Tabs and fixed spaces
Spaces cause many other problems for people trained in typewriting. On a typewriter, the spacebar is a known quantity. This is because every character in monospaced type is the same width—even the space. This is definitely not true for type. In fact, in type, the space band is often a different size than it was the last time you hit the key.
This is caused by several factors. First, the word space character in various fonts varies in width. There is no standard. This space also changes with point size, of course. This is not a problem with typewriters because they only have one size and one font. Because of typewriter-based training, most people accustomed to word processors do most of their horizontal spacing with multiple spaces. This is one reason why the first thing you usually have to do with secretarial copy is eliminate the double spaces.
More than this, word spacing is one of the defaults that should be set to your standards. Page layout programs give you very precise control over word spacing. Finally, word spacing varies with every line when setting justified copy. The way this works is as follows.
When you are setting a line of justified type, you are dealing with a justification zone. When the last word that fits in a line ends in this justification zone, any remaining space in the column width is evenly divided and added to the word spaces in the line. If the last word does not reach the zone, the length of the zone is divided and added to the spaces in the line (any additional space is divided and added as letterspacing between every letter in the line). But there are some real problems with this.
What this means is that the spaces on every line are a different width in justified copy. Look at the colored boxes on the first and third line above. You can see how this left-over space is spread throughout the line in the bottom portion of the graphic. Most software gives large variations from line to line. InDesign works hard to minimize this by justifying the entire paragraph as a whole. But the word spacing still varies line by line.
But aside from justification issues, word spaces are different from paragraph to paragraph whenever size, font, or defaults change. As a result, you never really know how wide a spacebar character will be.
The problem of predictable spaces has been solved by using some more letterpress solutions. When type was composed, it was brought out to a rectangle no matter what the alignment was—right, left, centered, or justified. The characters used to do this were blank slugs, called quads, that were a little lower than type-height so they would not print accidentally. These quads came in three widths: em, en, and el, plus what were called hair spaces. The el space is long gone; it is now usually called a thin space. InDesign has all four types plus several more. A quarter space, third space, and sixth space have been added and more.
Originally these characters were blanks the width of an m, n, and l, respectively. Of course, they were standardized. These spaces are now defined as follows: an em space is the square of the point size; an en space is the same height, of course, but half as wide; and a thin space varies. InDesign’s thin space is an eighth of an em, and the hair space is one–twenty-fourth of an em.
These fixed spaces are used a lot. For example, they should always be used for custom hand-spacing, because the spacebar can vary proportionally if you change the point size. Fixed spaces remain proportionally consistent. Another fact to bear in mind is that lining numbers are normally an en space wide. This means that an en should be used as a blank when lining up numbers (an em for two numbers) for accountants and bookkeepers.
Custom horizontal spacing should normally be done with tabs. Typesetting tabs are much more powerful than typewriting tabs. They come in four kinds: left, right, centered, and decimal. Actually these decimal tabs can be aligned on any character you choose like the x in 2×4. All tabs can be set up with leaders. These leaders can be lines, dotted lines, or any repeating character you need. Again this has been extended radically so that you can now make leaders out of a repeating set of up to 8 characters. You’re only limited by your imagination.
Very complex tabs are commonly done better with tables. If you have paragraphs which need to be set up in tabs, a table is usually the best solution. However, InDesign’s new Span and Split dialog enables you to convert lists to multiple columns within your basic columns very easily.
Secretarial tab use
One of the additional problems you will have with word processing copy done by others is poor tab use. A single tab is often used for the first-line indent. You will have to delete that. Because many word processor users do not know how to set tabs, they just use the default tabs that come every half inch. As a result, you will often find several tabs in a row—used like multiple spaces. They will all have to be changed to a single tab. In addition, because most do not know how to do bulleted or numbered lists, every line is commonly returned manually using multiple tabs. I’m certainly glad you never do anything like that. You will have to get rid of all of them. You will get very fast with Find & Change.
- Space, space and a half, or double space? None of them! (hackberry-fonts.com)
- Anathema! Double spaces and double returns (hackberry-fonts.com)