Basic formatting tips
This is the rough draft of a third portion of “The New Publisher” which will be a guide to ministers, ministries, and non-profits who need to get their vision out to their people. This new paradigm of the 21st century radically changes things. It gives us an opportunity we should not pass up.
- Designing your paragraphs
We need to talk a bit about setting up your paragraphs. Again most of this knowledge is assumed by software manuals and publishing Websites. Somehow they seem to believe that your little psyche will be stifled if any opinion on normalcy is mentioned—or some such idiocy like that.
It’s not magic or luck when you produce reading materials that are enjoyable to read. It is the result of setting your copy up (formatting it) in a manner that the reader instantly recognizes and comfortably understands.
The goal is to lead the reader through your writing effortlessly. The reader must be completely unaware of this guidance. It needs to feel natural, comfortable, and obvious as the content is received.
As I go through this little presentation, I will be simply sharing what I use. My hope is that you can look at my usage and convert it into something that works for you. I will attempt to give you the arguments that have convinced me to do things in this manner. But, there is no right or wrong once you are inside the relatively wide parameters of normal.
- Disclaimer: Much of this formatting is really not possible yet in eBooks. We do the best we can. It is almost certain that this situation will improve. But there is no way to know how soon that will happen.
The need for comfort
Our basic problem is that we have too much to read. Subconsciously we are continually looking for ways to eliminate content in order to keep our reading requirements within a tolerable range. We might miss a lot of good content this way—but that is the way it is.
In our modern culture, huge numbers of people have difficulty reading. It goes far beyond that, of course. I know young men and women who avoid reading entirely [as much as possible]—even though they are considered fully literate.
The result is that we need to go out of our way to make our books accessible to poor readers. Reading is hard to avoid as a Christian—focused as we are on scripture. But many Christians do. We have a large and growing portion of our lower middle class who get all of their information from social media, TV, movies, and videos.
We can argue all we want about these media options and their limited amount of actual content. But, the fact remains: even those who buy our books may well have trouble reading. We must help them with our formatting and layout. We must be kind to our readers—gentle and loving.
If our readers experience any discomfort or reading difficulty we have probably lost them. They will simply not finish reading our content.
I am a very good and very fast reader. Yet I also simply put books aside that are difficult to read. I am not talking about difficult content (though that can be a problem). I am talking about poor layouts, columns that are too wide, fonts that are too styled, overly busy layouts, and all the rest. The only difference with me is that I am tuned into this problem so I often notice when I do this with a book. Most people are not conscious of why they put down a book. They simply do not read it.
The poetry filter
I wonder how many of you are like me. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but anything in a book that is formatted as poetry I skip. I simply pass over that portion of the copy and continue on. My experience over the years is that the content in poetry is very limited and far too open to interpretation. I am almost always looking for facts—easily accessible facts. Poetry has never provided this for me. So, I have developed reading habits that keep me from wasting time. I jump to the explanation of the poetry that follows.
I am sure this horrifies many of you. I am not saying that this poetry filter of mine is good or desirable. I am simply saying that it exists. Again, the only thing strange is that [as a typographer] I am more aware of my reading habits—so I noticed this behavior.
What reading filters do you have?
I suspect you need to pray that the Lord show you. It’s hard to say what you have been missing all these years.
The first formatting decisions we will be talking about are for the style I call 2-Body. Body copy is the main content of your book. This is the copy that needs to be comfortable to read. This is the background against which the contrasting heads and subheads stand out. You really need to focus on making this as comfortably readable as possible
- I number my styles to help me remember the shortcuts and to aid in sorting the styles: All of my body copy styles are numbered 2. All of my lists are numbered 3. All of my sidebar styles are numbered 1. Headline is 6. Subhead is 7. Subhead 2 is 8. And so on. These numbers really help me manage my styles.
What I want to do here is give you some design tips to use when setting up your set of standard styles. I will go through those that I use, explaining the hows and whys as I go. Again, my solutions will probably be different from yours. You must come up with your own styles. If you do not work on this now, you’ll pay with extra unpaid labor later.
- Fonts choices influence these decisions: Readability has to do with the number of words per line, the legibility of the font used, the size of the letters, and a lot more. The fonts I am using in the print versions of this booklet is Contenu. It has a very small x-height. So, to maintain the optimal 10-12 words per line I am setting the type in 12-point which is quite large for print.
I should be able to assume that you have this under control. There is a very strong expectation of normal for these paragraphs by your readers.
- Serif font: This is the standard. Most people still believe that serif fonts are much easier to read. This is being argued. For the new generations, it may be true that a humanist sans font reads very well. But for those born before 1970 or so, all of our reading experience is based on the assumption that serif fonts must be used for body copy. We all learned to read with serif fonts until very recently.
- Size: The standard for body copy is 10/12 (10-point type with 12-point leading). This can vary from 9 to 12 point in size. The leading will be determined by the amount of line spacing built into the font used and the x-height. The larger the x-height, the more leading is needed. Most traditional publishers demand 10/12 no matter what.
