Columns? (text flow around graphics etc.)

Subject: Columns? (text flow around graphics etc.)
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 2 May 2001 09:13:48 -0400

Damien Braniff has <<...a two column datasheet with some graphics which are
full page width and the question has been raised when you come down the
column and hit the figure do you: Carry on below the figure to the bottom of
the page and then jump to the top of the second column OR Jump to the top of
the second column and then move to the first column under the figure.>>

The trick is to think of this the way a reader does, and though that won't
provide a simple answer, it will suggest potential solutions. You have to
recognize that some readers will assume that any large horizontal barrier to
reading means "stop here, go to the next column, and continue"; others will
assume that because they read vertically through a column from page top to
page bottom everywhere else, they should do so when they hit the figure too
because they know you're a trained techwhirler, and thus, they know that
you're a paragon of consistency. That's the "no simple answer" part:
whatever style guides may say, my work with writers and designers over the
years has proven to my satisfaction that both groups exist within any
audience, and you have to try to answer both needs.

The solution involves recognizing the alternative reader approaches and
using various layout tricks to overtly or subtly guide the readers. One
solution is to convert the text before any two-column figure into a single
column, with the entire chunk of text appearing above the figure. In that
approach, the text doesn't break at all around the figure. That works most
elegantly if there's no two-column text above the one-column text that
precedes the figure. Similarly, given that you have a de facto three-column
layout grid (one margin plus two text columns), you can plan your layout in
advance to accommodate this problem and let you push the figure partway into
the margin and wrap the text around it to the right or left; wrapping on the
left side generally makes more sense since the reader continues reading down
the column, and never has to jump into the right column and return to the
left. With standard page sizes and a reasonable margin, you can usually
reduce the figure enough to give you room to wrap the text without creating
overly short lines; this has the additional advantage of tying the text
intimately to the figure. If the two columns use a divider (e.g., a vertical
rule), sometimes suppressing the divider for the columns of text above the
figure provides a clue, but that's a bit subtle for my taste. If you want to
be overt, insert a reference of the form "continues in next column" that
parallels the logic of the infamous "continued on page 73" slug you'll see
in newspapers and magazines.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot; others transform a
yellow spot into the sun."- -Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)


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