Typography Tips

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Typographical Tips from Microsoft Publisher

The fact that you have come to this website suggests that you are a user of Microsoft Word. In one form or another, Word is ubiquitous. If you buy a new computer, chances are good that it will come with a trial version of Office 365 (which includes Word) installed. Word is a powerful word processing program that incorporates many of the features of a page layout application, but there are times when a page layout or desktop publishing application is what is needed. Many editions of Office include such a program: Microsoft Publisher.

Often Publisher will be better suited to your needs than Word, so it is well worth becoming familiar with it. It is a very user-friendly application, generally aimed at a more casual, less professional level of user than Word. But even if you use only Word, Publisher can be useful to you. Because once upon a time, at least, it came with an excellent manual. The Microsoft Publisher 97 Companion is a 328-page book (compare this to the 19 pages devoted to Publisher in Discovering Microsoft Office 2000 Premium and Professional and the total lack of printed manuals provided with the software today), and it contains much material that can be equally helpful to Word users.

For example, the chapter “The Look of Words” discusses “what fonts are, how to choose them, and how to get the most from them.” The following tips, guidelines, and rules of thumb are excerpted from that chapter. [Comments pertaining specifically to Word are interspersed in brackets. If the order of the text occasionally seems muddled, it is because much of the text was in marginal sidebars in the original; in most cases these sidebars have been indented in the text that follows.]

What’s a font?

A font is all the characters of a single design—that is, a complete set of all the letters in the alphabet, plus numerals and symbols, as shown below.

Each font belongs to a family. Just as the members of a human family have similar but usually not identical features, so do the members of a font family. One font might be italic, another bold, and yet another extra-bold. But they all have a common structure that ties them together. Some font families are large (like Rockwell); others have just one member (like Comic Sans MS).

Traditional fonts: In traditional typesetting, before the advent of computer fonts, different sizes of [a typeface] were considered to be separate fonts. Unlike your computer, which can transform most fonts from tiny to huge with the click of a mouse, every size of every font resided on its own specifically sized piece of metal.

Set in stone: Roman stonemasons chiseled a serif into each stroke they made in slabs of stone (the “paper” of that time) to correct the uneven appearance of the letters and to add a graceful finishing touch to the blunt chiseled edges of the letters.

There are literally thousands of fonts, but designers usually group them into three categories: serif, sans serif, and script.

Serifs entice the eye to move from letter to letter. It’s this quality that makes serif fonts superbly readable and so suitable when there is a great deal of text to read.

Typeface and font: As you read other books about fonts, you’ll encounter the terms type and typeface, which are generally used interchangeably with font in the desktop publishing environment.

Font personality

Fonts are like clothing for words. As a man in a black leather jacket, jeans, and rugged boots conveys a very different image and feeling than he does in a three-piece business suit, silk tie, and Italian shoes, so it is with fonts.

The same words dressed in a different font deliver a very different message. For example, a mischievous, informal font, like the one on the left, can undermine a serious message.


Mixing and matching fonts

Choosing fonts is a lot like planning a wardrobe. You start with some basic fonts that convey the idea and the feeling of your business or organization, and then from time to time you accessorize with fonts appropriate for a particular publication. It also probably goes without saying that the right font means one that you’re comfortable with.

Choosing a basic look

  • Lay the foundation with a couple of fonts that work for your business and stick with them. Those fonts will form the basis of your visual identity (along with a logo, if you have one, and the kind of paper you use), making all your publications instantly recognizable.

  • The goal of good design is communication. Since the bottom line of good communication is clarity, make sure that you’re clear about your audience, the point you want to make, and the tone you want to set. Then choose a font that suits that message.

  • If you’re making a publication that will be distributed by fax, avoid fonts with elaborate and delicate detail (like Harrington). The faxing process can fill in the open spaces of the letters and muddy the detail.

  • Think about the paper you’re using, too. If you use newsprint, textured paper, or other papers that soak up ink, avoid delicate, detailed fonts.

Mixing fonts

Sometimes one font isn’t compelling enough to pique and hold the reader’s interest. The contrast between two fonts can attract the reader’s eye and help clarify the organization of the piece. For example, designers usually use a different font for body text—the text that forms the main body of the publication—than for headlines (also known as display text). The following rules will help you mix fonts successfully.

