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Type shape

Most fonts can be divided into two groups:

  • serif, which have pointed bits (serifs) like this and
  • sans serif, which are plain, like this.

Because serifs can be distracting, it’s usually best to stick to sans serif fonts, like Arial. Don’t be tempted to use many different fonts in the same document.

 Size matters

 Type size is measured in ‘points’. Use a font size of 12 point. But, if you are pushed for space, you can go down to 10 point, but not less. The Royal National Institute for the Blind recommends a minimum type size of 14 point if you know the readers have visual impairments. For headings, use a font size at least two points bigger than the body text. Avoid using block capital letters – it makes words difficult to read and looks as though YOU ARE SHOUTING. Stick to bold style for emphasis – don’t underline. Avoid blocks of text in italics – the odd word is OK, but a block of italic text is difficult to read.

Line length

Line length can affect the ease and speed of your reading. Very long and very short lines force you to read more slowly. The size of the type you should use depends on the length of the line. Longer lines of body text need larger type.

A line of body text should contain about 10 to 12 words.

Line spacing/leading

Line spacing  or ‘leading’ is measured in the same units as the type size.  For body text, the space between lines should be greater than the space between words. If not, your eye will tend to jump to the next line down.  For 10 -12 point text, use leading of about 120% of the type size.

Alignment

You have four basic options when aligning text:

  • justified, when a column of text is aligned on both left and right
  • ranged left, also known as ragged right
  • ranged right, also known as ragged left
  • centred.

Use ranged left body text for easier reading. Justified text may look neater, but it is more difficult to read. Avoid splitting a word in two with hyphenation – it is more difficult to read words split over two lines.

 Graphic elements

Pages dense with text are very off-putting. Use design to attract your readers and to help them find their way around your documents. Try to aim for a margin of about 25mm at the top and bottom and at the sides of each page. Use a clear hierarchy of headings and sub-headings using different type sizes.

Make sure there is a good tonal contrast between the type colour and the background eg use black or dark blue type on a white background. To link a sub-heading with the following text you should have more space above it than below it. Display text needs breathing space. White space should frame  headlines or headings as they look better and attract more attention than if you filled the available space with large type.

Professional touches

Pull quotes

A pull quote takes an extract from your text and displays it prominently, usually in a side margin. You should keep it short and choose a pithy or dramatic extract to encourage your reader’s curiosity.

Dashes

You should distinguish between the three different dashes (hyphen, en dash and em dash).

Use the hyphen in connected words (take-off, daughter-in-law).

Use the en dash where the dash is replacing the word ‘to’. Examples are:

  • spans of numbers, such as ‘3–5’
  • connecting nouns, such as ‘France–Italy’ final

Use the em dash:

  • instead of a colon or
  • to set apart a strong interruption — like brackets or bracketing commas — within a sentence.

Ten tips

  • Use a sans serif typeface.
  • Use one or two typefaces when you design your document.
  • Use bold to emphasise.
  • Avoid using all upper-case letters and underlining.
  • Don’t use italics for long text passages.
  • Use captions with illustrations.
  • Use short headlines.
  • Use dashes and hyphens correctly.
  • Use white space to invite your reader into the document.
  • Use a good tonal contrast between the type and the background.
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