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10 typographical rules

1. Use only a single space after all punctuation.
Like many old rules, the two spaces one was invented for typewriters. Every character on a typewriter was the same width (monospaced). When computers were invented, professional type was made available to computer users. Type characters were designed to space themselves in a customized manner (proportional), the same way printers have been professionally setting books for centuries. (You are allowed to double space between sentences on a computer if you are using a true monospaced font like Courier.)

2. Use proper -em and -en dashes where appropriate.
Unless you’re a typesetter or publisher, you probably had no idea there is more than one size dash, and there is a difference between a dash and a hyphen. You can look these up in a style guide, but generally the rules are these:

1) use a hyphen for compound words or line breaks… like high-class

2) use an en dash between words to indicate a duration… like July – October, 5:30 – 8:45 p.m., 8 – 12 years old, or when you have a compound adjective… like pre–Renaissance period, Lincoln–Chicago flight

3) use an em dash as a substitute for a colon or indicating an abrupt change in thought

You know where the hyphen is on your keyboard, that’s easy. But getting the en and em dashes requires some key combinations. On a Macintosh:

option key + hyphen = en dash –
option + shift Key = em dash —

On a PC, you can get the freeware program called Character Map Pro, which shows you the entire character set for that font, and you can copy+paste. Also, some freeware fonts may not have an extension character set and may be missing these characters.

3. Use proper quote marks and apostrophes.
The straight quote marks and apostrophes you may be using are not that at all, they are inch marks like " and foot marks like '. Like the proper dashes, the proper quote marks are special characters on a computer keyboard. On a Macintosh:

Option + [ = opening double quote “
Option + Shift [ = closing double quote ”
Option + ] = opening single quote ‘
Option + Shift ] = closing single quote ’

Many publishing programs (like PageMaker) and word processing programs (like MS Word) have a option to automatically use these proper quotes. You might have to get into the preferences and check a box. Look in the manual or help. Also, the quick publishing nature of the Web shows a wide use of improper quotes. Currently, it seems that straight quotes are acceptable for on-screen viewing. Probably because no HTML programs seem to create proper quote marks for a user’s content. Probably because HTML display options can change depending on the browser software of the Web browser end-user, and special characters are not mapped the same on PC, Mac, Linux, etc..

4. Use uppercase text sparingly.
Uppercase text is proven more difficult to read. YOU WOULD NOT WANT TO READ A WHOLE STORY OR WEB PAGE THAT WAS TYPED LIKE THIS, SEE, DOESN’T IT JUST SUCK?! So, even if you’re not a trained designer or typographer, try to think of other ways to emphasize text. Try bold, italic, or a different color.

5. Use oldstyle figures when available, and where appropriate.
If you have some good font families on your computer, you may notice the numbers are smaller and descend below the baseline — much different than common typestyles. Or there may be an extra typeface in the family called “Expert” or “Small Caps”. These are called oldstyle figures, and considered professional typography. They are designed to make some characters slightly distinct from the rest of the text, and still allow easy reading for the eyes. Obviously, few expert characters and oldstyle typefaces have found their way into general HTML usage on the Web, so this rule goes more for printed matter. Do you have the typeface Georgia loaded on your machine? It has oldstyle numbers like 1234567890. Go to microsoft’s web site and get it.

6. Use boldface text sparingly.
Depending on what you’re typesetting — a brochure, a book, a flyer, a business card, a web page — there will obviously be differing amounts of type on your document. Amateurs will say they want all their type to stand out, and probably boldface all the text. In the same manner using all uppercase text negates any emphasis, so does using all boldface. Slight contrast in type thickness and style will make all your text more appealing to read. Choose only the most important line or phrase to emphasize. And if you still insist on putting everything in all bold or all caps, then type it yourself and keep it away from me. It’s bad typography, it makes you look bad.

7. Avoid using underlined text.
This was another typewriter rule. Another rule you can throw out the window because using a computer empowers you with professional type capabilities. Underlining was a simulation for italics that was not available to the common peasant without a printing press. I don’t care if your professor says to underline book titles. He must still be using a typewriter. You may notice that almost every hyperlink on the Web is underlined. That’s okay (for now, until the WWW Consortium Standards are updated and adopted), obviously electronic content has created it’s own style. But most of these rules come from 500 years of print history, so apply them to your printed matter.

8. Sans serif typefaces are often less legible than serif typefaces.
The shapes of sans serifed typefaces are simpler, so reading is quicker. Now, this doesn’t mean you should use san serifed type all the time in everything you type. In fact, most books are set in serifed typefaces, aren’t they? So, generally, for quicker reading material, like advertising, you’ll want text in a San serifed typeface. But keep in mind, especially in logo and title design, that serifed typefaces are more often considered elegant. It depends on your market, and your image. Compare some different serifed typefaces (beyond Times New Roman, please) and sans serifed (beyond Helvetica, please). Try Bembo and Goudy and Minion. Try Avenir and Futura and Univers.

9. Increase line spacing to improve readability in body text.
The space between line is called leading (“ledding”) in printers’ terms. You’ll notice in page layout programs (like InDesign or QuarkXpress) that each type size has its own automatic leading size. And most word processing programs (like MS Word) give you single- or double-spaced line options — but they still have a built-in leading for each type size. The general rule here is that your leading should always be wider than the space between your words in a line of text. In the Western world, at least, where we read horizontally, the eye is more comfortable readings one line at a time, and flowing down to the next line. Type designers and printers have understood for centuries that the leading should be just slightly wider (than word spaces) to distinguish the lines, but not make the eye jump too far or the body text take up too much room. Of course, you can use leading to create a style and call emphasize to a paragraph. Some magazines stretch the leading of an article’s first paragraph to call attention to the main ideas.

10. You can probably set body text to a point size smaller than you think.
Again, this is more for print than Web type, but your first tendency is to use 12-point type for everything you type. And again, it depends on what kind of document you’re typesetting. But generally, 10- or 11-point text is easier to read because you can read entire phrases at a time (especially in columns like magazine and newspaper publication), and it just looks more sophisticated. Of course, older generations seem to gripe more often than anyone about small type, and there’s obviously a legitimate eyesight concern there. More often than not, you’ll find if you asked the same group how they would typeset any document, and they would choose Times New Roman and Helvetica 12-point every single time. So always consider your audience, and learn to recognize lack of taste — in yourself and others. And, even more difficult, consider how hard a fight it is to make your clients understand you are trying to make them look good.