Make Your Designer Not Hate You

If you’re writing for publication, chances are pretty good your designer hates you.

It’s nothing personal. Your designer may not even know you. But your designer hates all writers. Writers make designers’ lives miserable.

Yet your designer doesn’t have to hate you. You can do a few simple things when you’re writing that will make you the designer’s favorite person on earth. And the best part is that they’ll make your life easier, too.

1. Avoid direct formatting. Always use styles.

Don’t highlight text and change the font.

Use your word processor’s default style for text:

Microsoft Word: “Normal”

LibreOffice or OpenOffice Writer: “Default Style”

Google Docs: “Normal text”

If you don’t like the font, change it in the style. Yes, you’ll have to learn to work with styles. It may take you an hour to learn the basics, and then you’ll probably save an hour’s worth of work every single day for the rest of your writing career.

For subheads or titles, use one of the built-in heading styles. Again, if you don’t like the way it looks (and most of them are ghastly by default, no matter what word processor you use), change the style.

If you stick to the rule of using styles rather than direct formatting, you spare your designer the longest and most frustrating part of preparing your text for publication: getting rid of all your direct formatting.

The Editor will make one exception to the no-direct-formatting rule, which is that italics should be directly applied. Many designers will plead with you to use character styles for italics, but italics in English are a form of punctuation that should be under the writer’s control. The Editor mentions this because he once wrote an article for the Web using proper <em> tags for italics, only to discover that the designer had implemented the <em> tag as italic, bold, blue, larger, and a different font. That should never happen. The writer should be able to rely on italics being the same size and weight as the rest of the text, and in the matching italic font.

2. Don’t use tabs except in tables.

Don’t indent paragraphs with a tab. Just start typing. If you want indented paragraphs, change the style to add a first-line indent. (Again, you’ll have to learn how to do this, and again, you’ll be very happy you did.)

And if you do make a table, use one tab per column, and learn to set the tabs where you want them. Don’t just tab-tab-tab-tab until the cursor is approximately where you want it. If you make a table that way, it will make your designer want to kill you and mutilate the body.

3. Don’t double-space between paragraphs.

If you like a space between your paragraphs, add it to the default style.

4. Use proper apostrophes and quotation marks.

Not the typewriter-style straight-up-and-down kind, which your designer will have to replace before your work is published. Most word processors will use their intelligence to replace your quotation marks and apostrophes with proper typographic ones, and they’ll get it right nine times out of ten. Watch out for the 10%, though. The Editor has explained elsewhere how to fool your word processor into giving you the marks you want.

A warning to LibreOffice and OpenOffice users: for as long as the Editor has used them, these programs have been set up by default to change quotation marks but not apostrophes to their proper typographic equivalents. There is no accounting for this obviously wrong decision; one simply has to fix it in the preferences. And because it is devilishly difficult to find the setting, the Editor will tell you where it is: in the Tools menu, choose AutoCorrect Options, then the Localized Options tab, and make sure the “Replace” box is checked under Single Quotes. And this is inexcusable, but you’ll probably have to do it again every time you update, because most LibreOffice installations (though not all, and the Editor does not know what the difference is) will lose those settings when you install a new version.

5. Learn the publication’s house style.

You can save your copy editor and designer a lot of busy work by learning the publication’s house style. Does it use em dashes or en dashes surrounded by spaces? Does it use the serial comma or not? Most publications have some sort of internal style guide and will be happy to let you see it.

All these things make your life easier.

They make your life easier for the same reason they make the designer’s life easier. If you ever have to revise your work, and especially if you have to change the format, it can all be done with a few quick steps, rather than by laboriously going through and changing everything by hand. You’ll save yourself countless hours of work if you remember to make things as easy as possible for your designer.


Footnotes or End Notes?

When should you use footnotes and when should you use end notes?

End notes used to be excused by the technical difficulties of printing footnotes. Since every decent word processor (even the one in Google Docs) can do footnotes automatically now, that excuse has been eliminated.

So here is an easy rule to follow: use end notes only when you do not want the notes to be read.

If all your notes are references, for example, end notes are fine. No one needs to read the references to follow the argument, but they’ll still be there if someone wants to do some independent research. And you should tell people right at the front of your book, “All the end notes are references only. You can ignore them unless you need to find my sources.”

But if your notes contain more information, or interesting sidelights, or amusing remarks, and you actually want people to read them, they need to be footnotes. No one has the patience to find the right note in the back of a book, and certainly no one has the patience to turn to the back of the book two hundred times in the course of reading it.

Exactly Backwards

Even though most people use computers and this Internet thingy, the National Weather Service apparently still has to feed information to various ancient systems that have only an upper-case character set. You, the average intelligent reader, would imagine that the natural thing to do would be to write the text normally and make a simple program, which an eight-year-old could write, to convert the text to all upper case for teletype distribution.

But that’s because you don’t work for the National Weather Service. Instead, all “weather products”—warnings, alerts, advisories, “public information statements,” and so on—must be written in all upper case all the time, and distributed that way on the World-Wide Web, here in the year of our Lord 2011.

That sometimes leads to awkward adaptations, as in this “public information statement” on the Pittsburgh office’s Web site:



The problem, of course, is that it’s literally impossible to use that Web address in any other way than typing it by hand—and it’s a very long address. You can’t click on it. You can’t copy it and paste it into your browser’s address bar.

That’s simply an unacceptable way to convey information to people on the Internet.

There’s a larger lesson here. If you have a few stragglers in your audience who haven’t adapted to this century’s technology, don’t let them dictate to the great majority. Instead, find a way to make use of current technology that still doesn’t exclude the minority.

Oh, and the other lesson is this: don’t write a whole article in all caps. It’s very annoying.