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Copyfitting: Get print output to look the way you want

Wikipublisher automates typesetting so authors don’t have to worry about it, is that right? Well, not quite.

Monk at work in a Scriptorium

Copyfitting is the process of adjusting type to fit the space available on the printed page. Web authors typically don’t need to think about this — web pages are so malleable that attempts to control the fit are generally over-ridden by individual readers’ browser settings. Wikipublisher takes advantage of LATEX’s typesetting capabilities so that the same is almost true of the print output produced. If the web page is OK, chances are the print page will be too. Up to a point…

The first issue facing the editor responsible for final copyfitting is the expected print metadata settings. If a reader changes the paper size, paragraph separator (space or indent) or fontset, the fit also changes. If a page is printed on its own or as part of several lists, the pagnation is different in each context. So there is no right answer.

Experience to date shows the following are the most common copyfitting problems:

  • hyphenation of the last word of a paragraph, creating a widow word fragment
  • the first line of a paragraph falls at the bottom of a page (an orphan) or the last line falls at the top of a page (a widow)
  • a page break before an itemized or numbered list, so the introductory paragraph is at the bottom of the previous page
  • an image doesn’t quite fit and floats to an otherwise empty page (arguably, this is a feature, not a fault)
  • a heading comes before an orphan line or after a widow line (a heading will never be orphaned from its following text)

The solution is simple: re-word one or more paragraphs. Some people may say that an author should not need to re-write something to compensate for the imperfections of a typesetting program. However, most writers take the view that no paragraph is perfect and the copyfitting process is an opportunity to improve the text. Following The Elements of Style (Strunk and White), this writer’s strategy is to look for, and omit, needless words.

LATEX uses a complex optimization algorithm to decide the best layout for a page. If one of the above problems arises, we can be confident that all the alternatives are worse. The parameters (“penalties”) controlling the algorithm can be tuned, and it is possible that different values may produce better results than the present settings. Any advice on this topic would be welcome.

Category: typography

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Page last modified on 05 October 2007 at 10:46 AM