Design and Writing Styles: Consistency Counts

A recent discussion with a writer over the merits of double spaces after a period versus a single space has led me to a broader realization. We, as designers, are responsible for far more than selecting the appropriate fonts and sizes of text.

Consistency Counts Graffiti-style Image
Published: 7.30.2014

We do still create the style sheets that determine the font, weight and size of headlines, subheads and body copy. We determine all of the visual elements of the content that affect the look of the page. But, we’ve also become responsible for making sure the content is consistent.

Consistent use of spaces, em-dashes and en-dashes, capitalization and punctuation have become part of the design process.

E-mail transmission of content has been a contributing factor to this added responsibility. E-mail applications are notorious for adding unwanted hard returns, double hyphens and strange characters in place of quote marks or apostrophes. Tabs become multiple spaces or multiple spaces are used in the e-mail to denote tabs.

All of these elements of the text must be cleaned up during the design phase. We’re typically the last step in the process before the piece is printed or coded and if there is an error the responsibility falls on our shoulders, like it or not.

So, brush up on AP Style (, get friendly with the search/replace function of InDesign or Word and actually read your clients’ style manual (don’t just use it as visual reference).

Below are some of the common items that need to be checked before you apply your style sheets in InDesign:

Double Spaces
Double spaces are not allowed. If you see them, get rid of them! They create unsightly gaps in text, especially if the text is justified. Double spaces are also not an acceptable substitution for a tab after a bullet.

For a couple rather long-winded explanations you can read the following articles:

Frankly, it would be much quicker to use search/replace to eliminate the double spaces in your text. People are pretty passionate (and verbose) about this topic.

The Oxford Comma
The Oxford Comma is the comma before the word “and” at the end of a list. In a simple list of items it’s generally not needed but is sometimes good to use for clarity. It would be best to consult with your client on their style preference. This is another much-discussed topic.
And, for your musical enjoyment: 

Know the difference between an em-dash, an en-dash and a hyphen and know when to use them!

  • Hyphen: The shortest of the dashes is used to combine compound words or separate word syllables in a line break
  • en-dash (option/hyphen): An en-dash is used to connect values in a range (5–100)
  • A space, en-dash, space can also be used in place of an em-dash if the em-dash is visually too long
  • em-dash (shift/option/hyphen): The em-dash is also used separate thoughts and phrases much like a comma or parenthesis
  • For more details consult: Punctuation Matters

The Ellipse
The ellipse (…) is created by holding down the option key and pressing the colon/semicolon button, not typing three consecutive periods. This creates one character that won’t be broken at the end of a line of text. AP Style calls for a space before and after the ellipse but check your clients style guide for their preference.

Leader Dots
Leader dots (those dots connecting a table of contents entry with it’s corresponding page number on the other side of the page) should be set in the tab. Hitting the period 20 times creates uneven spacing and your page numbers will never line up properly. Simply type a period in the leader box within the tab dialog box. It’s best if you use leader dots with a right aligned tab.

Leader box within the tab dialog box in InDesign

Yep, that’s part of the design process as well. Like it or not, you must do it! I know we’re not all good at proofreading. Enlist helpafter spending hours on the design we are sometimes too close to it to be able to see it with fresh eyeshave someone else in your office read your finished layout.

Spell Check
Use it often during the design process. If your clients are like ours, they’re constantly asking you to make edits. Even if you didn’t actually type the text, spell check it. There’s nothing worse than finding a misspelled word or name in a finished piece. When in doubt on spelling of names, verify with the client, don’t just assume it’s correct.

And lastly, don’t ignore those squiggly red and green lines you see in a Word documentthey’re warning you that something is wrong. (option/click on the word or phrase and Word will tell you what needs to change.)

Attention to these details, awareness of grammar, style and content consistency makes you a better designer and a more valuable asset to your employer and clients. And, who knows, you may be required to write blog posts some day!

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