Dangerous Tabs & Indents

Dangerous Tabs & Indents
by Jim Tucker – 1994
Desktop Publishing Instructor at UNM Taos

A person owns special insight when they understand how a certain kind of thing should be put together as a result of their having taken a lot of those kinds of things apart. Bear with me as I provide a roundabout lesson in providing structure for desktop publishing paragraphs.

Jefferson the wrecking man always had an entertaining story about the salvage business. I most enjoyed it when he would relate the glories of his most recent salvo in his junk yard feud with the county commissioners. Jeff bought lots of free rounds at the Sand Bar for the Gulf Coast Weekly Journal crew. We even ran an article or two in our paper sympathetic to his cause. We were a thirsty lot.

My favorite memory of Jefferson comes from the collapse of the County Courthouse. Actually, the whole thing didn’t collapse, just a couple of concrete supports that were supposed to be there for some future third story expansion. In fact that was the reason the tax payers had paid such a high price for this particular new building, “it’s extra strong, we’re ready for growth”.

The day the courthouse cracked, I took a break from ad sales and joined the photographer and editor of the Weekly Journal to go scope out the damage. We were highly amused. The big media from the state capital had already arrived on the scene along with local TV.

Our county commissioners were quite poised with the journalists and were on the verge of dismissing them with an explanation somewhere between “an act of God” and “many months of investigation by structural engineers”. Suddenly, Jefferson stepped into their midst with all of his Cajun cockiness. He pointed up with one hand at the jagged scar on the building and down with the other at the broken block of concrete that had fallen and pronounced, “I can tell you what happened, they looked at the blueprints and thought steel meant STEAL!”.

Nearly half of the structural steel that should have been exposed was missing, not because it had broken off, but because it had obviously never been there. The commissioners guffawed and tried to discredit Jeff but most of us media types were capable of understanding the truth when we had our noses rubbed in it. Jeff had broken up plenty of buildings and he knew what was supposed to be inside.

Oftentimes, building desktop publishing documents from other people’s old word processing files, feels like the salvage business. Word processing files can be recycled like bricks from a demolished building. However, as in the county courthouse parable, missing interior structures can cause the entire process to collapse!

With practically no exceptions computer word processing programs (Mac and Wintel) have a group of common invisible structural elements. They are called invisibles because they only provide structural positioning, no printable character is produced when these keys are typed. Assembling a desktop publishing document from an assortment of word processing files begins by imposing a structural consistency on all of the text files using the following elements:

Special Keys:

SPACE BAR-(Use only a single space at the end of sentences. Never use spaces to indent lines or attempt to use spaces to align columns.)

RETURN KEY-(Paragraph marker. A paragraph is defined as all of the characters between two Returns. The values for Tabs and Indents affect the entire paragraph in which they are applied.)

TAB KEY-(for alignment, works with Tab Markers. The most misunderstood and misused text control. Tabs are the best way to create columns in a word processor. When the Tab key is pressed all characters typed after it will align to that invisible tab character until Tab is pressed again. Tabs should be counted as numerically cumulative in a paragraph. The first time Tab is pressed in a paragraph text is being attached to Tab Marker #1, the second time Tab is pressed it moves to Tab Marker #2, etc.)

Paragraph Ruler Controls:

TAB MARKERS-(for alignment, works with Tab Key. Arbitrary undisplayed left align tab stops are effective at each half inch point of the paragraph ruler until a deliberate (displayed) Tab is placed. When a deliberate Tab is placed on the paragraph ruler all of the undisplayed, arbitrary tab stops to the left of that point are deleted. Tabs should be counted begining with the first deliberate Tab Marker, followed by any other deliberate Tab Markers and then to the right of the last deliberate Tab Marker count one undisplayed tab stop at each half inch point along the paragraph ruler. Tab Markers should only be placed within the Margin Ident Markers.

MARGIN INDENT MARKERS-(marks the left and right margins for all lines of a paragraph except the first line. The left margin Indent Marker can be placed at the same point as the First Line Indent Marker to define a paragraph with no indent.)

(this control marker indents the first line of a paragraph. Use this rather than a tab or worse still five blank spaces to create a first line indent.

When the First Line Indent Marker is placed to the left of the left Margin Indent Marker it creates a “hanging indent” which is useful for bulleted lists.

Thinking about and controlling the “invisibles” can prevent even the most imposing of DTP projects from breaking up due to structural weakness!


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