Learning About Typography

Recently I’ve been reading a bunch about typography and how to get it right. Typography is not just about fonts. It’s also about the correct symbols to use when typing and how pages should be structured. It includes concepts such as character spacing, line spacing, when to make something bold or italicised, differences between hyphens, en-dashes, and em-dashes, etc.

If you’ve never heard about typography or don’t know much about it, you probably make a lot of typographical mistakes if you ever write documents on a computer.

I’ve realised a ton of typographical mistakes I’ve made with all the previous articles I’ve written. For example, I was always using en-dashes rather than em-dashes for breaking up sentences — like this (that is an em-dash). I’ve also been using 'straight quotes' rather than ‘curly quotes’ — curly quotes being preferable.

I’ve made several changes to the website as a result of learning about typography, such as trying to fix the issues I’ve mentioned above. I’ve also chosen different fonts (PT Sans for body text and PT Serif for headings), and I also fixed rendering issues with the fonts looking strange in different browsers. I might change the fonts again in the future, we’ll see.

There are plenty other topics in typography which many people will benefit from knowing about, like using the proper ellipse character (…) rather than three periods (... or . . .), though three periods without spacing just happens to look virtually the same as the ellipsis in this font, the spacing seems to be almost identical but is usually too small with periods. And keeping bold text mutually exclusive from italic text; never have text both bolded and italic — and definitely not underlined as well. Another annoying thing is widow and orphan lines of paragraphs — where the first line of a paragraph is at the bottom of the page, and where the last line of a paragraph is at the top of the next page. I don’t have to deal with this problem on my website, but if you have to fit your document onto pieces of paper, then it makes it more challenging to read.

If you’ve ever used LaTeX, the typesetting program for writing technical papers, you’ll notice that it remedies problems you never knew you had with typography. It seems to magically fix most of the issues I’ve mentioned above while you don’t even know that it’s happening.

The field of typography is great to read about if you’re one of the uninitiated like I was a few days ago. You’ll probably know some good typographical practices, but it’s important to get to know the areas in which you don’t know what you’re doing at all, while without realising it.

If you ever need to write documents or long stretches of text with a computer, knowing good typography can make your work stand out, and prevent you looking like a fool to those who know what they’re doing. Consider reading Butterick’s Practical Typography, a web-based book on getting things correct in typography, and other best practices. I know I hate seeing ellipses replaced with three periods with spaces between and it looks terrible, please don’t be the next person to fall into that trap. 😉