A Proposed RUCS House Style
NOTE: This document uses several special typographical characters. You may want to know how they are done:
“ “ left double quoteThere 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 http://webref.info/index.htm?char. 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.)
” ” right double quote
‘ ‘ left single quote
’ ’ right single quote
– – en dash
— — em dash
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.
- If you are limited to the fonts that came with your system,
I suggest using Palatino. In older versions of Microsoft
software, this is sometimes called Book Antiqua. It isn't always
installed by default, but it should be on the CD or floppies.
- Palatino is excellent for longer documents such as manuals, on
8.5x11 paper. For flyers and PR material, consider using ITC Century
Book or ITC Century Book Light. This is a University standard font for
such documents. Note that ITC Century should be set with at least the
“fi” ligature. This is not necessary for Palatino. Fortunately
documents of this type are normally done with page design software,
rather than Word. This normally allows automatic ligatures insertion
(which Word does not).
- For fonts other than Palatino and ITC Century Book, you are
responsible for determining whether the font requires ligatures, text
figures, or small caps, and using them if necessary. (Palatino
is better with text figures and ligatures, but does not absolutely
require them. ITC Century Book requires ligatures, but not text
figures or small caps.)
- For the web, ligatures, text figures, and small caps are
impractical. There's not a lot you can do about that. I don't recommend
faking small caps by decreasing the font size. (I violate that in this
document in places where I need to show how small caps are used.
I don't see any way to avoid doing this.)
- The ideal line length is about 65 characters. However with
8.5x11 paper, you'll end up with longer lines. Try to use fairly
wide margins and moderately large fonts, so that your line is 80–90
characters, or less. 10 point Times with narrow margins can result in 120
characters in a line. That's absurd. (Times in inappropriate for
RUCS printed documents in any case, for various reasons explained
- For long documents, such as manuals and reports, use a style
such as that used in Guidelines for Typography: no bold and as few
sizes of type as possible. Use letter-spaced capitals, letter-spaced
small caps, and italic. Palatino has particularly good capital letters
and italics. For shorter documents, flyers, etc, I would use a style
with more contrasts. Consider ITC Century for the text, and a bold
sans for headings, or sans for the entire document.
- Avoid bold capitals. They tend to be hard to read. For
documents using bold titles (including web pages), I would use large
size bold upper-lowercase for higher level headings rather than all
caps. You may choose to violate this for a few short titles, e.g.
the document title or chapter titles. But if you use bold uppercase,
make sure it is very well letterspaced.
- Make sure you follow the rules described in Guidelines
for Typography on topics such as providing large enough
margins and interline spacing, justification, hyphenation, proper
use of typographical characters (typographical quotes, en dashes
rather than hyphens, raised dots rather than bullets where
appropriate), aligning the first paragraph after a heading with
the heading, one space after a period, and letterspacing capitals
and small capitals. Some of the more common rules are repeated
below, but you should read the whole document.
- Use right justification for normal text, except where it is
impractical. The main example where it's not impractical is columns
that are so narrow that justification leaves too much white space.
Look carefully at the settings for your justification code, to make
sure that it produces results that look even, and that there is the
right amount of white space.
- Use en dashes for ranges and to set off clauses – such as this.
A double hyphen (--) is sometimes used for an en dash in ASCII.
However all real fonts have the en dash. So a double hyphen should never
appear in print. The en dash should be surrounded by word spaces
when used to set off clauses, but not in ranges, e.g. 1994–5. Ranges
should be written with the fewest number of digits possible, e.g.
2001–2, not 2001–2002.
- Do not use a hyphen for a minus sign. If you don't have a real
minus sign, use an en dash followed by a thin space.
- Don't use a period after abbreviations where the last letter
of the full word is included. E.g. Mr and Dr, but Prof. and Capt.
However with commonly used units and in bibliographies, the period
is unnecessary, e.g. “p” for page and “m” for meter. It is
also unnecessary in common abbreviations that are typically
written in all caps or small caps, e.g. BC, AD, AM, PM, Washington, DC.
[NOTE: This is a compromise rule. European practice avoids periods.
American practice uses them obsessively. This proposed rule is from
Bringhurst, who says it is the Oxford University Press house style.]
- If you abbreviate names, use periods followed by a thin space except for the last, which is followed by a word space: J.A.T. Robinson.
- If you are using small caps, in most cases you should set all
abbreviations and acronyms in letterspaced small caps, except for those that
represent personal names (i.e. initials). In principle there are
exceptions, e.g. 2-letter geographical abbreviations. But computer
center documents normally have so many acronyms that leaving a few in
uppercase results in an undesirable inconsistency.
- Use a single space after a period at the end of a sentence.
(Yes, I know your high school teacher told you to use two spaces.
He or she was wrong. The Chicago Manual of Style says to use
one space for typesetting and two on a typewriter. I see no typewriters
here. And even for a typewriter it's debateable.)
- Always letterspace a series of caps or small caps. Don't ever
letterspace lowercase in normal text. (An exception is recommended
below for items that aren't normal text.) Make sure that your
word processor doesn't change the spacing between letters as part
of justifying text. If it does, you should be able to disable it.
- Consider letterspacing long numbers. This depends somewhat
upon the font, but 5% letterspacing often makes numbers more
readable. This is often most important in tables.
- Make sure you assess your font to see whether it requires
ligatures, text figures, and small caps. See the two documents
for information on how to use them.
- If the f and i
overlap or come close, you will need to use the “f” ligatures.
The depends upon the design of the font. Most fonts need them
unless they are specifically designed with a non-kerning f.
The only common-used font that doesn't need ligatures is Palatino.
