From: Dick Margulis <margulis -at- fiam -dot- net>
To: Anna Langley <alangley -at- ts -dot- checkpoint -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 13 Feb 2004 15:16:10 -0500



The trend in the last couple of decades has been from the extreme of showing every type of on-screen object with a distinct typographic treatment toward the extreme of not differentiating anything.

The rationale for this shift is threefold: readers really cannot keep in their heads the meanings of eight different type styles, nor should they have to; with careful writing, the context makes the meaning clear anyway; the more complex the scheme, the likelier it is that the document will have formatting errors around this issue, further confusing the few readers who do manage to keep it all straight.

I think the majority opinion (though not an absolute consensus by any means) is that it is best to keep all this signification stuff as simple as possible.

You MIGHT want to keep code samples in a monospace font like Courier (there are better choices for code that distinguish clearly between zero and capital oh, and between one and lowercase ell). I've seen plenty of situations where even this is overkill.

You MIGHT want to use bold to identify field names, although I prefer using capitals and not using bold. The decision might depend on the audience and the medium, though. For online work, I wouldn't use bold as a marker for the simple reason that the difference between bold and normal may not be visible in the viewing environment. I use initial caps, regardless of whether the field label on the screen has initial caps. For example, if the screen prompt is "Select a file type," I'll refer to the Select a File Type list in preference to using quotation marks or bold. This goes against the usual advice to make the text match the screen, so follow my lead only with extreme caution on this one.

You MIGHT want to use small caps for, say, key names,, button names, or list selections; but I wouldn't bother. Again, I use an initial cap. Press Enter. Click Cancel. Select Design Template (*.pot).

Just my opinion.


Anna Langley wrote:

Dear Technical Writers:

I'm working on my team's document template. I'd like to know the font
size/style standards you've developed for:

Commands and strings.
File names.
Directory names.
Menu selections.
Keyboard, menu, and GUI buttons.

Right now, we don't have a standard, except that we put commands in a
Courier font, and everything else doesn't get a separate font style. I've
looked in my Chicago manual, and can't find a recommendation. So I'd like to
know what you're doing.

Thanks so much for your help!


FONT STANDARDS: From: Anna Langley

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