A few typography rules to help everyone (not just designers!)

what is typography?

Typography is the arrangement and style of typeset material. Typography is a skill that ensures type is readable, visually appealing, and stylized in a way that is appropriate to the substance and medium of the content.

Typography may sound like something only  designers need to be versed in, but anyone who formats text (e.g. for presentations, websites, social media captions, or even emails) can benefit from knowing some typography rules, because attention to these details can greatly enhance readability and professionalism in writing.

The three typography rules below are simple to implement, help tighten up writing and text formatting, and do not require any special design skills or software.

1. Know thy dashes 

Hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes are too often used interchangeably. Here’s a breakdown of where each dash should be used and how to type them on a keyboard:

Hyphen (-): The hyphen is the shortest of the dashes and is used to join two or more words to create an adverbial descriptor, as in "like-minded business owners," or "up-to-date legal contracts." It’s also the dash used for line breaks in the middle of a word. To type a hyphen, simply press the hyphen key on the keyboard.

En dash (–): Slightly longer than the hyphen, this dash is used to denote ranges, usually of time or quantity. For example, "Thursday–Saturday," or "10–15 dollars." To type an en dash on a Mac, hold down the option key and then press the hyphen key. On a PC, hold down the control key and then press the minus key on the numeric keypad.

Em dash (—): The em dash is the longest of these three dashes. It is used to indicate a pause in speech or a grammatical break in a sentence. Is also often used as a sign off or citation mark, such as when noting the author of a quotation. To type an em dash on a Mac, hold down the option and shift keys and then press the hyphen key. On a PC, hold down the alt key and then type "0151" on the numeric keypad.

2. Distinguish Line breaks from paragraph breaks

In some cases there’s no perceivable difference between a line break and a paragraph break. However, if you’re editing a document that contains formatting, there may be a different amount of line space between paragraphs than within paragraphs. When this is the case, it's important to be mindful of what kind of break you create when moving to the next line of text. To create a line break, hold down shift while pressing return. To create a paragraph break, simply press return.

3. maintain a readable Paragraph structure

To help with readability, a paragraph should not be too wide or too narrow. A good rule of thumb is around 50–75 characters wide. Additionally, with the exception of responsive website copy, avoid having the last word of a paragraph sit on its own line. To fix this, move the second to last word down onto the last line as well. Be sure to hold shift while hitting return to make sure you create a line break and not a paragraph break.

© Caitlin Hottinger Design LLC. Artwork may not be used without permission.