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Creating and Printing Quick Reference Materials

As the name implies, quick reference materials provide ready access to information about specific topics. Created to save time and improve efficiency, quick reference materials condense detailed content into a brief format. Virtually every industry uses some type of quick reference document.

Popular printed styles of quick reference materials include sheets, cards, and bound guides. Designed with a simple and easy-to-read layout, these documents focus on key concepts using clear and concise text. To speed comprehension, photos, diagrams, and icons are commonly incorporated into the quick reference data.

Creating and Printing Individual Sheets and Cards

These quick reference sheets are laminated for strength and durability

Quick Reference Sheets can be created in just about any size, with 8.5" x 11" being the most common. Other handy sizes include 5.5" x 8.5", 4.25" x 11", and 8.5" x 14". Sheet sizes of 11" x 17" or larger are often folded to make them easier to handle. If left unfolded, the larger sizes are good for counter mat applications or as quick reference posters to be hung on a wall.

Quick Reference Cards can also be created in a variety of dimensions, with 4" x 6", 3" x 5", and 3.5" x 2" being popular size choices. If desired, most reference cards can be made with a multi-panel, fold-over configuration to increase the area available for printing. Because of their compact size, quick reference cards offer very convenient access and can be stored just about anywhere…even in a pocket, purse, or wallet.

Quick reference sheets and cards can be printed on one or both sides in virtually any color scheme, from full color to simple black and white. If a quick reference sheet or card is intended to be used once and then discarded, it is often printed on lighter weight paper to save money. Conversely, quick reference sheets and cards that will be subject to ongoing use are usually constructed of heavier cardstock.

In many cases, quick reference sheets and cards are finished with a gloss or matte laminate applied to both sides. The plastic laminate increases durability and prevents premature wear. The laminate can be cut flush with the edges of the sheet or card, or it can overhang the edges slightly to completely encapsulate the paper substrate in plastic. Encapsulation is especially recommended for any quick reference materials that will be used in damp or dirty environments.

Because certain cardstocks and laminates can add quite a bit of rigidity, the corners of thicker reference sheets and cards are often rounded to improve safety during handling. Corner rounding also provides a very professional and finished look.

Creating and Printing Sets of Sheets and Cards

An example of a laminated card set with rounded corners. The beaded chain allows this set to suspend from a hook.

Some quick reference applications require a set of sheets or cards, rather than individual pieces. Many of these sets are mechanically fastened together in some fashion. This is because a secured set provides several benefits over a loose set. First, it helps prevent any sheets or cards in the set from becoming lost or misplaced. Second, it ensures the sheets and cards stay in a designated order. Third, a joined set is often easier to handle and flip through than a stack of loose sheets or cards.

Metal grommets add reinforcement to holes

Metal rings and beaded chains are popular methods for securing quick reference sheets and cards as a set, and are especially useful if the set needs to hang from a hook or suspend from a piece of machinery or equipment. In this instance, one or more holes are drilled through the set to accommodate the placement of the ring or chain.

A heavy laminate is almost always recommended for sheet or card sets joined in this manner because the laminate strengthens the paper substrate and helps prevent it from tearing near the drilled hole(s). For maximum strength, grommets can be used to reinforce the holes where the ring or chain passes through.

Creating and Printing Bound Guides

This laminated guide has coil binding along the top edge

When there is extensive information that requires numerous pages, it often becomes beneficial to bind the pages together in book form.

The coil binding method and the wire-o binding method are both ideal for creating a bound reference guide.

Unlike most other binding styles, documents bound with these two binding styles have no spinal tension. Hence, the pages rotate freely around the coil or wire-o spine with very little resistance. This allows pages to stay put without having to be continually held open to view the contents.

An example of a quick reference guide with die-cut index tabs and a self-standing base

Coil and wire-o bound guides will also lie perfectly flat in the open position. This feature allows the material to be referenced easily while taking up minimal room on a desk or table. Also, since the guides open fully, important information never gets buried near the spine.

The coil and wire-o binding methods also work extremely well with index tabs. Custom-printed index tabs provide an easy way to organize the guide into logical sections and allow the user to quickly locate specific areas within the document. Index tabs can be created from standard blanks or from custom die-cuts made especially for your project.

