Common Typographical Errors

The first most common error is two spaces after a period. Most of us had a "Miss Davis" as our typing teacher, who drilled us over and over to think:

period -- space -- space

With all due respect to "Miss Davis" and typing teachers everywhere, when you are typesetting a document, you should only use one space after a punctuation mark, never two. You need to change your thinking to:

period -- space

The reason for this is quite simple. On (most) typewriters you have a fixed-width typeface. To get a reasonable distinction between word endings and sentence endings, you need to have two spaces. When you are typesetting a document, you are using proportional type. Each letter has its own width and space around it. The punctuation marks are also designed with the appropriate space.

If you have a document with two (or more) spaces after punctuation marks, you can perform a "search and replace" in your word processor. Simply search for <space><space> and replace with <space>. Repeat this several times until your search function returns a "unable to find" message.

The second most common error is the failure to use "curly" quotes. (Some programs may refer to these as typographer's quotes.) Unfortunately, the limitations of the Internet do not allow us to use "curly" quotes in e-mail or on web pages. Perhaps, some day that will change. Some examples:

Not: "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"

but:Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

Similarly, curly apostrophes also need to be used:

Not: Don't do that.

but: Dont do that.

Many word processing programs have a "smart quotes" feature that will automatically insert the appropriate quote mark or apostrophe. However, you need to be careful in two special situations. First, when you are referring to feet and inches, you should use the prime or double prime symbol, but "straight" quotes (e.g. 3'6") will work in a pinch. Second, the smart quotes feature will usually get it wrong with abbreviated dates: We should use 96 for 1996. In this case, the leading character is an apostrophe, not a single opening quote ().

If you already have a document filled with straight quotes instead of curly quotes, then you can use "search and replace" to fix them. Or, if you import the document into a page layout program such as InDesign, Quark Xpress, or PageMaker, these programs can fix this problem as the file is placed. (You may need to adjust preferences in the import filter used.) If you use the import filter in a page layout program be sure to manually fix the opening single quote vs. apostrophe problem as described.

Other holdovers from typing class -- to be avoided with true typesetting:

Use of underline instead of bold or italic type. The typewriter had no way to emphasize type except to underline it. Properly typeset work uses bold and italic for emphasis. Underlines are avoided as they will strike through the descenders of the lower case letters g, j, p, q, and y, making an ugly display. When an "underline" is required, typographers use a rule placed below the area where descenders will extend.

Half-inch indents were used with the typewriter. I can recall "Miss Davis" saying, "Remember, use 5 spaces for your indent." With the typical "pica" spacing typewriter, this was a half inch. Most word processors have a default of a tab stop every half inch. This is another carryover from the days of typewriters. Typographers normally use 1 "em space" or 2 "em spaces" for an indent. The em-space is proportional to the point size of each particular typeface and is roughly equivalent to the width of the letter "M" of each typeface. An indent of a quarter inch is a reasonable approximation of the 1 or 2 em-space indent.

Additional signs of a non-professional publication

Use of a word processor instead of a page layout program. See the article "Why use a page layout program" for a discussion.

Uneven spacing in ellipses points (that's the three or four periods often used to indicate an interrupted thought or words skipped in quoted material). When used, ellipses should have an even space between each one. Using a page layout program, you can fix the spacing with "non-breaking" spaces between each one or you can select and set a particular spacing with the type control features. The Mac offers a fixed ellipses character with three points. This works well (and never gets broken across two lines (a typographical disaster). However, some ellipses require a fourth point (period) or a comma to maintain proper grammar. So, even the fixed ellipses ends up a failure when the fourth punctuation point is improperly spaced in relation to the others.

Excessive use of bold or italics in long passages. This may also suggest poor editorial control. Often, an author uses italics to indicate thoughts as contrasted with words spoken by a character. While this is effective in short phrases or sentences, if a character gives rather long expository passages in this manner, it might be better for an author to either devise a different way to provide the reader with the material or to choose another way to contrast thoughts from spoken words.

