Life & Style tutorial: Font Masterclass 3

The use of correct typographic conventions sets professional page designers apart from people who have taught themselves to use a word processor.

Typographic conventions

Check out part 2 of our Masterclass on Font Management & Creation.

Check out part 1 of our Masterclass on Basic Fonts.

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In the days before page-layout applications came within everyone’s reach, typesetters, who had learned and practised their trade in the printing world, knew the difference between en (–) and em (—) dashes, typographer’s quote marks (‘’), and inch or tick (

Word spaces and tabs

The rule to remember is that there must only ever be one space between any two words. This means that you should never find two word spaces or two tab ‘spaces’ in a row.

The idea of using two spaces is a hangover from the days of typewriters when people, restricted by a typewriter’s single monospaced typeface, used two spaces to emphasize the end of a sentence and multiple tabs to line up text.

Proportional-width fonts, however, are not ‘fixed’ in the same way; each character sits the width it needs and no more, so you don’t need to override anything.

If you use multiple tab spaces to line up text, and then change fonts, applications, or even change printers, you’ll find your tabulation goes out of alignment. Keep the rule in mind: use one tab space only and then manually set your tabs in the correct places on the formatting ruler to achieve the effect you want.

If you’re working on a job with a font that won’t change, for example a magazine, then multiple tabs can be one useful way to set tables. However, it is generally seen as bad practice.

Curly and straight quotation marks

The rules for quotation marks are:

  • Straight single and double quotation marks are used to denote feet and inches respectively; curly quotation marks should be used for all ‘quotation’ purposes
  • Single quotation marks are all you need for quoted speech, quotations, and to indicate slang, idioms, or vernacular words. (However, remember that double quotation marks are more often used for this purpose in text aimed at the US)

  • Some people use single quotation marks within double to define a quotation inside another quotation, or the other way around (ie, double quotation marks within single), but this is for reasons of clarity only

In page-layout programs you can turn on Smart Quotes, which will automatically insert the correctly facing curly quotation marks. If you have to import text with straight quotation marks from a text file, remember to check the Convert Quotes box first.

If you find you have straight marks in the text, run a search and replace – searching for a quotation mark and replacing it with the same. This will fix them all at once. You might strike a problem with your software if you need to insert an apostrophe at the start of a word, for example:

‘twas the night before Christmas

Smart Quotes will automatically insert an opening quotation mark rather than an apostrophe. You can fool your computer into thinking it needs to use an apostrophe by first typing:

x’twas the night before Christmas

then removing the x.

Dashes and hyphens

Hyphens are used only to hyphenate a pair of words, such as ‘export-strength’, or to link two parts of a word broken at the end of a line. For all other purposes, a dash is required.

Dashes are of two types: en dashes (en rules) and em dashes (em rules). Em dashes are twice as wide as en dashes, being based on the widths of the letters ‘n’ and ‘m’ respectively.

Particular keystroke combinations are needed to produce both types and these vary between applications: look them up in your Help file.

UK/US usage differences

The main uses for en dashes in text aimed at the UK is to surround a parenthetical phrase – such as this one – and they are used with spaces on either side. (In text aimed at the US, em dashes are used for this, without spaces before and after.)

Em dashes are also commonly used in tables (to indicate the absence of data, or repeated data, for example, in bibliographies) and to introduce lines of dialogue. Em dashes are also used to indicate when speech is interrupted.

En dashes are used in both US and UK text to take the place of words such as ‘to’ and ‘from’ between dates, for example in ‘the 1939-45 war’, or in pairs of words such as ‘input-output’.


To indicate missing words, the correct typographical mark to use is an ellipsis: this consists of three dots and should have a character space before and after (or, at the end of a sentence, a full stop immediately after). Don’t use three full stops: you will find a ‘proper’ ellipsis in the character set of any font. In QuarkXPress (indeed, in any Macintosh application) the keystroke is: Alt + ;

Special characters

To insert special characters:
Mac OS X users should use the Keyboard Viewer. To access this open System Preferences, and click International. Click the Input Menu button, and check the Keyboard Viewer icon. Also check Show Input Menu in the menu bar.

This adds the Show Keyboard Viewer option in the pull-down menu under the flag icon in the top right of the screen. Selecting this displays a floating window that allows you to browse special characters by holding down different combinations of modifier keys, and also allows you to change font.

Windows users need to select Character Map via Start > Programs > Accessories. Mac Classic users should access the Key Caps option under the Apple menu.

Key strokes: QuarkXPress

Quote marks:
If you have Smart Quotes turned on, you can turn them off temporarily to type inches or feet marks.

  • Foot mark: Ctrl (Mac/Win) + single quote key
  • Inch mark: Ctrl + Shift (Ctrl + Alt on Win) + double quote key

Hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes:

  • Standard (breaking) hyphen: hyphen (Mac/Win)
  • Non-breaking hyphen: Cmd (Ctrl on Win) + Alt + hyphen
  • Discretionary (soft) hyphen: Cmd (Ctrl on Win) + Shift + hyphen

  • Breaking en dash: Alt + hyphen (Mac/Win)
  • Breaking em dash: Alt + Shift + hyphen (Mac/Win)
  • Non-breaking en dash (Win only): Ctrl + Alt + Shift + hyphen
  • Non-breaking em dash (Win only): Ctrl + Alt + Shift + =
  • Non-breaking em dash (Mac only): Cmd + Alt + =

Key strokes: InDesign

InDesign allows you to use either keystrokes or a special menu (the context menu) to produce certain characters. To display the context menu, first position the cursor where you want the character to appear, then Ctrl + click (Right-click on Windows). Then select Insert Special Character, and select one of the special characters displayed.

Hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes:

  • Standard (breaking) hyphen: hyphen (Mac/Win)
  • Non-breaking hyphen: Cmd (Ctrl on Win) + Alt + hyphen
  • Discretionary (soft) hyphen: Cmd (Ctrl on Win) + Shift + hyphen
  • Breaking en dash: Alt + hyphen (Mac/Win)
  • Breaking em dash: Alt + Shift + hyphen (Mac/Win)

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This article was extracted from The Digital Designer’s Bible: The Ultimate Route Map To Stress-Free Best Working Practice For Print And Web Designers by Alistair Dabbs and Alastair Campbell – a Digit highly recommended read – available now at a retail price of £24.95 from ILEX, the digital creative’s publisher of choice. <ul><li>The essential one-volume reference resource for every digital designer </li>
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