- Text figures should be used for most fonts, although you can get
away without it for fonts that have a large x height and for “modern”
fonts. In my judgement Times should be used with text figures.
Palatino and Century can be used without, but Palatino looks better
with text figures. Use them for all historical fonts designed before
the 19th Century (e.g. Garamond, Janson, Baskerville, Bodoni)
- Small caps should always be used for acronyms and abbreviations if possible. But they are truly essential only for fonts having a small x height. This includes just about all historical fonts before the 19th Century (e.g. Garamond, Janson, Baskerville, Bodoni).
- If the f and i overlap or come close, you will need to use the “f” ligatures. The depends upon the design of the font. Most fonts need them unless they are specifically designed with a non-kerning f. The only common-used font that doesn't need ligatures is Palatino.
- Know whether your word processor kerns by default.
Kerning often doesn't matter much for lowercase. But it can
be critical for strings of capitals – particularly in a large size.
You may need to adjust kerning manually for titles.
- If you don't have a real small caps font, don't fake it
with your word processor's “small caps” setting. It's better
to use full caps than fake small caps.
- Avoid “nesting” bulleted or numbered lists. If you must, the
second level (there should never be more than two levels) must not go
beyond a page. Normally the second level should be of a different
type. I.e. if the outer list is numbered, use bullets for the second
level and visa versa. One way to keep down the length of lists is
to start with a summary list –
each item being just a line or two. You can give more details on each
item in following paragraphs.
- Lists should stick to classical tags:
bullets and numbers. Word has some truly terrible tags for its lower
- Check the amount of space between the bullet and the text.
Word processors often leave too much. The optimal space depends upon
how bold the bullet is – bolder bullets need more space after them.
- Make sure that headings are aligned with the first word of the
following paragraph. When paragraphs are indented (which I normally
recommend), the first paragraph after a title should not be indented,
so that it aligns with the heading.
This is OK, because the heading makes it obvious that there's a new
paragraph. For 8.5x11 paper, indent by .25 inch. For small
columns, indent by 1 em.
- If you indent paragraphs (which I normally recommend), do not
put blank lines between them.
- If you have a break without a heading, use three asterisks,
centered. The following paragraph should not be indented.
- When you break the normal line spacing (e.g. for a heading or an
insertion), the break should be an even multiple of the line spacing.
That is, the normal text lines should fall onto a grid that is the
same on every page. You should be able to hold two pages up to the
light and see that the text aligns. (This is a test that is often
done by experts to see whether the typesetting is competent.) Many
word processors have a feature that will automatically establish such
- Pay attention to how tables of contents, indices, and similar
lists are done. Don't use “leaders” (lines of dots). Put the page
number next to the text, separated by an em space or raised dot. (You
may choose to center on the separator.)
- If you need to include a table, think carefully about the
organization that will be most readable. Do not include rules (i.e.
lines) unless they are absolutely essential. Most commonly tables
work best without any rules. You will probably need to override
your word processor's default table design. Where possible, make
numbers line up properly. If you are using text figures,
you may need to switch to lining figures for the tables in order
to get the numbers to line up. With most fonts about 5% letterspacing
will make the numbers more readable.
- For URLs, hostnames, and email addresses, use a contrasting
font, e.g. a sans serif or a typewriter font, or bold. It should
- Use italics for emphasis, foreign words, and titles.
- I can't think of any valid use for underlining.
Underlining is the way italics are indicated in written
particular, titles should use italics rather than underlining,
and headings should be set off in some other way (e.g. all caps
- If you use small caps for abbreviations and acronyms, use them
consistently. You do *not* switch to full caps at the beginning of a
sentence. Similarly text figures. The only case where you would mix
small caps and full caps in the same word is where small caps are
being used as lowercase. E.g. some authorities recommend using small
caps in bibliographies. In that case you might have
- Certain names have unusual capitalization, e.g. RUNet 2000 or
iDrive.com. Use this spelling consistently, even at the beginning of
a sentence. I.e. if a sentence starts with it, use iDrive.com, not
IDrive.com. Similarly with URL's starting with http:. Where these
odd names mix uppercase and lowercase letters, use full uppercase, not
small caps, even if you are using small caps for other acronyms and
abbreviations. If a large fraction of your acronyms are of this kind,
pick a font that does not require small caps.
- If you are doing a web document, design it to look good on the web. Normally you don't want to use your word processor's “save as HTML” feature. (More precisely, don't leave a web page in the format produced by “save as HTML”. That may be a convenient starting point for further adjustments.) That feature tries to produce the same look on the web as in print. But the web is a very different medium. E.g. normally you want to let your reader choose the main text font and size, and the screen width. “save as HTML” commonly tries to control this. Furthermore styles are very different. In a web document you normally can't use small caps, but color is available. Typically web documents use more contrasts than print documents, so you may well want headings to be in bold in the web version and all caps in print.
- For web documents, use style sheets for details of the formatting. For headings, use standard tags such as H1 and H2, rather than hand-crafting your own using combinations of bold, font, etc. Use the style sheet to specify your style.
- There are additional issues for web documents that are not covered here. One of the most important is complying with the W3 Consortium recommendations for accessibility. It is RUCS practice not to “push” web technology, but to make documents straighforward and readable by the widest possible variety of tools. This applies to documents that are aimed at a general population. You may, of course, supply additional gee-whiz things for people whose tools can deal with them. E.g. you can have a virtual reality tour of your lab. But basic instructions on how to get to the lab and use it should use conservatively written HTML.
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Last updated: Wednesday, 03-Dec-2003 01:10:28 EST
© 2003 Charles Hedrick. All rights reserved.