Narrow margins, equal on all sides. The typical non-professional often tries to get too much material onto each page. The eye needs the "relief" of unprinted areas to make reading and comprehension easier. In addition, the long history of books (over 1000 years including the era before printing and movable type) has developed an expectation of certain design constraints. Reading the many books on typography and book design you will find little agreement on specific measurements. However, in general, the consensus is that the bottom margin should be the largest, followed by the outside, top, and inside (gutter) margin. In my experience I suggest that the inside (gutter) margin should not be less than 5/8 inch and is better at 3/4 inch. With that as a starting point, a top margin of .835 inch, outside margin of .875, and a bottom margin of between .975 and one inch is a reasonable minimum starting point for most books with an overall trim size less than 6 x 9 inches. Larger books can use proportionally larger margins.

Page decorations used to excess. Various typographic decorations (usually called dingbats) may be used to indicate gaps in the action, the time line, or a change of scene. (Manuscripts tend to use three asterisks centered in a line to signal those situations.) The inexperienced often get carried away with the "fun" symbols and use them to excess. (Restraint and appropriateness are the catchwords.) The other mistake is to never use decorative symbols, simply leaving "* * *" as the indicator. In addition to Zapf Dingbats (or Wingdings), most of the better book layout fonts have a few special symbols that might be appropriate to a particular book. The well-crafted book will use something that enhances the visual experience and support the story. (For example, in a historical novel about California Indians, a symbol, based on a petroglyph, was devised to be the break indicator. In another book, with a central theme involving Greek heritage, a short line of interlocking squares similar to those seen at the top edge of Greek temples was used.) This is a place where the book designer can use a small element and enhance the visual imagery that helps to support the story.

Multiple typefaces -- "Ransom Note" style. In general, it's best to stick to no more than two typeface families in any publication; although there may be situations where a third typeface is necessary. One typeface should be selected for the body text. A typeface from the Oldstyle classification of serif typefaces is generally a good choice. A contrasting sans serif, usually from the Humanist classification makes a nice contrast for headlines and titles. If the material requires a third typeface, then something that clearly contrasts with the other selections is a good choice. You never want to have the reader think that you tried to "match" a typeface -- and failed. Contrasts should be obvious and made with a purpose in mind.

Wide variation in letter- and wordspace. This is usually related to the use of a word processor instead of a page layout program. But, even page layout programs may not provide the best typography with their default settings. Adjustments to the internal default program settings, with respect to each typeface used, are often necessary. A typical adjustment, using PageMaker as an example, is to go to the "Paragraph..." item on the Type menu. Within that dialog, click on the box entitled "Spacing..." You'll find allowable ranges for Word Space and Letter Space. A suggested starting point for word space is minimum of 85% and a maximum of 125% (Quark Xpress defaults at 50%/200% -- way too loose). Try the letter spacing at minimum 0% and a maximum of 15%. If you're using InDesign, you'll also have an option to set "glyph scaling". While it is normally inappropriate to modify the width of the glyphs (letters), if the modification isn't visible to the eye, then I say, why not? I usually set glyph scaling to 98% minimum and 102% maximum or 99%/101% depending on the typeface.

No hyphenation not only with fully justified text but with ragged-right text as well. Ragged-right text should still have a relatively even right margin (to avoid having a gap-toothed look) so hyphenation is important with both styles of text layout. Without hyphenation, fully justified text will be filled with obviously loose lines that even the least aware individual will notice. (Aside from simply looking bad, wide variations in word/letter spacing can make reading slower and reduce comprehension. Hyphenation is related to the justification settings in most page layout programs, or you may need to visit a separate Hyphenation menu item. Turn on automatic hyphenation and set the limit to two or three consecutive hyphens. (If offered) I tend to select dictionary based hyphenation as the (usual other choice) algorithm based hyphenation can create instances of words with inappropriate hyphenation. (The downside of dictionary hyphenation is that words not in the dictionary may not be hyphenated when it is appropriate. Personally, I prefer to look for loose lines and manually insert (discretionary) hyphens when necessary. Others may rather just look for words that shouldn't be hyphenated or that might require a different hyphenation based on the spelling or pronunciation.) Note that most university presses place the limit at two consecutive hyphens in text and most large trade presses set the limit to three consecutive lines endings with hyphens. Do not leave the consecutive hyphens dialog without setting a limit of either two or three. Text with four or more consecutive hyphens is highly distracting.

