Richard over at Ace Jet has started a brilliant series of posts called Uncommon Knowledge. It's an exemplary way of passing on the stuff he wish he'd known much, much earlier in his career - those little nuggets of information that were passed down to us by our elders and betters.
The one above explains the en-rule rule. Now, I have to be honest and say that I'm not actually a big fan of the en-rule. In some circumstances, yes, but mostly I prefer to break the rules and use a hyphen. I just find, in most of the circumstances that I set type, it just has a touch more elegance. And it is one of the things that would define my 'handwriting', as it were, if you were to examine my published work closely. But I do at least have Alan Fletcher and even David Hockney to back me up - I do know what I'm doing.
And it's got me thinking about the 'golden rules' or routine that I apply to every piece of print work that I undertake. And those are:-
1. Before you even start setting type, print out the copy and read it. It may seem obvious, but there are designers out there who simply see type as being the grey slabs of copy that interupt the flow of nice pictures. Reading and understanding what you're designing, though, is the first step towards great design.
2. Save the text as text. It's a 95% certainty that the text will arrive with you in the form of a 'Word' document. Before you even begin work on it, save it as plain text. Microsoft doesn't like you doing it, and you'll get a warning screen. But if you cut and paste straight from a Word document into Quark XPress or InDesign, you also copy over all of the unseen formatting. And that will be formatting (like minus indents - yes, it does happen) that you don't want. And once that formatting is in there, it's a bugger to get rid of. So, save it as text, and you'll start clean.
3. Get rid of the double word spaces. Typists are trained to insert a double word space between sentences. It's a hangover from the days of copy typing and typewritten letters, where the extra space did allow for easier reading. But that doesn't apply to typesetting. And perhaps 80% of the text that you'll receive will have been typed with double word spaces - so get rid of them with 'find/replace'. (There is one exception to this rule, and that is if you're setting in Gill Sans. It's a peculiarty of this particular font that it sometimes benefits from extra space between sentences, especially if the following one starts with a 'T'. But space these individually, and by kerning - not with a double space.)
4. Hypens and dashes. Despite what I say above, you have to make a decision on where you use hyphens and where you use dashes - and those uses should be consistent. Chances are that the text coming to you will have a mixture of both, so you need to impose some order on that. For instance, if you're using an en-rule to indicate a range (as Richard suggests), make sure that it's done consistently throughout the document.
5. Develop your own 'house style' and apply it. For instance, you may well receive copy with various ways of setting out a range of dates (annual reports are a good example, where the text will have been compiled from various sources). So you may get 1996-7, 1996-97 and 1996-1997 at various different points in the document. Decide upon one convention and apply it consistently. But remember to tell the client what you've done - they may prefer a different convention. That doesn't matter - it's the consistency that does.
6. Be very carfeful about changing the text. It may be that you spot a spelling mistake (though, it has to be said, most designers are appalling spellers - just look at the blogs!). If so, you should tell the client. You're treading on very dangerous ground if you start altering or amending text simply upon your own initiative.
So, there you have it. A few simple rules that will help you become a better typesetter, if not a designer.
(And Richard, please feel free to add any of these rules to your card index.)