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Use the right character

The difference between an amateur document and a professional one can be a matter of details. The following topics cover some of the most commonly overlooked or incorrectly handled details of typography.

Italics, boldface, and uppercase

Normally you should avoid underlining text. Underlining is left over from typewriters, which lacked italics. Sometimes underlining is necessary when no adequate italic is available. Use italics for emphasis or for proper convention, such as the titles of books, periodicals, and plays.

If you want something to jump out on the page, try using boldface, but remember, contrast attracts attention. The best-designed pages display a clear hierarchy of information. If you make everything bold, nothing will stand out.

Avoid using all uppercase letters to emphasize text. They aren't as readable as lowercase letters and interrupt the flow of the text. When your document calls for all capitals, use one of the small capital typefaces available from Adobe.

Getting your quotation marks right

The neutral quotation marks (' and ") that are accessible from your keyboard are traditionally used to indicate units of measure. True, or directional, quotes (sometimes called curly quotes) should be used whenever possible.

Using the experts

Adobe sells a number of expert-set typeface collections. These collections contain many of the less frequently used characters that add a professional look to your documents, including old style figures, small caps, ornaments, and ligatures. For example, you can use f-ligatures, which eliminate awkward character combinations. Compare the ff, fi, fl, ffi, and ffl ligature combinations in the second line with the individual characters in the first line.

Upper- and lowercase numbers

When you are setting numbers with lowercase text, it is best to use lowercase numbers. That's right! Numbers come in upper- and lowercase versions.

The lowercase versions are often called old style figures, and they contain characters with ascenders and descenders. Uppercase numbers look fine in spreadsheets and in uppercase text, but look too large in body text.

Small capitals

Smaller versions of regular capital letters, called small capitals, are designed to be visually appealing with lowercase characters in a typeface — that is, they are drawn to have the same typographic color as the lowercase.

Some applications allow you to apply a small-capitals style to your text. This usually means that the application reduces the point size of full caps to about the height of the lowercase. The resulting letters are usually too light, even if the application does something fancy like horizontally expanding the type at the same time.

Small capitals are useful for section headings or chapter titles, to accent important words or phrases in mid-sentence, or at the beginning of a paragraph for a lead-in. True small caps are one sign of a truly professional job.

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