Obvious attempts to stretch the length of a book using oversized margins, too-large type, or excessive leading (line to line spacing). I'm sure that those reading this may have tried one or more of these techniques to fool an English or history teacher on an assignment that had to be (say) 10 pages when there was only 9 pages of material. It usually didn't work when we were in school and it won't work now, as the readers will notice and feel annoyed if not cheated. Some more legitimate means to increase the length of a work are to always start chapters on a right-hand page, take some extra space for chapter titles (but no more than about half a page), take an extra page for the start of a section, or insert helpful quotes or important statements on pages by themselves. These items add value to the extra space used by making a design more consistent or to emphasize organization or important thoughts. Certainly, some of the techniques, when used below the level of obviousness, are acceptable.

No index (or a poorly done index) in a non-fiction work. Any book that might be used in a reference mode should have an index. That would include most non-fiction, instructive books. (An index may be less important or not required for non-fiction memoirs or a true story about some event.) An author may be able to create a usable index, particularly if they have some experience with that task. However, it's generally most beneficial to hire a professional indexer. Indexing is a specialty within editing. Most editors are not indexers. While many indexers may have editing experience, most will specialize and devote themselves to the creation of indexes rather than doing more general editing tasks. Keep in mind that the capability of some word processors to "index" every word used in a document does not create a true index. (Technically, such a list is a concordance, not an index.) Good indexing involves identifying concepts, which may take several words to describe and may also need several cross references. It may even require using words or phrases that don't appear in the book at all!

Use of Helvetica (Arial) or Times Roman. These typefaces are the "standard" on all laser printers and are often in the default style sheet for many word processors. While there is nothing inherently "wrong" with these (or any other typeface) they are simply overused. When you encounter these typefaces, your subconscious reaction is normally one of boredom. Times was designed for the narrow columns of the Times of London newspaper. The wider measure commonly used in books makes Times Roman an uncomfortable choice. Helvetica (and the analog Arial) are not particularly distinguished sans serif typefaces. They suffer from overuse and are further stigmatized by being used on many government forms, including those from the dreaded IRS.

A note about Helvetica and Arial: These two typefaces are called analogs of each other. Helvetica was created in the early 1950s by a designer at the Merganthaler-Linotype company for use with their proprietary typesetting equipment. Eventually, Helvetica was digitized and licensed for use with computers and laser printers. There is a long history of typefaces designed for one proprietary typesetting machine being adapted by competing typesetting machine manufacturers to run on their proprietary equipment. (You could not, for example, buy a typeface for a Linotype to use on a Compugraphics typesetter. They were simply incompatible.) In the era of desktop publishing and general purpose computers, the typefaces from many companies were digitized for use with Macintosh and MS-DOS/Windows computers. Since most libraries had proprietary versions that duplicated competitors typefaces, these have reached us as very similar (to identical) typefaces with different names. Arial is the Monotype Company's analog of Linotype's Helvetica. A letter-by-letter comparison will show these typefaces have almost no significant differences. Microsoft contracted with the Monotype Company to prepare several analog typefaces to be distributed with the Windows software to replace Helvetica, Palatino, Avant Garde and others. The result was Arial, Book Antigua, and Century Gothic -- designed to be direct replacements for the originals and to have the exact same character widths, etc.

While there was some controversy (at the time they were introduced) about the totality of the duplication, there are no legal constraints on such design choices. Names of typefaces can be protected by trade mark, but the actual shapes of the letters are, as a matter of law, not subject to copyright or trade mark protection. After these controversial typefaces were introduced, the International Typography Association (Association Typographique International or "Atypl") established ethical guidelines suggesting that competitors should wait 2 years before introducing analogs of newly introduced typefaces. A U.S. Supreme Court decision (several years ago) also established that the software that underlies digital typefaces is protected by copyright. A competitor desiring to make an analog must (at the very least) scan and redraw the letters. They can not (legally) open an existing font file with an editing program and delete evidence of the source and insert their own identification.

There are many other typography issues in creating a professional book. The publications designers and typographers at Æonix Publishing Group can help you with producing your book. We can give you advice, as a consultant, or we can produce a complete camera-ready book for you. We also can design covers and marketing materials for your book. In addition, we can help you prepare RFQs for printers and evaluate the bids you receive and give you guidance in marketing and distributing your book.

To contact Aeonix Publishing group, send an e-mail to

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