T4G: Layout Matters

Producing a report, an article, or a book calls for fitting the text into the available space in a pleasing way. The different formats require different typefaces and styles. Making the different requirements for each work together on the page is where page layout, or formatting, is crucial. Titles, headings, and body text are ideally set in different point sizes. These parts of a report have different requirements of their own; using styles makes them easier to handle (Styles will be covered in a later post).

Common Paper Sizes

The most common page size in the United States is 8.5″ × 11″. A common size for printed genealogy books is 6″ × 9″. The latter size is also used as the size of many larger paperback novels, or non-fiction books. To keep things simple for this series, I’ll use the larger, more common size, as examples. European readers can easily adapt the mathematics to the ISO page sizes A4 and A5, for instance.

Optimal Text Block Width

The primary feature of most genealogical writing, is body text; The first thing you should consider is the ideal line length, which is 40 to 60 characters. Basing your text block margins on this measure is as easy as multiplying the point size by two, multiplying the result by 12, and setting the margins to that measurement. There are 72 points to the inch and one pica equals 12 points. Thus, for 11-point type, the optimal line length is 264 = (11 × 2) × 12, or 3.66″. On an 8.5″ × 11″ page, an ideal line length for 11-point type is 3.5″ (252 points), with left and right margins of 2.5″.

One example is shown in the illustration. It is a basic one-column setup with running headers and folios. The text shown is of a reprint for Josiah Adams’ Haven genealogy, originally printed in 1843, reprinted as a new edition in 1847, and as a revised, combined edition in progress with me. The page layout shows ample margins which enable the owner to add notes and corrections. It also allows the publisher to move inset references to other parts of the book into the margins. The reference in the left-hand page margin, and one on the right-hand page are markers for original page numbers in the 1843 edition.

Illustration Classical Page Layout with Space for Marginalia

Illustration: Classical Page Layout with Space for Marginalia

2- and 3-column layouts can be adapted from the measurements above, giving more text on the larger sizes of paper; for instance in a newsletter, or two-column society bulletin. The multiple column formats also allow larger type sizes, rather than smaller, as the text is infinitely easier to read that way. The trade-off becomes more or fewer pages.

Headers and/or Footers

In the typography field, headers and footers are called running heads or footers. In most layout and word processing programs, they are simply called headers and footers, so I’ll use those terms.

The contents of these two items are sometimes controversial. Authors and publishers debate whether the title of the book, or the author’s name should be included in the verso header, and which subhead(s) should be included in the recto header.

In genealogical works, the left, or verso, or even-numbered pages, commonly have the title of the book. On the recto, or right, or odd-numbered pages, the chapter title or generation number is given. On all but the first page of a chapter or major section a folio, or page number, is also given.

[Page numbers are technically called folios, but the term folio is also used by book makers as a synonym for quires, or bundles of pages, so I’ll stick with the more common term: page number.]

Folios should always appear at the outer margin of the text block. Most genealogies have the page number in the running head, although some use the running footer for the folio. A few large reference books use the outer margin, beside the text block for page numbers, although putting the number in this space can cause it to be obscured by marginalia.

Headings and Subheadings

Heads and subheads should be based on a couple of point sizes larger than the body text and set with more line spacing. Continuing the example of 11-point body text, the heading just above it should be two or three points larger, with a blank line above, to separate the heading from the preceding and following body text. I’d use a full-line and a half-line measure, as follows:

With 11/13 as the basic line measure (11-point type on a 13-point line spacing), I’d have a 14-point heading on a 16-point line-spacing (14/16). For a blank-line space we’d add 12 points above the paragraph and 6 points below. The next-higher heading would be 16-point on 18-point (16/18), and so on. A half line-space (six points) line below the heading separates the heading from the body text following it.


In OpenOffice.org Writer, my preferred word processor, I need to put a non-breaking space after the footnote character. The effect otherwise would cause the number to run up against the text, which is unwanted. In Microsoft Word 2010 this is not a problem. I use the ASCII 0160 character (generally entered using by turning on the numeric keypad and pressing the Alt key and then the four digits. Alternatively, in Windows, you can use the Character Map applet and copy the character from there, into the space for it on OOo Writer’s footnote configuration screen.

Having the hard space after the footnote character is advisable if you are using justified text. If the non-breaking space is not there, there may be a larger gap between the character and the beginning of the note than is desirable, making the left part of the page more ragged than it ought to be.

© 2012 N. P. Maling