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  • Adam Behringer

    Seattle, Washington USA

    Adam is the founder of BEEDOCS, an artisan software company that makes great timeline software for Mac OS X.

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Typography 101 for Legal Forms

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I had a request to discuss branding of business / legal communications such as letters, proposals, contracts, nasty-grams, etc. In the past, I have done some consulting work typesetting documents for legal firms, so I'll give you a list of the first few things I always do to clean up documents. Following these steps with all the documents you send out should help you present yourself much more professionally:

  1. Use 1 font size per document. - Do a "Select All" and choose a font and size for your document. Having different fonts and sizes makes documents look sloppy.

  2. Eliminate double spaces. - Do a "Select All" again and perform a find and replace. You will want to replace every occurrence of two spaces with one space. Repeat until there are no more occurences. Get over your habit of putting two spaces between sentences. There should only be one space there. Look at any book or professional periodical if you don't believe me.

  3. Minimize the use of bold. - Italics, full caps, or small caps are all better than bold for emphasis. Bold breaks up the page and looks sloppy. Whatever you do, do not use bold, italic, caps, and a larger font all at the same time. One form of emphasis at a time is enough. If you want to call attention to a larger section, try pulling in the margins for that section.

  4. Don't Justify! - Justification is a very tricky thing to get right. You need a good tool (like Adobe InDesign) plus a lot of patience and skill, otherwise it comes out badly spaced. Microsoft Word, in particular, does a terrible job of justification. Please use normal left alignment or center alignment and your documents will be more readable. Remember, just because a feature is in your toolbar doesn't mean you should use it.

  5. Avoid "Times" - Yes, "Times" is the default font in Word, but it really isn't a great font. Try Book Antiqua, Helvetica, Baskerville, or Palatino instead. If you are willing to invest in a new font, take a look at Adobe Garamond or Aldus, two of my all-time favorites.

  6. Send PDFs - Don't send Word files to anyone outside your company, use PDF. There are a lot of good reasons, but here are two: 1) PDF files can not be edited, 2) They will look right even if the received doesn't have the same fonts installed on their computer.

Those few simple steps should take about 2-3 minutes on each document and will really improve the look of your documents. If you want to take things to the next level, you should read The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst. It is an inspiring book and has a lot of practical (and some not so practical) advice on making type look good.


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