- Alignment: Left or Justified left. Typographers tend to like flush left because the word spacing remains constant. However, I have read studies that seem to show that justified copy is a little more readable with adequate column width.
- Longer line lengths or heavily stylized fonts require increased leading: This includes many italics. Formality also needs extra leading—plus a lighter, more elegant typestyle.
- First line indent: Historically, you used either a first line indent or extra paragraph spacing, not both, Now, however, it is common to see a first line indent with a couple of points of space after paragraph.
There is no right or wrong about the size of first line indents. The norm would be somewhere between a quarter to a half inch.
2-Body No First
- Based on: 2-Body
- No indent, extra space before: This style is used after headlines. Adjust it to read well with your headers.
- Next style: It should go to the normal 2-Body.
Obviously, if you do not use a first line indent for your body copy, you’ll need to use some other device for these paragraphs. You can try a drop cap, make the first line small caps, or something like this to help the reader know the content starts here. It also helps set off the headline.
This is a common way to format the fourth or fifth level of subhead: It also works well for more informal lists and word definitions.
- Based on: 2-Body
- No first line indent: The style becomes too visually confusing if you are not careful. Eliminating the first line indent seems to help.
- Extra space before paragraph: Because of the lack of a first line indent and the existence of a subhead, a little extra space before paragraph seems to help in the emphasis needed.
- Nested style to format the subhead: I usually set mine up to apply the style until the first colon [as you see above]. This way it happens automatically as I write.
- Run-in head uses header font: Depending on the header font used, you may need to use a bold or even black version of the font to give enough contrast for legibility.
As you can see above, I also use run-in heads to help with my lists. My writing style starts a list paragraph with a pithy statement. That is followed by explanatory copy.
Zero numbered styles
I have found that I commonly have more more styles based on 2-body than I have available shortcuts. As a result I have three styles that (if used) are given a shortcut using the Num Zero keystroke.
- Based on: 2-Body
- Indented left and right the same amount as the first line indent of 2-Body: But, this is certainly not written in stone.
- Different alignment: Quotes are also usually set justified when the body copy is flush left and often set flush left or centered when the body copy is justified.
The main thing is to make them different enough to be an obvious solution. If you do it well, quotation marks will not be needed [though you still must use them].
- Based on: 2-Body
- Same font as the body copy, flush right, often italic:. This is the most common form. But, the name of the author of the article is set in many and various ways.
- Bio style for articles: You may also want to have an entirely different paragraph style at the end of the article with an indent that allows room for a small picture and a short bio to go with the name and credits. The little bio can add a gentle warm fuzzy to help leave the reader with a good taste in his mind about the article.
This little item has changed greatly in the years I have set type. Originally captions were commonly set small and italic. Current research suggests that the caption is more important than the headline in attracting readers.
- Based on: 2-Body
- A little larger than body copy
- Flush left
- A synopsis of the points the article is making about the picture: In other words, because the picture is illustrating the article (why is it there if it is not) the synopsis helps the reader decide whether or not to read the articles.
- Remember: if it is not truly important content to the reader, he or she will be angry if you trick them into reading copy that has no relevance to their life. None of these formatting tips will help bad, unusable, or poorly written copy.
- Based on: 2-Body, same size
- Bold or Black: They need the contrast to make them function as subheads.
These lesser subheads are now largely made irrelevant by the run-in styles already talked about.
These are extremely important areas in your copy. In terms of reading importance they rank right up there with the headline and the picture captions. Most lists of paragraphs that capture the reader’s attention put captions first, headlines second, and lists third. Some make Headlines first. Many readers look for lists and only read the rest of the copy if the lists are helpful.
- Flush left alignment: List paragraphs are usually quite short so justified copy often looks very bad. They will almost always need flush left.
- Decorative bullets: As you can see in the free PDF on Scribd, in this book I am using an ornament. In my Bible studies I use a cross. For marketing work, miniature logos can make wonderful bullets.
Because the reader considers your lists to be so important, you need to work at making them good-looking and obvious. A little care here will go a long way in helping your readers like your book.
- Left indent: the same as the first line indent of 2 Body.
This second left indent is a great help in visually organizing your copy. It really helps make your formatted copy easy to absorb. It is a sure sign of professionalism. It also shows reader consideration by making the layout easily understood so that the content can be appropriated without the need to figure it what the priorities really are.
- Bullet location: The bullet should hang somewhere between the left column margin and halfway to the left indent—as you see to the left here.
- Left indent: the same as the first line indent of 2 Body.
- Number location: The number needs hang somewhere between the left column margin and halfway to the left indent. You need to leave room for the longest number with your indents.
- Watch your lists carefully: Often these paragraphs are so short that you have to break for sense to get rid of the large amount of short sentence fragments generated (called widows). Extra care needs to be taken for readability and reader comfort.
If your bulleted and numbered lists are crucial to reader understanding, you may want to make them larger, bolder, and/or in a different font than your body copy. They are very important.
