Use – or create – a style guide for a professional finish
You may remember it: the woman athlete running with a giant sledgehammer in hand. The unnamed heroine hurls the implement at a giant screen, saving humanity from “conformity” and thereby introducing the Macintosh computer to the world during a break in the third quarter of the 1984 Super Bowl. While I sincerely doubt my father ever saw this ad (he was not a sports fan and seldom watched anything on TV besides the news and PBS), he was on the cutting edge, as he bought my sister and me the very first Mac Classic to aid in our studies. This was pre-pre-pre-Internet. Today we regularly send email attachments larger than the 4 mg memory of the entire Mac Classic.
So I grew up a Mac user. And it was in the book The Mac Is Not a Typewriter that I was first introduced to the idea that with desktop publishing applications, it was no longer necessary to use two spaces after a period. The reason for this is that the letters on typewriters were all uniformly spaced, meaning that a lowercase “i” or “l” took up the same amount of space in a line of type as a “w” or “m” even though the latter two are significantly wider. If you want to see this at work, check out the Courier typeface example below.
In modern typography, letters take up only their actual width, so the shape of a word contributes to its readability. In documents created on traditional typewriters, every letter took up the same amount of space, so the extra space between sentences was necessary to indicate the end of a sentence for the reader. I never took a formal typing class, so I’ll admit that this was not an enormous adjustment for me to make. However, I’ve recently been doing lots of editing for a group blog by authors for authors, and I’m noticing that many, many of our authors still use two spaces after a period. I’m guessing they didn’t get the memo.
So what, right? Sort of. The thing is, since I coordinate and edit this group blog, I get to decide on the styles we use. What does that mean? It means using H2 style for every subheading. One space after periods. OK, as opposed to okay. Putting all resource boxes in italics. En dashes ( – ) with one space on either side, as opposed to em dashes with no space (—). No http:// to start web addresses. Using periods to break the segments of a phone number. You get the idea.
The particular styles matter less than consistency in applying them. If you haven’t adopted a professional style guide for your books/writing, you may want to think about creating one of your own – particularly if you write fantasy or use a language, symbols, or terminology of your own creation. IntelligentEditing.com offers an excellent post with tips for creating your own style guide.
While there’s no rule that says you must use a style guide, adopting or creating one will give your editor some standards to follow and give all of your writing a more finished, professional look.
Here’s to consistency in your work!
We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.
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