Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Typesetting with Visible Characters

Our earlier post referenced three types of hidden characters that can be typed into a document (spaces, tabs, and paragraph returns). Now looking again at the keyboard we can also highlight those characters that actually leave a visible mark once typed. It is noteworthy that there are rather few keys available. And even expanding this by using the Shift Key, we only come up with a total of 94 visible characters to choose from on the keyboard. Depending on the font style being used, this can be a mere fraction of the total number of font characters that may be available.

     Probably the most familiar font character used that is not found on the keyboard would be bullets. These characters are really no different than a "2" or a "B" - it is just that it is not so easy to add these when one is needed. In addition to various bullet characters, there are also long dashes (en- and em-dashes), ellipsis characters, copyright symbols, dingbats, fraction characters, etc. This expanded set of characters can be extensive though this may be somewhat dependent on what can be found within the font style being used.

     Using Arial font as an example, the above image shows some of the expanded characters that are available. By scrolling down through these I count in excess of 1,400 individual characters. This though is an extreme example given that many of these characters are foreign (which is probably for enabling the computer's operating system to be configured for different languages). That being said, for certain words (such as moirĂ©) maybe some foreign letters would be needed. This will depend on what style decisions are made for the project being typeset. For me, I tend to stay with the language I am writing in - which would be without the accent mark (spelled as "moire," as found throughout our post on Moire Patterns).
     Let us focus on some other common expanded characters, such as dashes (verses hyphens); ellipses (versus periods); prime marks (verses quotation marks); and fraction characters. Some of these characters may be found within the font set (as shown above); others are added in other ways. And let us also consider when to use superscript characters for setting type.

Hyphens or Dashes:
     The use of grammatical dashes - as part of a sentence's structure - to divide out independent thoughts contained within a single sentence is tricky. This is not so much from the standpoint of using them in writing (which I would be no expert on) as it is for how they should look once used. And more specific to this, how they should all look. Once a preference is made, care is needed to see that they are all done in the same way.
     Traditionally for publishing, the longer em-dashes have been used. Also noteworthy is that this would be without a space character before the dash, and none after the dash. Another option that is becoming more common is to use the shorter en-dash along with a space before and after the dash. The commonality of this may partly be due to certain programs doing this for you automatically as you type. Magically a typed hyphen turns into an en-dash. For examples of grammatical dashes found on this blog site, you will see that actual hyphens are being used (with spaces before and after). Again the main goal is for consistency throughout. And for printed and published works, the preference should be for using either en-dashes or em-dashes.

Ellipses or Periods:
    Ellipses too can be tricky - and again with no thanks given to those programs that will try and include these for you. When typing three periods in sequence, we may end up with some uninvited intervention which replaces them with a single ellipsis character. The difference is that an ellipsis character will show more space between each (as shown above). And yet another option is to do these as a typed period, then a space, then a second period, then a space, and then the third period (which places even more distance between all of the periods). Again the goal is to first establish a preference, and then for consistency throughout, see that they are all the same.
     If we were to state a preference, it would be for just the periods without any of the added spacing. Aside from liking the more compact look, there is also the very practical reason for also needing to consider how these will look when accompanied by other added punctuation - such as an actual period, a comma, etc.

Fraction Characters or Numbers with Slashes:
     There is a theme with all of these examples. When typing with certain programs it seems they feel compelled to try and do things for you without your asking! Typing a simple fraction of 1/2 as a "1" followed by a slash, followed by a "2" should be enough. There is no reason why this should be turned into a single character for this fraction (shown above). By checking your font characters you will see that very few fractions are listed as being available to you, which means that if you then type "7/8" it may remain as "7/8" in appearance. Again the goal is for consistency for how all fractions appear.

Quotation Marks or Primes:
     Quotations marks may be the exception for being appreciative towards what programs will do for you when typing. If you notice on the keyboard, single quotes and double quotes are actually prime characters. They are straight up and down lines; they do not have the characteristic curl to the right (for starting a quote) and curl to the left (for ending a quote). Though for math symbols for indicating feet (single prime) or inches (double prime) some may object to the default curls. (See above for examples of the various marks.)
     With quotation marks, it is good to also look for those instances where the wrong mark has been inserted. If a space is accidentally typed prior to an ending quotation mark, a beginning mark rather than a closing mark may be the result.

Superscript or Set Normal: 
     Though this does not directly relate to fonts and expanded characters, the use of superscript text has a shared concern for doing so consistently. Again thanks to certain programs, you will find that as you type "st" or "nd" or "rd" that they may end up being set as superscript letters. I am not sure who this would be helpful to. The small letters add to the challenge of reading easily and are rather unappealing when found mixed in with the rest of the text. Also, it becomes very difficult to then look through all of the text, for a given project, to see if they all are set in this way. Try a word search on the letters "st" and see how many results you will find that have nothing to do with numbers. Generally it is our recommendation that superscript be only used for source note numbers.

     Wow! It seems I may be coming across a bit bitter towards all those programs that seem to know what we want when we are typing. In most instances, rather than helping, they seem to compound the challenge of having overall consistency with the text. The good news though is that once decisions are made on preferences for how things are to look, there are ways to get things to be as they should be throughout. Find-and-replace tools are very handy for looking for, and then resolving, inconsistencies. 
     As noted on our introductory page on Text & Typography, many observations and refinements offered when typesetting a project may be similar to, though also very different than, those offered by others. Such scrutiny for matters of font characters probably best fits the tasks and goals of the one who would be doing the final typesetting. As a typographer, for me, it is comforting to then rely on the expertise of others, such as editors and proofreaders, for matters such as the content of what is written and its grammar. Hopefully this way all basses are covered.

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.