One of the simplest ways to give desk top published documents a more professional look is to follow a few basic typographical rules. Many typists follow 'typewriting' conventions when using DPT software, however following 'typesetting' conventions will create a far more professional look.

What's the difference? On a manual typewriter there is a limited character set available, so some characters double up in use, such as quote marks and feet and inches marks. In typesetting, the character set, whether a 'hot-metal' typeface or a digital font is much greater, and many special extended character sets are available too. Many of the typewriter conventions were due to the mechanics of the typewriter, such as fixed width spacing, however, digital fonts do not suffer from these limitations (unless they are intentional as in the 'typewriter' style fonts such as FF Trixie).

When using DTP software with either TrueType or PostScript fonts, there are far more characters available than there are keys on the computer, so these extra characters tend to be hidden away, especially if the keyboard is used as if a manual typewriter.

One of the first rules to follow is to avoid adding a double space after a full stop or period, a single space is now enough. This double space was used on manual typewriters to get the full stop to fit closer to the ending sentence than to the following one. With Windows or Macintosh fonts this is now unnecessary as the built-in proportional character spacing will ensure that the full stop sits closer to the character to the left, than would be possible on a manual typewriter. A simple way to remove any double spaces in supplied text is to use a 'search/find and replace' routine, available in most word processors or page-layout programs. Simply search for any full stops followed by two consecutive spaces and replace them with a single full stop and space.

Next up is the use of proper quotation marks and apostrophes, rather than straight typewriter quotes that are also used as feet and inch marks. The problem is that most computer keyboards don't have specific keys for these 'curly' quotes. Many word processors and page-layout packages can now automatically replace the straight quotes with real or "smart" quotes, as you type, or import text. However if your software can do this, and you need to use straight quotes intentionally for feet or inch marks, you must disable the feature or all the measurement marks will turn into proper quotes.

If your package cannot replace them automatically, they can be accessed from the keyboard by either a combination of the option and shift keys on the Mac, or by the use if the ALT key on special numeric codes on the PC, the specific keystrokes are listed below.

Often hyphens are mixed up with minus symbols or dashes. Usually there are two types of dashes in most fonts, an 'en' - dash and a 'em' - dash. These are different from the usual dash obtained from the usual minus or dash. When to use each is open to debate, in Britain the 'en' dash - with a space on either side is often used, whereas in the US the 'em' dash—with no space is preferred.

Ligatures are special joined characters mostly in serif typefaces to replace letter combinations that may 'crash' into each other. The most common are the fi - where the top of the f would collide with the dot above the I, and fl - where the top of the f would clash with the top of the l. Not all fonts support ligatures but many do, and there are special 'Expert Set' fonts available that contain all of the ligature combinations. Other ligature combinations include ff, ffi and ffl. Some DTP packages can automatically replace any occurrences of the clashing combinations with the correct ligature, and also take these replacements into consideration when running spell checking routines. Alternatively, a search and replace routine could replace them too.

Many of today's fonts have 'lining figures' where numerals align to each other along the bottom edge, such as '12345678', whereas traditional numerals were non-lining, often referred to as 'old style figures' and don't align together along their bottom edge but are designed to match the alignment of the lowercase alphabet.

Ellipses are often created by the use of three or four consecutive full stops or periods, but most fonts feature an ellipse character, that may be more appropriate. However, sometimes individual periods are used, and spaced to match the spacing of the other characters, particularly if the spacing is increased.

If text is often supplied on disc, a quick way to tidy it, is to create a series of search and replace routines in a word processor, and assign them to a macro. With a single keystroke all quotes, dashes, ellipses, etc. can be correctly set.

Setting text in italic and bold should only be achieved with the correct italic or bold version of that font. If there is not a bold or italic version of the font available, many software packages will force a normal font to slant or embolden, creating an effect that is quite different from a true designed italic or bold font.

If you need to set text in all capitals, the readability is increased if small caps are used rather than normal caps. Small caps are optically designed to appear more appealing alongside lowercase characters than normal caps. Some software can use a normal font and create the impression of small caps, but for the exact settings, some fonts are available in a small caps version.

There are many extra characters 'hidden away' from the keyboard, and as mentioned earlier these can be accessed using various keystrokes and codes. To view the full character set of a particular font, you can use the Key Caps accessory on the Mac, or the Character Map accessory in Windows. These allow the complete character set to be viewed, individual characters can be inserted into a document and in Windows, the character codes are given too.

Below is an example of just a few of the characters available and the keystrokes required to obtain them.

Character Mac Windows
Open single quote ' option ] ALT 0145
Close single quote ' shift option ] ALT 0146
Open double quote " option [ ALT 0147
Close double quote " shift option [ ALT 0148
En dash option hyphen ALT 0150
Em dash shift option hyphen ALT 0151

There are many more available, accessible via either the Key Caps (Mac) or Character Map (Win) accessories.

I've only covered a few of the possibilities here, but these are a starting point for improving to the look of DTP documents. Next month I'll cover this further, and move on to other typographic details such as typeface choice, tracking, leading, kerning, measure lengths, style sheets and hyphen and justification settings.

In the meantime, please feel free to email me at the address below, with any DTP related questions or feedback, until next month, happy DTP'ing! Andy Davidson.


Home Andy's Columns

Copyright © 1995-1998, SVCG. All rights reserved.