  • It’s a good idea to limit yourself to two font families in a small publication like the business card shown below. In a longer publication, use a maximum of three fonts. You won’t go wrong if you combine a serif font for body text with a sans serif bold for headings.

  • In one publication, don’t mix two serif fonts from two different families, two sans serif fonts, or two script fonts. If they’re similar enough, the mix can look like a mistake.

  • Play it safe. If you can’t decide whether fonts from two families look right together, use just one font family. Use a lighter weight for body text and a heavier, bold font at a larger size for display text.

As you gain experience mixing fonts, there will be times when you know you’ve broken the rules, but you like what you see anyway. Go with it! It means that you’ve developed your “eye” enough to create your own look.

Why “x-height”? As shown in the illustration below, “x-height” refers to the main body height of the lowercase letters, excluding ascenders and descenders. But why “x”? Why not “c” or “s”? Because in the letter “x” all the terminals of the letter touch a line of measurement. Now you know!

The look of body text

As its name suggests, body text is the text that forms the main body of your publication. In a newsletter or a book, it’s the story. In a smaller publication, it’s everything that isn’t either a headline or special text like captions and fancy first letters.

Choosing a font for body text

First and foremost, body text must be readable. If the words aren’t readable, you’ve lost your audience. More subtly, pay attention to the emotional impact of the font. In the same way that background music in a movie affects the feeling you have about a scene, the font you choose for body text affects the mood of your publication and the response of your audience to it. Also, depending on how much you have to say and how much space you have to say it in, you might need to consider the compactness of the font. Once you’ve chosen a body font, stick with it throughout your publication; otherwise you can confuse your reader.


We read words by their shapes and not letter by letter, so readable fonts are those that make it easy for the reader’s eye to scan words and lines—to read blocks of text. Serifs give words distinctive shapes that the eye recognizes more easily than it recognizes sans serif shapes. But blocks of sans serif text can be readable as body text, especially when given plenty of white space.

  • Don’t use script fonts or fonts meant for headlines. DON’T USE ALL CAPITAL LETTERS or all italics for body text. They can all be practically impossible to read at the smaller sizes of body text.

  • A medium-weight font—not too heavy and not too light—is most readable. If you have a text-intensive page, consider a light font like Goudy Old Style. If the text is sparse, use a dark font like Rockwell.

  • Consider the height of the lowercase letters (the “x-height,” as it’s known to typographers).


You might not think of black text as having color. But black text combined with white space “colors” the page.

Consider the way the color feels to you and if that’s how you want your readers to feel. A light-colored body text has a soft, calm feeling; dark text is stronger and more emphatic. Take your printer into account, too—if it prints on the dark side, you can compensate by choosing a lighter font.

The “color” of a page is also affected by the space between the lines (known as leading, pronounced “ledding”). Add space between the lines to lighten the page and give it an airier feeling; decrease the line spacing to darken the page. [In Word, line spacing is adjusted in the Paragraph dialog.]


The number of characters per line varies from one font to another even when the same font size is specified. If you have a lot of information to fit into a small amount of space, choose a compact font.

Formatting body text

You can save yourself a lot of time and effort and easily keep the formatting consistent throughout your publication if you use text styles, particularly if your publication has more than a handful of pages.

Font size

Make all body text within a publication the same size—between 10 and 12 points is the norm; smaller text can be difficult to read. Obviously this doesn’t apply if your publication is a poster that’s meant to be read at a distance or a newsletter for people with low vision.

A quick lesson about points, picas, font sizes, and leading

When you’re working in Publisher, it’s helpful to understand typographic measurements and how they’re used. One inch (2.54 centimeters) can be broken down into points and picas, as follows:

  • One inch = 72 points

  • One inch = 6 picas (72 points ÷ 6 picas = 12 points to 1 pica)

It seems simple enough when you use these measurements to determine spacing between lines (leading)—you can easily use a point scale or a pica scale to measure and verify the number of points of spacing between lines on your hard copy.

