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Typography – Make your text look good

Typography is often referred to as “black art” for two reasons. First, there is (was) the black ink used for the printing of books, and second there are hundreds of rules and strange terms unknown to those who are not in the business of printing. Many of the rules of typography were established centuries ago, some of them even before Gutenberg’s innovation. They have survived until today for good reasons, because they add an aesthetic dimension to texts and make reading a pleasure. Unfortunately, even many professional typesetters (the folks using InDesign, QuarkXPress or Scribus) seem to have forgotten or never learned the rules of typography. This Wiki page intends to provide some guidelines, which will help you to make a difference when it comes to typesetting. Those with experience in the “black art” are invited to contribute.

Note: There are many different national traditions in typography. If you discover that your local traditions are different from what is described here, feel free to enhance the articles.


If you read magazines or newspapers, you will notice, that there is a lot of confusion with respect to the use of dashes. Again, this confusion is caused by the limitations of typewriters, and your wordprocessor won’t help you either (well, OOo actually does, but it’s not always reliable). Depending on how you count, there are at least three types of dashes. For high quality typesetting it is of crucial importance to know the difference between hyphen/minus and en dash and to apply the rules of how and when to use them.

- (hyphen)

When to use: Hyphenation

How to use: Your wordprocessor or DTP software will do this for you. If you need to add hyphenations manually, use the respective shortcut (in most cases Ctrl + −). For two-part words you can use minus as a replacement.

− (minus)

When to use: Numbers, formulae

How to use: Insert with keyboard (−)

– (en dash – width of letter “n”)

When to use: en dash is the most common dash in typography. It is used in punctuation, as a replacement for words (“to” or “until”), or in lists. Below you’ll find some examples for correct usage of en dash.

ugly/wrong good/correct
1500 − 1650 1500–1650
from 1500–1650 from 1500 until 1650
1500 until
… he smoothed matters over with a personal apology of which one phrase -‘Je ne fais pas la guerre aux dames’- acquired popular currency.1 … he smoothed matters over with a personal apology of which one phrase – ‘Je ne fais pas la guerre aux dames’ – acquired popular currency.
4.– – 5.– € 4.– to 5.– €
– monitor
– keyboard

1) C. V. Wedgwood, William The Silent, London 1944, p. 140

How to use: insert special in your software. OOo Writer tries to guess whether a hyphen/minus or an en dash is appropriate. But it doesn’t work perfectly. You will have to check your document before printing or importing into scribus.

— (em dash – width of letter “m”)

When to use: em dash is used to indicate missing letters, words or numbers. Examples:

“What the f—?”

“De Staten generael vande ghevnieerde Nederlanden/Allen den — [unreadable] die dese teghenwoordige …”

Susan 4.50 €
Martha 3.20 €

In some languages, the em-dash (or even the 2em- or 3em dash) is also used as a quotation mark (“quotation dash”).

How to use: Insert special in your word processor or DTP software. Some manuals of typography recommend the use of 2em dash (double width of em dash) or even 3em dash (triple width) for the replacement of words. If you like it that way, use it. Typography has a lot to do with taste.

See also


An ellipsis is used for leaving something out, unfinished sentences for instance. Most people will use the dot key from their keyboard three times to insert an ellipsis. This is not correct. An ellipsis is a special character (Unicode 2026), so always insert this one, unless your font set doesn’t contain the glyph:

… ellipsis

... three dots

See also

Inserting special characters in Scribus

There is one (slow) way, using the menu Extras>Insert Specials. You have your cursor in the text file first. Then when you click on Insert Specials the entire font set shows. You then click on the glyph you wish to insert into the text at your cursor.

The quicker way to insert special glyphs is to hit F12, then type the 4-digit code for the character you want:

201c = beginning double quotation mark
201d = ending double quotation mark
2018 = beginning single quotation mark
2019 = ending single quotation mark/apostrophe
2022 = bullet
2013 = en-dash
2014 = em-dash

Right clicking on the glyphs in the Insert Special dialog will give you more codes. You might want also to refer to this page: http://www.unicode.org/charts/charindex.html

In Scribus 1.3.x you can insert many quotes, etc via the Insert menu.

Quotation marks

One of the most common “deadly” sins is the wrong use of quotation marks. Modern word processing software, while actually being able to provide correct quotation marks, takes users back to the age of typewriters. As a consequence many documents still contain " as quotation marks. But " is a symbol for inch. There’s no language in the world using “inch” as quotation mark! Below you see the correct glyphs for quotations in different languages (you’ll probably have to use the text zoom function of your browser to recognise the details).

„ “ Czech, Danish, German, Hungarian, Icelandic, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Slovene

„ ” Afrikaans, Dutch, Hungarian

“ ” English (all flavours), French, Irish, Portuguese, Spanish

‘ ’ English (British)

” ” Finnish, Swedish

“ „ Italian, Turkish

« » French, Greek, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovene, Spanish, Swiss German, Turkish

» « Croatian, Czech, Danish, German, Hungarian, Polish, Slovak

» » Finnish, Swedish

See also

Other information sources