Recently, I went round and round with a client on why she shouldn’t use Word to layout a book she was independently publishing. A member of her family had worked on it with her using Word for the layout and design. When he finished, he prepared a PDF (Portable Document Format)  and though everything was fine. No, it wasn’t.

Sometimes when I see something that makes my skin crawl, yes, bad typography will make my skin crawl my level of tack seems to be quite low. Since I was designing the cover of the book, she stopped by to work on it with me, and, happened to have the manuscript with her. As I flipped through the pages, I became more and more horrified that she was going to send this off to the printer. This was a life goal of hers to finally have a book published with her name on it. For years, she had helped others get their books published, but none of them had her name on it.

Finally, I had seen enough and out came, “You can’t publish this. It looks incredibly unprofessional. You have double spaces, and sometimes even more after all of your punctuation! There are half inch gaps between words on some pages! Send me the file and I’ll lay it out correctly.” Thankfully she agreed.

Upon opening the document, the first thing I did was a Find/Replace on the number of spaces after a period. Up came 721 instances of double, triple and quadruple spaces. In the typography and publishing world, that means there were 721 typos. I did the same for question marks, explanation marks, and colons. While not as many, all had too many spaces.

This is not a new argument for me. It always starts with, “But I was taught you always put two spaces after a period.”

“That’s true and so was I, but things have changed and I’ll explain what has changed.”

Back when we were all typing on a typewriter, the characters were monospaced, meaning each character took the same amount of space. But, in 1966, IBM introduced the IBM Composer later called the IBM Selectric Composer which was the first typewriter that did proportional spacing. Actually, it was referred to as the first desktop typesetting machine.

With the advent of the IBM Selectric Composer, no longer did an (m) and a period (.) take the same amount of space. A good example is the letter (i) takes up about one-fifth of the space as an (m). When using any word processing program today such as Word, Pages or any of the open source programs out there, the program will automatically put a space and a half when you type a period, question mark, explanation mark or colon. By the way, this also applies to the Internet.

Why shouldn’t we use Word or any of other word processing programs as design programs you ask. The reason is very simple, that’s not what they were made for.

In print media, the greater percent of documents are set to justify the text.  What justify means is, every line on the right side of the document ends exactly at the setting of the right margin. Further, I’m starting to see more and more websites using justify with the same poor results. The problem with all word processing and website publishing programs is, while they can calculate the proportional space of each character, they are terrible at calculating the space between words. It’s almost as if it is a guessing game for them. It seems they are all programmed to just put big spaces in between words to achieve the goal of justifying the text. While there are workarounds, such as putting hard returns (holding the shift bar when you hit the return key) to close the space, those offer a whole new set of problems.

If you send your document by PDF you’ll be fine. If you send your document as a Word, Pages, etc., it’s a hit or miss situation on whether the hard returns will come out in the same place. This also holds true for the Internet with the advent of responsive design. Further, if you send or upload your word processing document to someone to lay it out in one of the true design programs such as InDesign or Quark, all of those hard returns have to be removed. While that can be done by using Fine/Replace, the person who is attempting to layout your document will be saying very unkind things about you in the process.

For more of the does and don’ts in both print and internet publishing, whether you are on a Mac, PC or are a blogger, order a copy of  “The Mac is Not a Typewriter” written by Robin Williams. Original published it in 1989, with the 2nd edition being published in 2003, the information still holds true to today.

In the end, my question is if you’ve just finished a lifelong goal of writing a book or your dream website, is it not worth it, to do it correctly?

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