Chapter: Micro-Typography

Optimizing Column Width and Hyphenation

name of your book, your name University of Kansas, 2023

Add to the beginning or end of the book.
Designed by Your Name. Class project for Typographic Systems at the University of Kansas, 2023. The text was compiled from the following sources: Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst, Getting it Right with Type: the Do's and Don'ts of Typography by Victoria Square, Mac is Not A Typewriter by Robin Williams. This book is not to be sold to the public and to only be used by the designer for their reference and student design portfolio.

All the content below must be in your workbook. However you can organize it in any way you want. Each section can be a chapter or you can organize the content into groups and those become chapters.


01 rules check sheet
02 glossary of typographic rules

03 special characters
04 column width and hyphenation
05 hyphens and dashes  
06 quotes and apostrophes
07 kerning

08 figures and tabular tables
09 justification, letterspacing, word spacing
10 paragraph breaks

11 anatomy of type
12 typographic color
13 font classifications

14 glossary of terms (optional)

04. Column Width and Hyphenation

︎︎︎what can you call out, create visual to represent what is being expressed in words. 

Ensuring the ideal character count per line is paramount in enhancing the legibility and visual appeal of your written content. It’s not solely about the aesthetics of your design; it’s also about the ease with which your text can be read and comprehended.

The recommended line length for your main text body typically falls within the range of 45 to 75 characters per line (7 - 12 words), including spaces. Reading occurs in small increments, with readers digesting 5 to 10 characters at a time. Consequently, a line length of 55 to 60 characters is often considered optimal. This allows the reader to pause naturally 6 to 12 times on each line, facilitating a smoother reading experience. Lines that are narrower may force readers to shift their attention between lines more frequently, causing unnecessary interruptions in their reading flow. Moreover, narrow lines can pose challenges when dealing with justified columns.

On the other hand, excessively long lines can strain the reader’s eyes as they grapple with determining where a line starts and ends. Additionally, in longer passages, finding the correct line within large blocks of text becomes a cumbersome task.

Conversely, when lines are too short, readers are compelled to backtrack too frequently, disrupting their reading rhythm. Short lines can also induce stress, causing readers to skip ahead to the next line before completing the current one, potentially missing crucial content.

It is essential to avoid the presence of widows and orphans in your text layout.

Widows occur when a paragraph ends with fewer than seven characters (not words, but characters) on the last line, and they are especially problematic when only part of a word is left on the final line, with the rest appearing on the line above.

Orphans, on the other hand, occur when the last line of a paragraph, regardless of its length, cannot fit at the bottom of a column and instead continues at the top of the next column. The practice is always to correct this situation.

In the realm of typography, “rivers,” or visually unattractive gaps resembling streams of white space, can detract from the visual appeal of a text block. Rivers are most conspicuous when wide word spacing results from full-text justification or the use of monospaced fonts.

Hyphenation plays a crucial role in ensuring a smooth and visually appealing text layout. It’s not advisable to rely solely on software for hyphenation decisions. When placing hyphens at line endings, it’s best to leave at least two characters behind and take at least three characters forward to avoid disrupting the flow of words.

For example, “ele-gantly” is acceptable, whereas “elegant-ly” should be avoided as it separates the word too abruptly.

Furthermore, be cautious about ending lines with the stub of a hyphenated word or any word shorter than four letters. Avoid having more than three consecutive hyphenated lines. When it comes to hyphenating or breaking proper names and titles, ensure the use of non-breaking spaces before and after these terms to prevent line breaks within them.

Consistently avoid starting three consecutive lines with the same word, as this can disrupt the text’s visual harmony. Lastly, refrain from ending lines with common words like: the, of, at, a, an, and, by which can hinder readability.

Lastly, it’s essential never to hyphenate words in headlines and to minimize hyphenation in callouts. Adhering to these hyphenation rules will help maintain the text’s visual coherence and legibility.

Hyphenation Rules
-- break lines based how the text is read
-- avoid widows 
-- avoid hyphenating names and proper nouns
-- leave a least 2 characters on the line and 3 following
-- avoid beginning consecutive lines with the same word
-- avoid ending consecutive lines with the same word
-- avoid ending lines with the words: the, of, at, a, by..
-- never hyphenate a words in a headline
-- avoid hyphenation in a callout