What professional writers know about typography can usually be traced back to unreliable sources—typing-class and computer-lab teachers, parents, freshman roommates, blog commenters. I’m sure they all meant well. But they didn’t know much about typography.
It’s not surprising that bad typography habits get passed along. What’s surprising is how tenacious they can be.
A core principle of this book is that professional writers should hold their documents to the same standards as any professionally published material, like books, newspapers, and magazines. There are not differing categories of typography—say, academic typography vs. legal typography vs. business typography. There is only typography.
This wasn’t always true. For a long time—the typewriter era and then the early computer era—professional publishers could afford typesetting and printing devices that were financially impractical for individuals. So for most writers, the typographic standards of professional publishers were far out of reach.
But that’s no longer the case. On the printed page, the typesetting technology available to individuals is very close to what’s available to professional publishers. On the screen, there’s no difference at all. Technological excuses are no longer acceptable.
Therefore, professional writers should aspire to meet the standards of professional typography. That’s why the rules here reflect the customs of professional typographers and the majority views of authorities on typography.
Must writers adopt every habit of professional typographers? No. I use professional typography as a benchmark for quality, not as an all-or-nothing goal. When faced with a choice between more consistency with professional typography or less, writers should choose more.
But I’m also practical—hence the title of the book. I don’t assume that writers have the time or interest to become professional typographers. I assume that your goal is to get the best typographic results for the lowest cost, and that nothing is more costly than your time. Therefore, I recommend a few shortcuts where the effort outweighs the results.
When I speak of
“professionaltypography”, I’m referring to typography practices in US English. I won’t claim to speak for other traditions, though many of these practices are common elsewhere. Major exceptions, like straight and curly quotes, are so noted.