As a marketing and graphic design specialist, I’m used to working with sophisticated design software like Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator to create engaging marketing collateral for a variety of uses, for both print and screen viewing. So…what if you’ve never taken Typography 101 and only have MS Word at your disposal? Can you still create a professional-looking document and be proud of the results? Why, of course! Here are a few simple tips* to get you started…
You should only have one space after a period. Period. (I know! I was flabbergasted when I learned this in the 1990s. Like most people my age, I learned to type on a typewriter. My typing teacher took points off if we forgot to double-space after a period at the end of a sentence! )
So, here’s the long explanation for my engineer friends: typewriters traditionally used monospaced fonts (Courier by IBM is one example). Monospaced fonts have fixed widths, in which all characters occupy the same amount of horizontal space. In order to create a visual ‘break’ at the end of a sentence, typists were taught to add two spaces after each period.
Lucky for us, with the invention of computers came the invention of proportionally-spaced fonts, which distribute the amount of space around each character proportionally. The ‘period’ character was designed with a tiny bit of extra space after the dot, creating the visual break our eyes are accustomed to seeing after a period and before the next sentence. Still not convinced? Scan a professionally-designed magazine and see if you can spot any extra spaces after a period.
Stick to classic, non-fussy typefaces for legibility. A good rule of thumb for print: select a strong sans serif font for HEADERS and a serif font for the BODY TEXT. (If you don’t know what a serif is, see the graphic below.)
Some classics that are valued for legibility (and availability) in the sans serif family: Helvetica, Frutiger, Futura, Optima, and DIN. Good serif font choices are Garamond, Palatino, Century Schoolbook and Jenson Pro.
Can you use a serif font for the header and sans serif font for the body text? Absolutely. Just know your audience and how they will be reading your content. Serif fonts are traditionally used in print media for body copy, as they remain legible when small. Conversely, sans serif fonts work better for screen viewing, especially at smaller sizes.
Mixing up fonts creates CONTRAST, which helps the reader find his/her way through your document, hopefully without a lot of eyestrain. Try to limit your fonts to 2-3 for clarity and consistency throughout your document. Always keep your reader in mind and your ultimate goal: to be understood!
The example on the left uses Frutiger Bold for the header and Garamond for the body text. The example on the right uses Garamond Bold the header and Frutiger for the body copy. Both are examples of contrasting type.
Repetition of styles creates consistency and elegance within your document, helping the reader to quickly find chapters, sections, photo captions, etc. For example, you may want to make all of your document section headers Helvetica Bold 16 point; your body copy Garamond Regular 11 point; and your photo captions Helvetica Italic 8 point. If your firm has issued Branding or Style Guidelines, you may be lucky enough to find what you need there. If you are really lucky, you’ll have templates with document styles already established, and you’re good to go!
Avoid underlining. Underlining originated from necessity. Typewriters had no bold or italic styling. The only way to emphasize text was to back up the carriage and type underscores beneath the text. We now have bold, italics and an array of fonts to choose from. You can also easily change a font’s color, weight or point size. Especially avoid underlining if your document is going to be viewed on the web, as people associate underlined text with hyperlinks!
Thanks for reading. I’ll be sharing more design tips on creating professional-looking documents, so feel free to submit comments, questions or requests!
(*Many of these tips are taken from a terrific book, The Mac is not a Typewriter, written by graphic design guru Robin Williams in 1989. I still have my original copy. It’s now in its 2nd edition and available on Amazon.)