Join John McWade for an in-depth discussion in this video Indents, spacing, fractions, and footnotes, part of Learning Graphic Design: Set Perfect Text.
- Now that we've changed the typeface, let's get going. First up is the paragraph indent. The surprise is that we don't need it. Why indent the first paragraph? The purpose of a paragraph indent is to separate it from the previous paragraph. You want to start with a nice, strong corner, so always make your opening paragraph flush to the left. It also distinguishes it from the others. It says, this is the beginning. Subsequent paragraphs do get an indent. How deep should the indent be? The rule of thumb is one em space.
An em space is the same as the point size, so a 12 point type will get a 12 point indent. On unusually narrow columns, you might want to make it a little less. You know, maybe 3/4 of an em, or nine points. And on very long lines, you might want to make it a little deeper. Maybe 1 1/4 or 1 1/2 ems. The idea is to keep it in proportion to the paragraph. But for most text, you won't go wrong with one em. Next is spacing after a sentence. One space or two? Or three? We've been setting moveable type for 560 years, and opinion on spacing has gone back and forth the whole time.
Some like the brief pause that an extra space provides. Others like the smooth, even color that a single space gives the page. I'm with that group, as are most publishers today. Pick up any modern book or magazine and you'll find just one space after punctuation. Our modern practice of two spaces really took hold in the 19th century with the advent of typewriting. Typewriting was a huge leap in popular communication, kind of what texting is today.
But for a typewriter to work, every character from the widest to the narrowest, and even spaces, and punctuation had to be on a key of the same width. You can see that here. The M is our alphabet's widest letter. The I and the period are its narrowest, yet they all have the same width. It was a mechanical limitation. So it was felt that to differentiate one sentence from the next, you needed an entire extra space. And that's been taught to every typist right up to this day.
Even in high school typing class though, I didn't like it. Typewritten text is spotty enough as it is, with its big gaps between words, without adding even bigger gaps between sentences. So I'd use only one space after sentences, like this, because of the smoother look it gave to the text. I'd use two in class, but one for all of my personal papers. In typesetting, we don't have that problem. Every character has the space it needs, and only the space it needs. The W and M are very wide, and the period is very thin.
Other characters are in between, and varied. This is how we naturally write too. So in typeset text, two spaces between sentences are unnecessary. One is better. When your text is aligned to the left like this, it doesn't make a big difference, but when we start justifying type later in this course, you'll see the benefit of only one space. Another typewriter convention are fractions that are set like this, or something similar.
Full size numerals, on the baseline, separated by a backslash, and usually including a hyphen, but not always. This is another hold over from that limited typewriter key set, where you didn't have a choice. The problem is that it's really ambiguous, and it's not a minor deal. It can be confusing, especially if you're reading fast, and without the prime marks you can't even tell what it is. So in text, at the very least your reader will stumble over it.
So let's fix it. In real life, we hand write fractions that look like this. The smaller numbers, the fractional numbers, are smaller. We do that in typesetting like this. This is beautiful. This is a common fraction that comes with the typeface Minion, which is what we're using. Some typefaces have extensive sets of built in fractions. Most, like Minion, have only a few. You know, 1/2, 1/4, 3/4. And some have none.
If your typeface doesn't have built in fractions, it may have built in superior and inferior characters, in which case you can make your own. Just select a superior then a solidus, which is also known as a fraction bar, then an inferior. The fraction bar is different from a standard backslash. It's nearly a 45 degree angle. The angle varies a bit depending on the type style. Then kern it if necessary. If your font has no special numerals at all, you'll have to fake it.
And the way to do this is to type the numerator as a full size character, then a fraction bar, then the denominator as a full size character. Now you want to change those numerals into superscript and subscript characters. You do this by first selecting the numerator, and clicking superscript, then selecting the denominator and clicking subscript. Now here's where you need to make some adjustments. Your goal is to make your fraction look as much like a normal fraction as possible, so you need to adjust the size and position of the numerals.
You can set InDesign preferences to do this. You'll almost always want your numbers larger than the defaults. In my experience, 68% of full size is about right. This'll vary with typeface, for Minion it's about 63%, but it won't vary much. Trust your eye here. You'll want the denominator on the base line, and the numerator at the cap height. So, set the subscript at 0%, which puts it on the base line, and for the superscript, about 28%, which will come close to cap height.
For Minion, it was only 24%, and depending on your typeface, you'll need a little trial and error to get it right. But once you do, all your subsequent fractions will automatically be this size, and in this position. You'll almost always find that you need to kern your fraction a little bit, depending on your numbers. For example, the four, which has a sloped side, should be tucked in a little closer to the fraction bar than it sets by default. This is a nice, serviceable fraction. Typographically though, it's not as good as an authentic fraction.
That's because the stroke weights of an authentic fraction are proportional to the weight of the full size type, like this. The one you've made yourself has thinner strokes, but it's so much better than what we started with, that it's absolutely worth doing. And while we're on the subject, you treat footnote numbers in exactly the same way. Use a true, superior character if you have them, and manufacture your own superscript character if you don't. So here's our new fraction and footnote in place.
Along the way, he touches on points small and large: indents, sizing, spacing, line length, punctuation, and the main differences between setting text for screen versus print.