It can get confusing, though, when you look at font size, which is also described in points (see the “E”s in the  graphic below). You might say to yourself, “That 12-point E doesn’t look as if it’s 12 points tall!” And you’d be right—it’s not. Font sizes are measured completely differently than leading, even though they’re both specified in points, and the only way you can verify font size on your hard copy is by measuring it against the designated sizes that you’ll find on an E-scale. Many art-supply stores carry precision rules that combine a pica scale, a point scale, and an E-scale in one handy tool.

Space between characters

You can adjust the spacing of letters, or characters, in your text for a single word or an entire paragraph. [In Word, you can select Expanded or Condensed on the Character Spacing or Advanced tab of the Font dialog.]

  • You can lighten the “color” of a text block or improve the readability of small font sizes or sans serif type by increasing the letter spacing.

  • You can darken a text block or squeeze a few more words into a circumscribed space by decreasing, or tightening, the letter spacing.

Space between sentences

Current publishing convention puts one space, not two, between sentences. You can see the spaces on your screen [in Publisher] by choosing Show Special Characters from the View menu. [For more on displaying nonprinting characters in Word see What do all those funny marks, like the dots between the words in my document, and the square bullets in the left margin, mean?] If you habitually press the spacebar twice at the end of every sentence, you can remedy the situation by using the Replace command from the Edit menu.…

The habit of putting two spaces between sentences is a holdover from the days of typewriters when the typed characters were monospaced (Courier New is an example of such a font). That is, the space each letter occupied was as wide as the font’s widest letter. So, because this created big spaces between some letters, you needed an even bigger space to show that you’d reached the end of a sentence. Today, however, most fonts are proportional—“skinny” letters take up the least amount of space and “fat” ones the most, and so one space after the period is enough to make the division between sentences clear.

Space between lines

Space between lines is to words what air is to people. Publisher automatically puts some vertical space between single-spaced lines, and in most cases this is adequate. But there will be occasions when you’ll want to fine-tune it. Too little or too much space makes the text hard to read. Following are some suggestions for changing the line spacing while keeping the text readable.

  •  If lines are longer than 14 or 15 words, make the line spacing 2 or 4 points larger than the font size. [In Word, you can use Exactly line spacing to add leading; note, however, that Single line spacing is almost always more than the nominal point size to begin with. This varies from one font to another, but for Times New Roman it is approximately 120% of the font size, so that line spacing for 10-point Times is 12 points. For long lines, you would therefore set the line spacing to 14–16 points.]

  •  Make the line spacing 2 or 3 points larger than the font size for sans serif fonts (like Arial or Comic Sans MS) or dark fonts (like Rockwell).

Space between paragraphs

Just as you add a space after the period to separate sentences, you must signal where a new paragraph begins. There are a couple of ways to do this. The first method is the most economical, allowing room for more words on the page; the second adds more white space.

  • For a classic, traditional look, indent the first line of each paragraph: .15″ is a useful standard. It’s customary, though, not to indent the first paragraph under a heading because it’s obviously a new paragraph. [First-line indents are also thought to work better in combination with justified text, whereas extra space between paragraphs is more effective for ragged-right text.]

  • For a contemporary, uncluttered look, don’t indent the first line and do leave a space between paragraphs. Don’t press the enter key twice, though—that generally creates too much space. Instead, adjust the space before or after each paragraph (but not both)—approximately half a line of additional spacing is the norm.

Line length

Readability is affected by line length. A very general rule is an average of 10 to 12 words per line for a serif font and 8 or 9 for a sans serif font. [Another rule of thumb is approximately 1½ alphabets or between 40 and 60 characters.]


You can change the alignment of selected text in a flash. Simply click one of the alignment buttons on Publisher’s Format toolbar [or Word’s Formatting toolbar or Home tab] —the buttons are shown below next to the descriptions of the four ways to align text:

  Flush left. All the lines align on the left margin, with the right edge uneven, or “ragged,” as in this book. This alignment is recommended for most body text because it’s the most readable. [You can also use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+L.]

  Flush right. All the lines align on the right margin, with a ragged left edge. The eye struggles to find the beginning of each line, making reading difficult, so this alignment’s uses are limited—for example, right-aligning a caption along the left side of a picture. [The keyboard shortcut for this is Ctrl+R.]

  Centered. Text is not easily readable, but works well in short amounts as in invitations and announcements. It also offers a touch of formality. [Press Ctrl+E to center text.]

