The Sunday Salon: Typography for Lawyers

On Thursday and Friday of this past week, I, in whatever spare time I could grab, was fervently editing old and new posts to replace “…” with “…” and “-” with “–”. What on earth motivated me to do such a thing?  Why, Typography for Lawyers! Despite the name, Typography for Lawyers isn’t just for lawyers. Matthew Butterick, a typographer-turned-lawyer, is sick and tired of looking at ugly law documents, where some lawyers believe putting things in ALL CAPS will draw a reader’s attention instead of repel it. To combat this, Butterick created Typography for Lawyers, a slick little website that offers a typography primer and refresher.

It provides a definition of typography before diving into typographical details, handily separated out by difficulty level. (Bold and italic? Easy. Kerning? Intermediate. Small caps? Advanced.) It’s elegantly organized and sparingly designed, which I would only expect from a typographer with a legal mind. Butterick even includes advice on which fonts to use and which ones to avoid in professional documents. Importantly, Butterick explains why we make mistakes, especially when it comes to relying on outmoded typography. Underlining the title of books is no longer necessary, now that we don’t use typewriters with differing ideas of italics. He also helpfully provides the input for commonly used characters not found on the keyboard. It’s a useful reference for anyone who writes, especially in the digital world.

But, you might ask, why bother fixing all your dashes? Shouldn’t we focus on the content? I believe in removing as many obstacles as possible between my meaning and my audience. Poor typography and poor design in general is an obstacle–who is going to read your content if they’re distracted by poor typography and a cluttered design? It’s just a matter of simplicity. So to me, it’s well worth the handful of hours necessary to change three periods to an actual ellipsis and an en dash to an em dash, so that no one is distracted by the third period in an ellipsis crawling onto another line or other such typographical disasters. It just makes the signal clearer.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week has ended, sadly–I really enjoyed it, especially the new blogs and books I discovered this week. It also gave me time to build up a buffer of reviews, which just makes me feel better than if the blog goes without reviews for a while. This week, I managed to get through Lynn Flewelling’s Luck in the Shadows and Steve Hely’s How I Became a Famous Novelist, reviews of which are done and in the queue. I’ve started on Kathleen Duey’s Skin Hunger, and after that, I’m going to read Natalie Angier’s Woman: An Intimate Geography, which I’ve been looking forward to ever since Ana’s review of it. I’ll also have to start Northanger Abbey at some point for class, but I’ll worry about that a little later.

Swapna at S. Krishna’s Books is giving away a copy of Kristina Riggle’s The Life You Always Imagined; giveaway closes on Friday. Allie at Hist-Fic Chick is giving away a copy of Hilary Mantle’s Wolf Hall, which ends on Tuesday. And TheOneRing.net is giving away a copy of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún until Friday.

What are your thoughts on typography and how it relates to blogging?

12 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Typography for Lawyers

  1. I have started to pay much better attention to typography and design than I used to. When I was doing my press internship this summer, I sat in on a few production meetings and got a better feeling for why book publishers make the typography/design choices that they make; plus I just watched a documentary about the Helvetica font. Now I feel moderately knowledgeable, which does make me pay better attention to typography in the books I read. But not on my blog. I feel it is all quite beyond me on my blog and WordPress is handling it. :p

    • Ooh, that documentary sounds interesting. Is it just called Helvetica?

      WordPress, I have to say, does a very good job of making sure there’s pretty typography–it’s almost hard to make an ugly blog here, although, of course, it’s doable.

  2. I often worry that my blog is difficult to read (white letters on a black background). But it looks so beautiful to me from afar that I resist change.

    I wonder what we know about cursive writing. I find that fewer and fewer people can easily read it. Why do we continue to teach it in schools?!

    I’ve only read children’s books this week, but what wonderful children’s books they were! I’d love to have you stop in at my blog:
    http://www.readerbuzz.blogspot.com

    (And don’t panic….the post IS in English, despite all outward appearances!)

  3. I work with a lot of lawyers, none of which are concerned with typography. I’ll have to look at the link though since it does sound interesting.

  4. Interesting. To be honest, I’ve never given thought to typography. Most programs I use automatically correct for ellipses and appropriate dashes. I can understand its importance however. I’ll be checking out the link to see if I can pick up any pointers!

  5. Pingback: Review: Typography for Lawyers « The Literary Omnivore

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