A Layout Editor’s Gripes
In my work as the office adminstrator, I spend a fair amount of time putting other peoples words on paper and trying to make them look good. It’s not always as easy or as straightforward as it should be. Ideally, I set up a documents formatting, copy text into it, polish a little and print. Rarely is it that easy. Some things are just harder to format then others, and limited space (or occasionally too much) means that the polishing step takes longer and requires more than I think it ought. The most frustrating piece of the process is spending time undoing the formatting that the text authors send me.below is some advice that will help anyone submitting text for publication in any form.
First lets talk about what I do. I am not your content editor. In fact, I try not to have to read the text I work with. From my view its just letter, words and paragraphs. I am the layout guy, and my goal is to put your text and everyone elses into one publication and make it look like they all belong together. If one person uses all caps for the title while a second uses a large font size and a third changes the font to comic sans the everything just looks messy. I make titles a consistent format, all paragraphs use the same shape, use a common font and a page layout that makes it easy to read.
Here are some why you can help make my job easier:
Don’t use the spacebar as a formatting tool: Spaces should separate words and nothing else. Every time you hit the spacebar, I have to hit the delete key (or reach for the mouse). Learn how to use your editors indent settings instead, or just leave the formatting out, I’ll put it back in for you. If you learned to put five spaces at the beginning of a paragraph in school you are falling prey to a world that only had typewriters.
Don’t type in all caps: When all we had were typewriters, this was about the only way to set off text. (see the postscript below). Now we can do bold and Italics. All caps is a written form of shouting, and in no publication I work with is shouting appropriate. Worse, when I find something in all caps, I cannot copy and paste it. The letters are wrong. I have to type it all back in again, and that means you are at the mercy of my typing skills. Those skills are even sketchier when I am retyping something that I should have just copied.
Don’t change fonts: If 16pt Arial is easier for you to read then go ahead and use it for your whole document, but don’t bother changing the font to try to emphasize something. I am going to change you font anyway and when you change the font on me I have to decide what I’m going to do to try to show in a different way what you did with your font change.
Let the computer set the line breaks: My document and yours will almost certainly not be the same width. Where you think you are making a nice line break will fall at some odd place in the middle of the page. Just like with the spacebar, use the enter key to start a new paragraph or separate a title from the body text and not for any other reason.
Use Bold and Italic formatting sparingly and correctly: Italics are used either to give something more emphasis (she has to leave now!) or to set off special text such like book titles, and foreign words. Bold is used to highlight information to make it easier to find quickly. For example All Saints announcements use bold to make dates and phone numbers stand out so the reader can find them quickly without having to reread the text.
In general underlining is a through back to a typewriters limitations and is almost never used. Whatever you do don’t try to uses these tools to make your text loud. It just looks messy. Use these tool to make some text within your article stand out from the rest, not to make your text look more important than everyone elses.
Use lists sparingly and correctly: I hate formatting lists, but they are too often the correct tool to use to just ban them outright. By lists I mean, of course, the bulleted or numbered lists that word processors try to push you into using. Lists take up lots of vertical space that is at a premium. Because of this I refuse to put them in the announcements sheet, and put them in The Crown with caution. Other places like the annual report, they often make a lot of sense.
Use bullets for thing without order, numbers only when there is a definite order. Whatever you do be consistant. I can usually make your lists look correct by highlighting the whole thing and formatting it, but if you start out using the word processors list function then switch to typing them in yourself using a different combination of tabs and spaces each time, I have to pull all your formatting back out before I can fix it. That s both boring and error prone.
Look at your document like I do: First turn on the formatting marks. This shows you where spaces, tabs and newlines (¶) are in your document. Most people find this extra noise on the screen awfully annoying, but I have it on at all times. It helps me see why text is flowing the way it is, and when I don’t need it I just look right past it. Also, try selecting your whole document (
Ctrl-A), copy it, open a new document, go to the
editmenu and hit
Paste Specialthen select
unformatted text. This is what I am going to do when I put your text into a publication.
Don’t send me something I can’t copy and paste from: This includes
Postscript: Ah the days of the typewriter
A lot of the bad habits people have come from a time when the only tools most people had for writing were a pen and a typewriter. Typewriters had some real limitations and rules were developed to work around those limits. For example a typewriter only has one font you cannot make it larger or smaller, or change the size or shape. That limited formatting to a very few choices. All caps was a good way to make a title stand out, and underlining was about the only way to distinguish text in the body of a paragraph. Another limitation was the fixed width. Every letter took the same amount of space.
Professional organizations quickly created rules that allowed for common formatting of important documents, and schools soon took up a set of those rules and taught them to generations of students as good document design. And they are good document design, if all you have is a typewriter. In modern word processors there are better tools. The tools that the publishing industry has been using the whole time. Pull out a book or magazine from the 1950’s (I know you have a collection in your garage) do they indent 5 spaces or print their titles centered in all caps? Probably not.