  Justified. Text is aligned on both the left and right margins. Don’t justify text if the lines are short or the font is large; it can create unsightly gaps and slow down reading. (If you do justify text in other circumstances, be sure that Publisher’s automatic hyphenation is turned on.) [Ctrl+J will justify text.]

Adding emphasis

Well-set type is smooth and rhythmic, and adding emphasis should be done in a subtle way, without disrupting the even texture of the page. You can achieve this if you follow the basic guidelines below.

  • For emphasis in body text, use italics instead of underlining. A second color often works well.

  • Use all capital letters in small doses.

  • Use small caps instead of regular-size caps, especially for a.m., p.m., and acronyms like unicef or ram.

  • Set off a section that you want to emphasize, such as a long quotation, with some space before or after the paragraph.

  • Italicize book or magazine titles. Use quotation marks around the titles of shorter works like songs or magazine articles.

Punctuation and special characters

Apostrophes and quotation marks

Publisher automatically gives you typographer’s apostrophes ( ’ ) and single ( ‘ ’ ) and double ( “ ” ) quotation marks (often called “smart quotes”), rather than foot ( ' ) or inch ( " ) marks. [Word also does this by default.] If you do want inch or foot marks for measurements now and then, that’s easy, too: simply hold down the ctrl key while you type the quotation mark or apostrophe. [In Word, press Ctrl+Z to reverse the AutoFormat As You Type correction.] These contribute greatly to your publication’s professional look.…If you’ll be typing lots of measurements, it’s easy to turn the smart quotes option off [do this in Word on the AutoFormat As You Type tab of the AutoCorrect Options dialog. Alternatively, you can assign keyboard shortcuts to typographer’s foot and inch marks—the prime ( ′ ) and double-prime ( ″ ) characters found at 0162 and 0178 in the Symbol font and also included in the expanded character set of many Unicode fonts.]

When you put quotation marks around a quote in a large font size, such as a pull quote, hang the quotation marks outside the block of text to keep the text aligned.


There are three kinds of dashes, each a bit longer than the other. You don’t need to put spaces before or after dashes.

  • Use the hyphen (-) for hyphenating words.

  • Use the en dash (–) where you would use “to,” as in “business hours are 10 a.m.–5 p.m.,” in a range of numbers (pages 17–25), or to link certain compound adjectives like “the Tokyo–Hong Kong flight” or “anti–blood clotting serum.”

  • Use the em dash (—) instead of parentheses—as is done here—to set off a parenthetical phrase. On the typewriter, two hyphens stood in for this dash, so Publisher cleverly substitutes an em dash when you type two hyphens. [So does Word. Although an em dash is used as described in most of the English-speaking world, it has become increasingly common in the UK to use instead an en dash with a space on either side – like this. For that reason, if you type a space, then a hyphen, then another space, Word converts this into a spaced en dash—but not until you finish typing the following word. Also, note that (even in the UK) an em dash is used to denote that speech has been broken off in mid-flow, as in:

The Queen turned crimson with fury, and after glaring at her for a moment like a wild beast, began screaming “Off with her head! Off with—”

“Nonsense!” said Alice very loudly and decidedly, and the Queen was silent.]


Publisher makes it easy to accent letters (café) and to use symbols such as © (copyright) and ™ (trademark). [So does Word. The examples given are actually built-in AutoCorrect entries; for other symbols, see “How can I insert special characters, such as dingbats and accented letters, in my document?”]

Superscript and subscript

Carbon dioxide becomes CO2 when you subscript the 2, and fourth becomes 4th when you superscript the th. [In Word, you can apply these properties through the Font dialog, or you can use the built-in keyboard shortcuts: Ctrl+= for subscript and Ctrl+Shift+= for superscript. An AutoFormat As You Type option, if you have it enabled, automatically superscripts st, nd, rd, and th in ordinal numbers.]


Publisher supplies basic fractions: ¼, ½, and ¾. But if you need others, like 3⅝, Publisher Help can show you how to make them look elegant. [For fractions in Word, see “How to create fractions in Word.”]

The look of display text: headings and headlines

Display text—headings and headlines—is meant to catch the reader’s eye by being distinctive, evocative, and big: as a general rule, display text is larger than 14 points.

