Content Vs. Presentation

Last week I introduced a program that creates typographic spaces by changing a space’s point size relative to the surrounding text. But why is that a good idea? If you save a document with such spaces in almost any other kind of format–HTML, XML, or even ASCII–those spaces are going to cause problems. For example, that hair space you so carefully placed in front of those closing quotation marks will turn into a full-fledged *space*–with no “thin” about it. That can’t be good.

So what’s the point of using special characters and formatting? To enhance the *presentation* of a document’s content. Presentation is what the document looks like. It includes such things as typeface, point size, kerning, tracking, and all of the other paraphernalia of the typesetter’s art.

*Content,* on the other hand, is a document’s text–and its structure: words, sentences, paragraphs, block quotations, subheadings, and chapter headings–the kind of thing you should designate with paragraph styles. In fact, the whole point of a paragraph style is what it represents–not what it looks like. The fact that your chapter heading style is named “Chapter Head” is what’s important. The fact that it’s currently formatted as Baskerville 16-point bold is immaterial as far as content goes.

In today’s publishing environment the distinction between content and presentation is especially important, because your Word document may end up as a Web page, a Help file, an electronic book, or some other kind of presentation document that hasn’t been invented yet–each with different formatting than the others. For that reason, you need to keep your Word documents free from such tinkering as artificially created thin spaces.

But there is an exception. If your Word file itself will be the presentation document (to be printed or displayed in Word), then you can go ahead and put in those thin spaces, optional hyphens, and so on–whatever will make the document look good. Be aware, however, that this *is* a presentation document–a final product. So be sure to keep a backup of your *content* document safely in a separate file. Then, when it’s time to create that Web page, you won’t have to spend hours cleaning up the manual tweaking you did in your presentation document. Just open the content document and off you go.

Editors need to be concerned with both content and presentation. As a book editor, I look almost exclusively at content when editing a manuscript. I usually don’t even know what typeface the designer will use. But after the book has been typeset, I look almost exclusively at presentation–widows, orphans, line breaks, and so on. The difference is that the manuscript is a content document. The galleys are a presentation document. And that distinction should be kept firmly in mind.

I do not know which to prefer,

The beauty of inflections

Or the beauty of innuendoes,

The blackbird whistling

Or just after.

–Wallace Stevens



Martha Bowes wrote, “Is there a workaround to get Word to show custom heading styles in the document map?”

Microsoft Word’s Document Map is a highly useful feature, especially for editors. To display it, click View > Document Map. Text formatted with Word’s built-in Heading styles will be displayed in the map, and you can click one of them to go to that heading in your document.

Martha wants to know if there’s a way to display text formatted with custom styles in the Document Map. And there is:

1. Put your cursor on some text formatted with the custom style.

2. Click the Format menu.

3. Click Style.

4. Click Modify.

5. Click Format.

6. Click Paragraph.

7. Click the Indents and Spacing tab.

8. In the Outline level box, select the level you want the heading to have. (This is the key to making this work.)

9. Click OK.

10. Click OK.

11. Click Close.



The Computer Tutor of San Francisco offers an excellent online tutorial on using styles in Microsoft Word:

You can read the complete text of Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” here:

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