The Editorial Apartment

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Copy Editor’s Tip: Creating the first layout

Finally, you’re ready to create the first layout, when final design and copy come together. It means your project is nearly done. I always look forward to seeing the plain text I’ve been reviewing up until then transform into something more visual. But to get the cleanest first layout to present to the client in the fastest way, i.e., with minimal rounds of changes, project managers should remember two things:

  • Last-minute changes to the copy before first layout should be proofread by the proofreader/editor.
  • In the first proofread after the first layout, the proofreader may have to make further changes to the “final” copy.

It’s tempting to have the designer input any last-minute copy changes. However, any errors in the requested changes, or structural fixes needed as a result of the changes, are easier to fix in a plain text document by the editor/proofer, which avoids a round through the design department in case the first layout turns out to be otherwise perfect.

After layout, the proofer will make sure all the copy was laid out. However, when copy melds with a design, it takes another form, it looks different and may read different. Also, the designer may have slightly modified some text, such as a header or caption, to make it fit better in the design. Further, the proofer will be reviewing the piece overall, not just the copy, checking for conformance to house style for example, which may or may not involve small tweaks to the copy. This review is like a first review of a new piece.

It should only take a few production rounds to perfect the first layout, and hopefully, the result is exactly what the client wanted.

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The spaces in and around words


When I review final copy that has been poured into a design, i.e., when I’m looking at something in the layout stage, I don’t just reread the text. I look at the spacing around and within the text too. Is the text being cut off? Is the text readable?

At this point, the designer may have played with some of the copy, especially the headline, which can become a graphical element within the design. The designer has leeway and may even forgo some punctuation marks. As long as the text is readable and the message isn’t lost, this is fine and interesting to see.

Kerning is especially important (where there are no special effects applied). I may not know how to perfect kerning, but I notice and will point out where it seems too tight or too open, making words and sentences unreadable and slowing the reader down. I’ve come to believe that if there are no such kerning (or leading and awkward line break) problems, it is one mark of a good designer or production artist.

Experiment with kerning yourself with this online game called Kern Type.