However, display text works differently in a publication such as a book or a report than it does in an advertisement in a brochure or magazine. In the former case, the readers are already involved and the display text helps them to see the organization of the publication and to navigate in it. In the latter case, the display text must capture their imagination so that they’ll read the advertisement.

Choosing a display font

Start by playing around—set the headings in different fonts and see how they feel. Display fonts have a big impact on a publication because of their size, so it’s important that they convey the mood you want.

  • To attract and hold the reader’s attention, there must be a contrast between display text and body text. Create contrast by choosing a headline font from a different category (remember serif, sans serif, and script) than that of your text font—that’s what the designers of this book did [they used Britannic Bold for headings and Times New Roman for body text]. Or use only one font in your publication and create contrast by makings the headings bigger and bolder than the text.

  • Choose a font that’s legible. Because short bursts of text like signs or headlines can’t rely on the meaning of the surrounding words for understanding, it must be easy for readers to identify individual letters rather than words and phrases. Many designers consider sans serif fonts to be more legible at large sizes than serif fonts.

  • Once you’ve chosen the heading font, use the same one throughout the publication and use it consistently.

Formatting display text

In Publisher, you can set display text as plain text or you can use WordArt for display text. [WordArt is also available in Word.]

Use plain, unadorned text for publications such as reports, in which display text helps organize the page, or in elegant or formal publications like invitations or awards. Plain text is very legible, which makes it desirable for critical information like road signs or telephone numbers. Plain text also gives you control over the spacing between letters, which is important when letters are set large. You can achieve the contrast you want by relying on a larger size, a heavier weight, or a different font. And finally, you might have fewer printing problems when you use plain text.

Use Publisher WordArt when you want splashy effects to heighten contrast. You can put white text on a black (or colored) background, pour text into a shape, add shadows to letters, or twist and turn text in a variety of ways. [Some of these effects are also available for plain text in Word.] Once you have placed it in your publication, however, you cannot directly edit the WordArt. To make changes, you have to reactivate the WordArt program by double-clicking the WordArt frame. [In recent versions of Word, WordArt is more fully integrated into the program.]

You’ll want to limit the use of WordArt, though, simply because it is so memorable. Too much of it is like having a dinner entirely of desserts or a birthday every day of the year. A maximum of half a dozen words is a good rule.

Size and weight

To generate impact, set main headings between two and four times larger than body text—even five times larger for greater punch. Let your eye be the judge, but headlines that are much larger and darker than body text attract the reader’s attention immediately. [For long documents such as books and reports, headings are not usually so large; in Word 2003 and earlier, default Heading 1 is 14-point Arial, while Body Text is 10- or 12-point Times New Roman; Arial is admittedly heavier than Times, however, with a greater x-height.] You can also use color very effectively in headings.

Another effective way to set off subheads and make their associated text clear is by placing a horizontal line (also called a rule) above the heading. [You can do this in Word by applying a top border to the paragraph; for instructions, see this article for Word 2003 and earlier and this one for Word 2007 and above.]

Make sure that the size of the heading reflects its importance—the more important the heading, the larger its size. Larger sizes help readers figure out where to look on the page, and smaller subheads pull them along through the story.


In general, there should be less spacing within a headline (between the letters and between the lines if it’s a two-line headline) and more spacing around (but not below) it. This gives the headline cohesiveness and helps it stand out from the body text. [In Word, you can adjust the line spacing in the Paragraph dialog and character spacing on the Character Spacing or Advanced tab of the Font dialog.]


Be judicious in your use of all capital (uppercase or all caps) letters—they’re often not as legible as a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters and they don’t necessarily look more important.

Why uppercase and lowercase? When printing was done with letters made from lead, type was kept in shallow wooden cases stored on racks. Each font required two cases, one for the small letters, numbers, and punctuation, and the other for the capital letters. Since the small letters were used more frequently, they were kept in the lower, more easily reached case, and the capital letters were kept in the upper case.

The look of fancy first letters,
captions, and other special text

There are other kinds of text that don’t readily fall into the body text and display text categories—sidebars (information that might interest a reader, but that isn’t essential), fancy first letters that attract the eye to the page, captions with pictures, and pull quotes (excerpts from the body of the story, often set large). Use these elements in moderation, however, or your publication could look tacky and confusing. And once you’ve chosen the font and style for any of these elements, use them consistently throughout the publication.

