Typesetting Rules

voiceof's picture

Before I start asking questions, I do plan on purchasing a book to learn the ins and outs of typesetting. But in the meantime any help would be appreciated.

When using small caps for abbreviations I've heard you you only apply small caps to abbr. with three or more letters. Is this correct? also do you apply small caps to numbers within the text i.e. 60%, 2008-2009, 2008 VA etc...

As a general rule how far do you indent bullet points? Does the rule apply for each level?

How much space do you leave between bullet points? Assuming you have type at 10/14 would each bullet point have a full line between them or about half. (Right now I have half a line of space between bullets on the first level and no space on the second.)

I've seen where people small cap the first few words at the beginning of a chapter, or section; is this pretty standard practice?

Is there a way to set up an action like in photoshop to change selected text from capital letters to lowercase and then to small caps?

Any other links or wisdom you can send my way is also welcome. I know these questions are pretty type 101 but I've always worked online and have started to move into some print work and would like to do it right.


charles ellertson's picture

In general, I'd say the answer to all your styling questions is no. Buried in that is the notion that there are no rules. With book composition, some of these items would be covered by a publisher's house style, some by the designer. Still, in many ways design and composition are a continuum; it is hard to say *exactly* where one leaves off and the next begins.

But I'm a book typesetter, and you may be speaking of another form of "print work." With "print work," much is a matter of convention, not rules. In my area (book work), the old convention is to present material to a reader in a form that is both familiar and comfortable -- sometimes known as The Crystal Goblet -- except for very rare exceptions, such as with The Telephone Book.


As to changing the case (caps/lower case) and small caps automatically, that would depend on the layout program. If you are using Adobe's InDesign (paralleling Adobe Photoshop), the answer is yes.

voiceof's picture

Thanks for the reply, I am using indesign and I used the help section searching under actions with no luck. What are "actions" called in indesign?

I understand that there are really no rules involved, but I guess I was hoping to get some people opinions on what they see as correct. Right now I'm at the beginning or learning all this and would like to hear from those who have been doing this for awhile.

Nick Shinn's picture

It seems to me that you are interested in the nuances of traditional typography.
In that case, your best bet is to work in a page layout application, namely Quark XPress or InDesign, with OpenType fonts that have typographic features (small caps, alternate figure styles, etc). Then you will be able to access the actions you describe in the OpenType palette of these applications. Illustrator and Photoshop don't have quite so much typographic scope.

As a type manual, Bringhurst's Elements is the "bible".

Your question about small cap figures (numbers) is an interesting one, that depends on context.
If you are mixing upper and lower case text with small caps, then old-style figures are probably best.
That's why it makes sense to check the fonts you intend to use beforehand, to see whether they have oldstyle figures.

charles ellertson's picture

That is exactly the information I was trying to give you.

Take bulleted lists for example. Whether or not to indent the bullet depends on the other list structures. In general, you can indent the list proper the same amount you would indent an extract, and hang the bullets back. Or you can indent the bullets to the same point as an extract, with a further indent to the list proper.

As to spacing between items in the list: If the items in the list are short, no extra space is needed between them. The bullet will identify a new item. If the items are long (i.e., long paragraphs), then extra space between each item may help. space above & below the list is another matter; just as with extracts.

BTW, if the list items are short (short paragraphs), I would probably set them ragged right. If they were long, and most of the other material were justified, I'd set them justified.

I would never use a full line space extra -- unless you'd used that above & below an extract, and with 14-points of lead, I wouldn't do that.

Large bullets are usually considered in poor taste in bookwork, though I suppose they are the cat's pajamas in ad work. The old standby was a 2-point bullet, which would be close to a "periodcentered." Another way is to not use a bullet at all, but an en-dash. Less obtrusive. What is considered important is the list proper, not the signaling device. A large bullet is too "important" visually.

If all this is beginning to sound like "it depends on the content and the rest of the book," Then I've made the point I was trying to make.

Jut out of curiosity, why would you use full caps for two letters, but small caps for three. If you say "The US and the USSR," would you full-cap the US and small cap the UUSR? I sure wouldn't. People might suspect a political meaning, which would (likely) be inadvertent.


voiceof's picture

Thank you for the thorough explanations.

Charles_e I suppose I understood that it all was dependent on the content, but being new to this world I was hoping for some common standards to fall back on.

As for the two letter small caps, it didn't make much sense to me either. It seems to me it would be all or nothing. It was just something I had read and wanted to confirm.

Thanks Again

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