Heads and subheads
Ideally, especially for headlines, these need to be written giving the reader the number one benefit of reading the content. They need to give the reader a reason to read the content—or at least give them the option of making an informed decision. This is your outline. It is also your Table of Contents as these styles are collected for the TOC.
- Short, pithy paragraphs that give a synopsis of the copy that follows: Readers depend upon them to keep track of where they are on the page.
- In non-fiction: subheads are used to demarcate sections of copy within a chapter.
- Recapture wandering readers: If you have a section that the reader believes is already known, you often lose the attention of the reader. To recapture them, a well written subhead will pull them back into reading your copy.
This needs a lot of contrast with the body copy — in size, color, and/or type style. Typically the heads are sans serif and the body is serif, as you well know. However, heads should be a black sans serif and copy needs to be a book serif (lighter than medium, darker than light).
- Used once: A headline is used once per article or once per chapter. This is the indicator to the reader that the content starts here.
- Size: The normal size for headlines is 24 to 36 point.
- Length: In general, they should be reasonably short and pithy. In other words, they need to give the reader a clear idea of what is coming in the copy following. Though they are different than billboards, the eight word maximum is not a bad guideline.
- Alignment: This needs to be closely watched. If the body copy is flush left, the heads need to be flush left. If they are centered over flush left copy they will typically look off center. If the body copy is justified, the heads can be either left or centered. The main thing is ease of reading and logical consistency.
7 Subhead 1
This needs to be the same basic setup as the headline but about 25 to 33 percent smaller. So for this (in the PDF) book, where the headline is 36 point, subhead one is 21 point. Mainly, you need to clearly differentiate & prioritize the headers.
8 Subhead 2
This is smaller yet and almost always flush left (even if the heads and first level subheads are centered). In this book they are small—only 14 point. This is why I added the little colored square to the right of the last line.
- Slightly less contrast: If the 6 and 7 styles are black, 8 subhead 2 is often bold in the same sans serif. These second level heads do not need nearly as much contrast as the larger, more important heads. As you can see, for this book I have added a little gradient square to the right (with a paragraph rule).
Pull quotes or callouts are one of the more important typographic features in long non-fiction articles and books. They are type used as a graphic to recapture the reader’s attention (in case it is wandering). Occasionally they get extremely graphic, but the norm would probably be 50 to 100% larger in italicized body copy. They often use paragraph rules above and below to set them off.
“(Pull quotes) are type used as a graphic to recapture the reader’s attention”
- If they are actual quotes: it is a common device to make the quote marks extremely large (400 to 1,000% of the point size of the pull quote). The ones used above are 300% larger. By the way, the only difference between the two names (pull quotes and callouts) is that pull quotes actually quote part of the surrounding copy.
- Not used in busy layouts: Actually you will see that I use them less and less because most of my non-fiction writing is too complex. Pull quotes just become more noise. If you are going to use them, you must use almost violent contrast in these cases.
None of these paragraph styles are to be used unless they are necessary (in your judgement). The guiding principle is still the same simple concept. Do they help the reader comfortably and easily access your content?
There are no real rules here, but let’s give it a shot. First of all, sidebars, by definition, contain peripheral information. In other words, they contain data that is interesting and nice to know; but they are often tangential to the main thoughts and concepts of the body copy.
- De-emphasized a little: We still want the body copy to be primary.
- Tinted background: The best way to do this is to put the sidebar in a tinted box. Contrary to common, nonprofessional thought, a tint box tends to make items less important. The tint back ground lowers contrast so the type is harder to read. To make a tint box primary, you will need to place a background image over the entire page — then the light, bright tint boxes will stand out.
- Contrasting type: As far as type is concerned, you want a font that contrasts with the body copy at least. Depending upon how you intend to use the sidebars, you may wish to pick typestyles that contrast with both the main body and its heads.
- Multipurpose use: In my books I commonly set up my sidebar styles so I can use them for emphasis within the main copy also. I use the same font as used in my heads, with a plain, light, or medium version of the font for my sidebar body copy.
- The key to remember is that the tint in the tint box will mess up your type: Even at 150 linescreen with 300 dpi tints, the tiny little dots will blur the edges of your characters. So you need to pick typestyles that will not be damaged by those dots. This is why I usually use sans serif for my sidebars. When coupled with the fact that my sidebars are usually very brief, this works well. If your sidebars are going to be long, even a parallel story with your main body copy, maybe you should try something like Century Schoolbook or even a strong contrast like Rockwell or Lucida Bright. Because of the lessened contrast you can use much blacker type than normal. In some cases, an actual Black or Display weight printed at a 70% tint works well.
- Tables: I commonly use my sidebar styles in my tables also. The increased legibility helps within the gridwork of a table.
Good formatting is a ministry (a service) to your reader
- How to create a professional-looking document (wordsmithsuk.wordpress.com)
- A Crash Course in Typography: Paragraphs and Special Characters (noupe.com)