Quick reference guides can also be produced with a self-standing easel-style base, which allows the book to stand upright on a desk or tabletop for easier referencing.

Quick Reference Materials are used for a wide variety of purposes, including…

Instructions and "How-To" Advice - many quick reference materials describe how to perform a particular task. For example, many consumer goods come with a printed "quick start" guide to help the purchaser assemble, install, or operate the product. Another example would be a retail store that uses quick reference sheets to instruct new cashiers on the proper methods for handling various consumer transactions.

Procedures and Checklists - The quick reference format is ideal for explaining a step-by-step process in a clear and uncomplicated manner. The process could be as basic as handwashing guidelines for cafeteria workers or as crucial as a flight crew preparing an airliner for take-off.

Decision Making and Troubleshooting - quick reference materials can incorporate visual aids such as flow charts and decision trees to help people solve problems, deal with exceptions, and choose between various courses of action. Help desk staff may refer to quick reference documents to help them decide which course of action will rectify a client's laptop issue. Likewise, a maintenance tech may need to review a quick reference sheet before attempting to reset a building's alarm system after a malfunction.

Rules, Policies, and Codes - Certain categories of information are too detailed, too infrequently used, or just too critically important to solely rely on someone's ability to recall essential facts from memory. This is why a marina may provide boat operators with a guide of navigation rules or a remodeling company might supply its installers with a chart of standard plumbing and electrical codes.

Emergency Preparedness - quick reference materials can relay an action plan for dealing with a multitude of time-critical situations, such as medical emergencies, fires, chemical spills, crime threats, severe weather, evacuation procedures, power outages, and a host of other safety and security concerns.

Product Applications - if a business offers a wide array of choices, a quick reference chart can help demonstrate to current and potential customers, as well as to salespeople, which product or service fits a particular application…such as which spark plug fits a specific vehicle or which insurance plan matches best to a family's needs.

Facts, Formulas, and Terminology - Many professions benefit from having quick reference materials readily available so individuals don't have to memorize an extensive array of facts. This is why quick reference documents are so prevalent in technical fields, particularly computer applications, where the details are extensive. For instance, "cheat sheets" that display commands, keystrokes, functions, shortcuts and other time-saving tidbits benefit programmers and software users alike.

Cross Reference Tables and Conversion Charts - A cross reference table shows a relationship between various items, such as products or part numbers. For example, a jeweler may use a cross reference chart to see which "Brand A" watch battery is equivalent in size and voltage to a "Brand B" battery. Likewise, a machine shop may use a conversion chart to show which decimal, millimeter, or fractional dimensions are equal to one another.

Training and Study Guides - quick reference materials are extremely well-suited for learning new tasks and concepts. A restaurant chain may use illustrated training guides for preparing food and drink selections to ensure their chefs and bartenders create a consistent product across all locations. In addition to training, quick reference materials are also an excellent supplement to self-study…such as a driving school using a set of cards with various road signs or regulations to help students prepare for upcoming exams.

Sales Aids - many quick reference materials are designed to complement the selling process. Sometimes referred to as "sell sheets", these documents add a visual component to a sales presentation and help to reinforce the key aspects of a product or service. For example, an HVAC salesperson may present a quick reference sheet to share energy performance data with homeowners or an auto dealer may use an easel-style flip book to communicate the perks and benefits of purchasing a vehicle from their dealership.

Formax can print quick reference materials in just about any format you may need. If you have any questions or would like to discuss an upcoming project, give us a call at 866-367-6221. Or, if you already know your specs, simply click here to access our quote request form. As always, we look forward to assisting with your printing needs!

Take care! Keith

About the Author

Keith Beaty is the owner of Formax Printing Solutions in St. Louis, MO. Formax provides a complete array of offset and digital printing services. Specialty areas include book printing, full-color printing, laminated printing, map printing, plus mailing services. If you ever have a printing question or project you would like to discuss, Keith is always happy to help. He can be reached at 866-367-6221. Keith and Formax have been providing worry-free printing and related services since 1985.

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