By Colin Dunbar
Naturally, the quality of the content of your book is the number 1 priority. But when you format your book, the layout of your content, structure and readability is just as important as the content itself.
Readability is an interesting topic, and there are a number of readability formulas that can be used to test the readability of text. You can read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Readability.
Your base font, i.e. the body text on the page has the greatest influence on the readability of your book. Certainly, the other elements of your book also play a part, such as headlines, text boxes, graphics, etc., but your most important aspect is your base font.
Open your Word file, and keep it open while you follow the steps in this post.
The first setting with regard to the fonts in your book is choosing your base font, i.e. the font that you’re going to use for your main body text. In a non-fiction book, you could have Notes, Sidebars, etc., and these will usually differ in style from the main content. More on this later.
Just a quick reminder of the two typefaces…
For on-screen reading (such as an ebook), a san-serif font is easier on the eye, e.g. Verdana, Arial, Helvetica. Even though you can use a serif font, e.g. Times Roman, Georgia, Century, etc. for a hard copy book, using a san-serif font will not cause problems. If you use a san-serif font for your hard copy book, you won’t need to create a separate copy for your PDF version. Two birds with one stone.
A bit of history about the font, Times Roman…
“In 1931, the London Times hired typographers to design a highly readable, compact font. Times Roman is now the most widely used font. It’s chicken-and-egg: Times Roman is easy to read, so it’s widely used; and it’s widely used, so it’s easy to read.” Basic Book Design, Thomas David Kehoe and other Wikibooks contributors.
Setting your Base Font
In your Word document, type any text (1 or 2 words is fine). Select this text, then click the arrow at the bottom right of the Change Styles button (top right of the Home menu bar).
A window similar to the one below will display. This lists all the available styles for this specific Word document. Note that in a new document there will be only a few default styles available.
Place your pointer over the selected style, and click the drop-down arrow to the right of the style name.
The following pop-up menu will display.
Click the Modify option.
And this window will display…
You can make a few changes on this window, e.g. font name, size, etc., but to make a wider variety of changes, click the Format button.
The following options are available:
For this step, you are going to be setting your base font for your book, therefore, choose the Font option on the pop-up menu.
The Font window will display.
Remember… a san-serif font is more effective for on-screen reading, while a serif font is a better option for hard copy books. If your book will be available in both formats, you can comfortably choose a san-serif font. I would recommend going with a san-serif font, but this is entirely up to you as the author. It will not make your book unprofessional in any way.
Choose the font you want to use in the Font field, and choose the Regular style in the Font Style field. Making your base font bold or italic will make it difficult to read, so leave it as Regular.
Choose the font size in the Size field. When you choose the font size, keep in mind who your reader is – if your book is aimed at baby boomers (that is, we folks who have failing eyesight), you should choose a font that’s not too small. Also, small font sizes are difficult to read on-screen. A good font size is 11 point, or you can use 12 point. I do not recommend a larger size as this will make your book look unprofessional.
A note about the Effects options…
Unless your book is specifically about special effects, don’t use any of these, with the exception of:
- Superscript and Subscript.
You should not change the Character Spacing for your main body text, but you can add a special effect to Headings, or special styles you have in your non-fiction book. Always remember, though, not to overdo it. Clean and simple always wins.
Examples of Expanded text heading styles…
Line spacing can aid the readability of a book in a big way. Lines of text that are close to each other are harder to read than, for example, when line spacing is set to 1.5 lines. This is especially applicable for on-screen reading.
Open the Paragraph window, by clicking the Paragraph button at the bottom right of the Paragraph menu frame.
The first two settings in the Spacing frame are the space before and after the paragraph. It’s not essential to set a space before a paragraph with a space after a paragraph. A spacing of 10 or 12 after a paragraph is suitable for most books.
Choose the 1.5 lines option from the Line spacing drop-down menu.
You can also use the At least option. When using this option, choose a value 5 more than the font size, e.g. if you use a font size of 11 points, make your At least setting 16.
There are various debates about left aligned vs justified text. Research has shown that left aligned text is better for non-fiction, in that it aids the reading and understanding of the material. Fictional works are usually justified.
Choose the alignment for your body text in the General frame, using the drop-down menu. Don’t use Centered or Right for body text, as these will make it almost impossible to read.
If you would like to read more about justifying text, you can head over to the following link: http://desktoppub.about.com/cs/typelayout/a/justifyleft.htm
If you’re not sure about the readability of your content you can have a look here. This is a good site to test the readability of your text.
If you were following along with the above steps, then you have now done the following in your example book…
- Set the base font (your body text for your book)
- Set the line spacing for your body text
- Set the spacing before or after your paragraphs, and
- Set the alignment for your text.
In the next post, we look at Page and Section Breaks.