Editing Course: Typography

Typography refers to the type (font) used to produce a document.

Many years ago typesetting was a huge job and took hours to do. The craftsman would need a good sense of style and lots of patience as he would draw an entire typeface design and then cut out metal dies that would be used to create each letter, and in turn, each word.

These days, word processors have made the job a lot easier.

Type Style

An editor must have an understanding of the terminology, basic concepts and conventions of type.

Font describes three elements; typeface (ie Arial, Georgia, Times New Roman), type style (ie regular, italic, bold) and type size (ie point size such as 10 or 12 point).

Typefaces are designed to include space above and below so that the descenders of one line do not touch the ascenders of the next line.

There are two main kinds of type face: serif typeface and sans serif typeface. Serif fonts have the little bits on the ends of the characters, whereas sans serif (non-serif) do not.

It has been demonstrated that serif fonts are much clearer and easier to read in large blocks. Most newspapers and books use serif typeface for this reason.

Of the serif typefaces some are more legible than others. For instance, Georgia is easier to read than Garamond or Times New Roman.

Sans serif typefaces are harder to read in large blocks and can cause eye strain. However, for headings and headlines, sans serif typefaces carry more impact. For this reason it is not uncommon for sans serif typefaces to be used for headings and serif typefaces to be used in the body text.

Many businesses use Arial, a sans serif typeface, for reports and proposals. However, if the document requires extensive reading, it would be better to use a serif typeface as the reader will be more comfortable and the words will be better absorbed by the reader.

Some terminology and their meanings:

Kearning refers to the spacing between the characters, however the letters themselves are unchanged.

Tracking affects whole lines of text. It tightens or stretches the characters and the spaces between them. If used correctly it can get rid of the gappy effect some fonts have, but it can also cause unevenness, which will be distracting to the reader.

Line spacing is not limited to single spaced or double spaced documents and is very important. If spacing is too wide then readability decreases. If spacing is too tight it causes eyes strain. The amount of space between the lines is called “leading” as many years ago the lines were separated by strips of lead. The proper way to set line spacing, which gives the best result for reading, is to set the leading for type about 2.0-2.3 points greater than the type size. For example, if the type size is 12 point then the leading will be 14-14.3 points.

Type Layout

Layout of type is essential for design of a publication. It is the way the reader views the document or book at first glance. It can determine if the reader will continue because they must find it appealing to the eys, pleasing to read to read on. If not, they will move on to another book. This may not be a conscious decision.

Headings: The publishing industry is divided in whether full caps should be used in headings and headlines. Headings are used to introduce a section of text. Headlines are used to make a statement or attract attention, but can still be used to introduce text. Generally, it is best to use upper and lower case for readability but all caps can sometimes have a stronger impact value. It comes down to personal preference.

Subheadings: In contrast, subheadings should generally be in lower case, with only the first letter capitalised.

Body Text: This is always in lower case — excluding proper punctuation, of course.

Drop Capitals: These are popular in magazines and newspapers, and some books also use them. They can enhance the layout and draw the eye to a point on the page.

Line Lengths: The best readability line length is about 12 words per line. A person’s attention span is limited so it is important to keep this in mind when planning a book layout.

Mixed Typefaces: Avoid using too many typefaces as it can become chaotic and slow the reader down. It is generally better to use one typeface for text and one for headings.

Blocks of Capitals: These should be avoided as it reduces readability a great deal. Only use all caps for headings and headlines to achieve impact, if required.

Bold and Underline: It is considered bad practice to use bold and underling together and should be avoided at all costs.

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