WRITING AND SOFTWARE BY IAN SHARPE
1 Avoid headings falling at the bottom of a page or column with little or no body text beneath. Aim for a minimum of three lines of text between heading and page bottom.
2 If a heading falls at the top of a page/column, make sure you lose the blank line that normally separates it from the preceding text
3 Avoid having only the last line of a paragraph at the top of a page/column. Edit the text to make it at least two lines, preferably three. Similarly, avoid having only the first line of a paragraph at the bottom of the page. Make it two or three lines, or pad the preceding text to push the start of the paragraph to the top of the page.
4 Avoid paragraphs in which the last line contains only one or two words. Edit the text to fill at least a third of the line or wrap back on to the previous line.
5 Paragraphs are an aid to reading. Don't make them too long. Do separate them visually by indenting first lines or increasing the line spacing between paragraphs. But only one or the other, not both.
6 Don't make body text too wide. Lines that are long in relation to font size or the gaps between lines are hard to read. Why? Because it is harder for the brain to keep track of where the eye is and where it should go next. And the more effort that has to put in, the less comfortable and receptive your reader will be, even if it is at a subconscious level.
7 Maintain consistency of writing style. Professional editors use stylesheets that set rules for things that are open to variation. For example, the stylesheet might specify that numbers up to ten are spelt out in full and figures used thereafter, except at the start of a sentence. It might say that book and other titles should be italicised, and that a 'onto' must always be 'on to', that it's always 'disk' rather than 'disc'... and so on, for several pages. You don't have to use those particular rules; the point is to have reasonable rules and to hold to them. Consistency lends itself to a clean, calm and convincing style. Inconsistency and ugly usages look amateurish and diminish credibility.
8 Use a spelling checker and pay attention to grammar and punctuation.
Don't believe it matters? Build a couple of documents with identical content. Deliberately commit all the sins mentioned above in one of them. Lay out the other strictly according to the guidelines. Print them out.
Now ask a bunch of people which version looks best at first glance. Ask them which job application would make the most favourable impression, which report they would be better disposed to, which magazine or brochure they would prefer to read.
Publishing professionals routinely use little editing tricks to make text precisely fit a space and remove faults such as those described above.
To lose lines or shorten text:
To gain lines or pad a short line:
You can also add, move or remove headings and tinker with the sizes of illustrations and text boxes.
And finally... adjust the margin size, text size or line spacing by a small amount. Small changes may not be perceptible but can make a significant difference to text length and the way it falls.
This approach is frowned on in professional publishing. Or worse than frowned on – depending on who you are working with and the level at which you are operating, this may be a real taboo.
For a letter or report or one-off brochure you do not need to apply the standards of a professional designer. Just ensure that you don't go too far and compromise appearance or readability, or introduce noticeable stylistic inconsistencies.
Footnote: Text in an HTML document will flow differently according to the browser and its settings. There is no point trying to perfect the final lines of paragraphs on the Web, as they may be presented differently on other computers.
I offer professional services in software development, databases, data manipulation and writing. Find out more at IanSharpe.com.
IanSharpe.com and other sites I manage are hosted at DigitalOcean. I am happy to recommend this company for Linux VPS hosting.
I get a commission if you open an account through this link and stay a while. DigitalOcean will credit $10 when you add a payment method. That gets you a generous slab of Linux-based VPS hosting for nothing and helps support this site.
This is the personal web site of Ian Sharpe, a software developer and writer based in Bath, United Kingdom.
Before taking up software development full-time I had a career in computer magazine publishing. A hobbyist obsession with programming diverted me into magazines from an even earlier career in railway civil engineering. That was in 1986 and for the next 16 years I was a writer and editor on high-profile titles. Some visitors may remember me from publications of yore such as PC Plus, PC Answers, PC Today and CPC Computing.
Much of the material on this site originates from that period and was written to fill column inches to short dealines. I created the software as an adjunct to the writing so not a lot time was spent on it!
There used to be a lot more (I reckon I wrote over a million words over my magazine career) but I drop items that become too outdated. The remainder survives while it stays popular, which remarkably it does.
And so the articles do not represent current interests or recent experience although I occasionally refresh them with new material.
There is no binding theme, just whatever came into my head to publish. Hence '@random'. That said, several pages deal with aspects of randomness. I don't know how that came about and it certainly wasn't a plan.
Some of my publishing experiences were exceptionally satisfying and many were great fun. But the world changed and the tide turned against the big-circulation magazines of the eighties and nineties. The gravy train was running out of juice and it was time to disembark, re-invent and move on.
I had an ambition to write software professionally. I also had some ability, always having done it as a sideshow to my writing. I got my first magazine job partly on the strength of my ability to crank out publishable code in Z80 assembly language and Basic. Over the years I edited reams of programming tutorials in a variety of languages written by some very capable people.
So I switched career once more and spent five years as a developer at a busy digital printing outfit.
Now I work freelance, dividing my time between projects at local technical software/electronics company Dot Software and whatever else I am engaged in. My professional services site is www.iansharpe.com.
Because my personal site is mostly old material, writing emails about it is not my favourite activity. Even 'quick' questions can take longer to answer than you might expect. It feels rude not to reply and sometimes I will respond, but forgive me if I do not.
If there is a real problem (or opportunity!) my address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The download is in progress and should be visible soon.