  • If you do use all caps, limit them to very short headlines set large and pay particular attention to the spacing between the letters. Also consider using all caps fonts, such as those from the Copperplate family, whose letters are specifically designed to fit together well.

  • If you don’t use all caps, be consistent in your capitalization of headings and subheadings throughout your publication—capitalize the first letter of each word or just the first letter of the first word.

  • Whatever you do, don’t set script fonts in all caps!

Fancy first letters

It’s easy to create a fancy first letter (also called a drop cap or raised cap) in Publisher. If the font doesn’t work with your publication, you can change it to match the heading font, or use another font that complements the style of your publication. [There are even special fonts that consist entirely of fancy capital letters, sometimes in the style of the “illuminations” in hand-lettered medieval texts. In Word, use Format | Drop Cap or Insert | Text | Drop Cap to make a drop cap or a large initial in the margin; for a raised cap, merely increase the font size.]

If you have more than one fancy first letter on a page, scatter them and make sure they don’t line up along the top of the page. A fancy first letter often takes the place of a heading, so you don’t want it at the bottom of the page either.

Captions and callouts

When you mix fonts in your publication, it’s a good idea if the font you use for captions and callouts is related either to the body text font or to the display font, as shown in the following illustration. You’ll notice, though, that the designers of this book used a third font (Blueprint) for the captions and margin notes—proving that it’s okay to break the rules sometimes!

Pull quotes

A pull quote extracts a short statement from the story to add visual interest to the page and to attract the reader’s attention.

  • Make the pull quote a different font and at least 6 points larger than body text to attract the reader’s eye.

  • Keep the pull quote short (no more than four or five lines) or you’ll discourage people from reading it.

  • Put the pull quote on the same page (or on the facing page) with the text it was pulled from, but not in the same paragraph. After reading the same thing twice, readers might think you made a mistake.

An appealing way to call attention to a pull quote is to enclose it in giant quotation marks, as shown in the illustration here. If you do this, be sure to hang the quotation marks outside the even margin of the quote. [You can find giant quotation marks in some symbol fonts, or you can increase the point size of quotation marks in the font used for the pull quote; if the latter method is used, it may be necessary to lower the quotation marks on the Character Spacing tab of the Font dialog.]


A sidebar contains information that isn’t vital to understanding the main text, but that adds interest or additional information. Sidebar text can be the same font and size as body text or the same font (in a larger size) as the captions. Put the sidebar within a page or two of the related text.

[Recent versions of Word provide premade sidebar “building blocks.” On the Insert tab of the Ribbon, in the Text group, click Text Box. In Publisher, they’re also on the Insert tab, under Page Parts in the Building Blocks group. (In older versions, find them through Insert | Design Gallery Object...]

Using text styles for fast and consistent formatting

Text styles are formatting descriptions that you can use to quickly apply text formatting on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis. Text styles contain all the formatting information that you need: font and font size, indents, line spacing, tabs, and special formatting such as numbered lists or character spacing. By using text styles, you can make even complex formatting easy by just choosing the style name. And by using text styles for specific purposes—a heading style for headings, a list style for lists, and a body style for body text—you can maintain a consistent design throughout your story, your entire publication, and even multiple publications.

Text styles can come from a variety of sources. Some text styles are created by Publisher, such as the Continued-On Text style, which Publisher uses when a “Continued on page…” notice is automatically included in your text frame. [Word also uses some styles automatically; among these are Header, Footer, Caption, Footnote Reference, and Footnote Text.] You can create other text styles in your word processor as you write your text, and those styles will be included in Publisher when you import the file. You can also define your own styles in Publisher, import text styles from other publications, or use text styles that have been saved in a template. [All of these are true in Word as well, and there are even more good reasons for using styles in Word.]

This article copyright © 2000, 2017 by Suzanne S. Barnhill. New illustrations (not the originals) were added by Dave Rado, webmaster of the Word MVP FAQ site, when it was published there; the illustrations in this version are scans from the original printed manual. Except for the bracketed text, both text and illustrations are copyright © 1991–1996 by Microsoft.