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A flatplan is an overview of the entire magazine or publication, that shows how the articles and advertisements are laid out.
In the past, the chief editor pasted the pages of the magazine to a board, so that the whole team of editors could see the structure of the magazine.
Nowadays, this plan is made digitally. There is specific software to make flatplans, but it can also be made in a spreadsheet like Excel. The flatplan shows where the different sections, topics or advertisements are located in the magazine. These could include the cover, the preface, news, interviews, various themed articles, a preview of the next issue … Each of those parts can have its own paragraph style or layout. The DTP operator gets an idea of the templates or master pages that will be needed to make the sections of the magazine. The templates can be reused later for pages with the same basic layout or later articles in this style.
In French the flatplan is called chemin de fer (railway): just as the train rides on the rails, the magazine follows the structure, planned by the chief editor.
In Dutch, it was called plank (board), because the editor-in-chief used to pin the pages to a board.