to be any marks for knowing that sort of detail though.

If the letter is a little less formal, e.g. to someone you know well, then a less formal ending could be used, such as 'best wishes' or 'kind regards'.

How to make a memo fit for purpose

Memos are not letters and should be kept short

Memos are usually short documents used for communication within a business or other organisation. They can be formal or informal.

A formal memo shares many of the attributes of a formal business letter. The main difference is that they don't use a letterhead.

Instead, they have labelled sections:

Followed by the memo content.

A complimentary close is not essential and neither is a signature. However, many people include a name or initials to make the communication more personal and friendly looking.

The content of a memo is often split into short, sometimes numbered, statements, rather than the sentences-in-paragraphs structure seen in most business letters.

How to make a report fit for purpose

It needs to be easy to read and understand

There are two types of report. One is a formal document containing a title page, contents list, introduction, the content, conclusions, recommendations and references. The other is a database report, usually a single page.

You will be pleased to know that for the IGCSE ICT practical examination, only database reports will be asked for. The other type simply takes too long to produce and could not be done in the 30 minutes or so allowed for a word processing task.

Any database that you use for the examination will have a report wizard. Some will lead you through the process in a series of steps, others may have a WYSIWYG screen where you assemble the required elements.

When producing your database report in the examination there are a few things to look out for:

Column headings. The default for these will be the field names in your database. These will have been supplied as part of the examination files. The field names are likely to be abbreviated. e.g. a filed holding peoples' favourite colours might be called Fav_col. When you produce the report, such abbreviations should be expanded into full words.

Required fields. This information will be in the question, but may not be obvious. e.g. the report might be to show the results of a search. In which case you would need to look at what was said about the search in order to know which fields to include.

Required records. As with the fields, this information will be in the question, but may not be obvious. e.g. the report might be to show the results of a search. In which case you would need to look at what was said about the search in order to know which records to include.

Headers and footers. You may be asked to put certain information into a header and / or a footer. Make sure you really use a header and / or footer. Just putting the information at the top or bottom of the columns of data doesn't get marks. The header will be at the top of the page and the footer will be right at the bottom, and markers will check.

Orientation. Most reports will be portrait, but if there are a lot of columns you may need to change to landscape. Printing on two pages loses marks.

How to make a newsletter fit for purpose

Including newspapers and magazines

A newsletter is a publication which is produced on a more or less regular basis for a specific group of people.

The group might be the employees of a company, members of a club or society, or just people who have a common interest.

Most newsletters are formatted to look like the pages of a newspaper or magazine. Articles are in columns, interspersed with images.

For the IGCSE ICT practical examination a newsletter will probably only be one or two pages long. Time limitations would prevent anything longer being required and, even with a single page, most of the text and images and would need to be supplied.

Because newsletters are so variable, there are few conventions that apply. Realistically, the only ones are that the layout will look newspaper-like and there will be an issue number and / or date on it.

Most desktop publishers have newsletter templates built in, so if you may be able to get the software to do much of the layout work.

If you are using a word processor, you will probably need to make a few columns or insert boxes for text and images.

How to make a poster fit for purpose

It should convey a message at a glance

Posters are very similar to leaflets and fliers. The only real difference is that posters don't get folded.

The advice given in the previous section about what to put on a leaflet therefore applies equally to posters.

Most desktop publishers have poster templates which you may be able to use, but at the level required by the IGCSE ICT examination, a word processor will be adequate to create a poster,

An important thing to remember about posters is that they should be readable at a distance. Don't over clutter the page and make sure that the fonts you use are are large enough and clear enough to read from some distance away.

Finally, be careful of background colours, especially if your work will be printed in greyscale. A nice contrast in colour can be eye catching, but all too often it ends up as two similar shades of grey and makes the poster difficult to read.

How to make web pages fit for purpose

Web pages are best created with a web authoring package, but for the IGCSE ICT practical examination, you could use a desktop publisher, a graphics package or a word processor. The markers only see printouts, so as long as you type your hyperlinks in blue and underline them, they do not actually need to work.

Having said that, it is still best if you can use a web authoring package, since most of them have templates and a WYSIWYG interface which make design and layout easier.

Web pages are variable in layout and design, but nearly all of them have a few things in common:

As with other publications, you must include what the question asks for and you must spell things correctly.

There may be some marks for appearance, but they will be for things such as:

With web pages, you may also be asked to show how you would include sound and / or video. These of course do not show up in your printouts, so you will need to capture screens which show how multimedia components are set up.

How to make information sheets fit for purpose

They must be easy to read and understand

An information sheet can be thought of as something like a poster, but one which is designed to be read close to, rather than from a distance.

This means that the information can be in a smaller font and the images do not need to be so large and bold as they do for a poster.

All the same rules apply as for other publications:

How to make multimedia presentations fit for purpose

Multimedia presentations are unlike most of the other publications mentioned on this page because… well because they are multimedia and can have video and sound. OK, so can web pages, but most publications are restricted to text and images.

Multimedia presentations can only really be made with a presentation package. It would be possible to mock something up with a desktop publisher, but for the IGCSE ICT practical examination, a presentation question will almost certainly involve showing how the multimedia parts are used.

Any package that you use for the examination is likely to have some templates built in, but you will probably not benefit by using them. The sort of presentation that will be asked for will have to be quite simple due to time constraints, so it is unlikely to fit into a set template.

One thing to remember about presentations is that they are designed, like posters, to be viewed from a distance. That means that text should be large and there should not be too much of it on any one slide.

There are no real conventions for slides, but a few useful ideas are:

Finally, your slides will be judged from printouts. Before the examination make sure you know how to:

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How to make a leaflet fit for purpose

including brochures and fliers

These publications are variable in layout and style, so there are no conventions to keep to except that the message should be clear and unambiguous. For the IGCSE ICT practical examination, a question that requires a leaflet etc. will be more about ensuring that you have the right information on it than it will be about having the perfect product.

As with other publications, you must include what the question asks for and you must spell things correctly.

There may be some marks for appearance, but they will be for things such as:

Using all the space.

Making essential information prominent and easy to read.

Use of colour scheme, images, logo, etc. that have featured in other questions.

Having an appropriate page orientation, landscape or portrait, that makes best use of the space.

It is possible that the question will require something that can be folded to make a menu, a booklet, a card, or some other item.

Most desktop publishers have templates for these, but it is fairly simple to produce them with word processors by dividing the page into two or three columns. It is unlikely that anything very complicated will be needed, due to the time limitations in the examination.