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Charles Hedrick's Typography Pages

A Proposed RUCS House Style

NOTE: This document uses several special typographical characters. You may want to know how they are done:

“   “   left double quote
”   ”   right double quote
‘   ‘   left single quote
’   ’   right single quote
–   –   en dash
—   —   em dash
There are also names such as –. Both the names and numerical codes are part of HTML version 4, but not HTML 3.2. They all work as of Netscape 6, Mozilla, IE 4, and Lynx 2.8.1. I suggest using the numerical forms, because Netscape 4 supports them but does not support the names (i.e. &ndash, etc). The dashes (in both forms) started working in Lynx 2.7.1 (1997), but not the quotes. (Some of this data is from According to them, Lynx 2.8.1 and IE 4 have the most complete support for the special characters defined by HTML 4. Their chart doesn't show IE 6, Netscape 6 and Mozilla. I assume they also have complete support.)

This document is being written as input to a review of RUCS document standards that is currently under way. It is a proposed “house style,” i.e. a proposed set of rules for typography. The full set of standards will probably contain specific templates for common types of documents, and additional standards specifying things such as proper logos and other identification.

I'm not including the sorts of editorial standards that you'll find in books such as the Chicago Manual of Style, e.g. formats for bibliographical references, because I don't claim any expertise in that area. It is possible that one or two rules may conflict with Chicago. These rules are based on typographical practice, whereas the Chicago manual was originally intended for people writing manuscripts that will be typeset by someone else (according to an FAQ maintained by the publisher). This document may also influenced by Canadian practice (via Bringhurst) and European practice (via Tschichold), whereas Chicago is purely US. This is certainly true for use of periods in abbreviations.

The primary purpose of a house style is to take positions on questions where there are several valid approaches, so that all documents produced by an organization have the same look. It is assumed that where everyone agrees you don't need a house style to give you advice. Thus many of the matters covered by this document are by definition matters of taste.

This document assumes you have read at least Guidelines for Typography in NBCS and Fine Points of Usage. I would prefer for you to read a real textbook on typography. Robert Bringhurst's book The Elements of Typographic Style is generally regarded as the best introduction. However he teaches a rather specific approach, which is probably more appropriate for long documents such as manuals and reports than to short handouts and reference cards. Thus I recommend also reading Carl Dair's Design with Type. Although this document summarizes some points from these, it doesn't attempt to cover all of the material. (In addition to these sources, I refered to Jan Tschichold's well-known house style for Penguin books.)

Before giving the rules, I'd like to make an editorial comment: To many people, typography means choosing fonts. Fonts do make a difference to the appearance of a document. But they are not the most important thing, and they should not be the primary focus of attention. It is far more important to choose an intelligent document design, which helps the reader understand the organization of the document, and to use proper spacing.


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Last updated: Wednesday, 03-Dec-2003 01:10:28 EST
© 2003 Charles Hedrick. All rights reserved.


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