Monday, June 16, 2014

Typesetting with Hidden Characters

     When setting text for a project often it becomes a challenge to describe what is involved with working with, and for cleaning up, those hidden elements that are found mixed in amongst the actual words. Without first addressing these, there is very little that can be done for setting up controls for how everything will look in the end. A quick look at your keyboard can offer a glimpse at what characters we are speaking of. The Space Bar, the Tab Key, and the Enter Key all have their effect on the text being typed into a document. And though not easily seen, they all end up being actual typed characters mixed in with all of those words, sentences, headings, and paragraphs.

     Many programs allow these hidden characters to be seen if certain settings have been enabled. The image above shows these in a pale blue color. Spaces, as small dots, of course are needed between words though the question often comes up; how many? Paragraph returns are the backwards looking "P" symbols that are used primarily for defining paragraph breaks. Tabs too are used for controlling where words appear. The problem becomes that often these hidden characters are also used in other less than ideal ways. For optimal quality for typography, and for providing consistences throughout for how the text appears, and for being able create and use certain global controls for managing all of the text found in a project, these hidden characters often need to be cleaned up and refined. This could be considered as a form of "editing" of the text - though rather than as editing of the characters that you read, it is editing of the hidden characters that you do not see.
     For spaces, the first issue that often comes up relates to disagreements over if one or two spaces should be used between sentences, after colons, etc. For typesetting for printed and published works, there really is only one answer to this question. I hesitate stating this so emphatically. A quick web search on the topic may give you some indication of how heated of a topic this can be. (A similar intense difference of opinion, by way of example, can also be found on the topic of Oxford comas!) It is surprising how strong opinions can be for such matters. So for single or double spaces, let me delicately say that there are very specific reasons why single spacing is the preferred treatment. Before trying to justify this in detail at this point, let us also look at other ways that spaces are found within documents, and at other hidden characters.
     Spaces are often used in ways that are very much less than ideal. Many times I have received documents where multiple spaces were used for indenting the first lines of paragraphs. Also at times I have seen spaces used for making lines of text appear centered within a column. Also multiple spaces may be found for aligning text within tables, lists, etc. I realize that using spaces in "creative" ways can be helpful at times. Even as I type these thoughts for sake of making this online post, I am using five spaces (and hopefully not more or less) to start each paragraph. This being said, for typesetting as it relates to preparing text for printing and publishing, spaces are really only needed (one in each instance) as separations between all the words and numbers found within the text.
     Paragraph returns (those hidden backwards "P"s) are also often used in ways beyond their main function - which is for separating all of the paragraphs. If extra space is needed between paragraphs, or for after a heading or title, or between items in a list, etc. paragraph spacing settings - rather than multiple returns - provides for much better control. In some instances too, documents have been received where multiple returns were used to force page breaks, and also used to force line breaks within paragraphs. In all these instances, by use of other controls, there are improved ways for managing paragraph spacing, forced line breaks, page breaks, etc. without the use of multiple returns.
     Tabs, our third example of hidden characters, have many uses and are very versatile for controlling the spacing and positioning of text. As with paragraph returns, they are also often used in less effective ways. For the most part, the use of tabs depends mostly on if they are used for creating indents at the start of paragraphs. Paragraph indents can be done in two different ways. The tab character could be used, or the indent controls could be used. Often when documents are received for typesetting, I first look at how indents are created. Ideally they should all be the same though this is often not the case.
     So to wrap up this story about hidden characters, let me close by stating that of course it cannot be expected that every document received for typesetting will be clean in advance. The main point with this post is to highlight some of what is involved for "editing" of all those hidden characters - and the reasons for needing to do so. As stated earlier, for best results for typography - the appearance of how all the text appears - these hidden characters need to be taken into account. And being that they are hidden from view, their shyness does not help when trying to convey their significance.
     In musical terms, I have heard it said that "music" can be expressed with the silence found between the sounds. Thus for aesthetics with typography, it could then be said that beauty can be found in the voids (the negative space) between everything that can be seen - otherwise it would all be gibberish, or at the very least, less appealing to the eye. It is by these hidden characters and other formatting controls that this negative space in typography is tuned.

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