type composition

top The keys of a man­ual type­writer.

bot­tom The key­board of a mod­ern com­puter. Even though the com­puter key­board can pro­duce many more char­ac­ters and sym­bols than the type­writer, much of that power is hid­den from the writer.

Good typog­ra­phy starts with good typ­ing. This chap­ter tours the non­al­pha­betic char­ac­ters on the com­puter key­board—some obscure, some under­ap­pre­ci­ated, and some well known but mis­used.

A text is a sequence of char­ac­ters. Every char­ac­ter is a tool. Your goal: to always use the right tool for the job.

Today’s com­puter key­boards depict the avail­able char­ac­ters in almost the same way as a man­ual type­writer. But this depic­tion is mis­lead­ing. The com­puter key­board can pro­duce many more char­ac­ters than the ones vis­i­ble on its keys. These include accented characters, math symbols, and white-space characters —invis­i­ble mark­ers that are use­ful for get­ting con­sis­tent typo­graphic results.

Beware. This chap­ter is more dif­fi­cult than it looks. Typ­ing is sec­ond nature for most of us. Habits are ingrained. After years of doing things one way, it can be hard to learn a dif­fer­ent way.

But it’s worth it. By typ­ing the right char­ac­ters while writ­ing and edit­ing, you’ll save time and effort later on when you’re for­mat­ting and lay­ing out your doc­u­ment.