Fancy-formatting and the pursuit of simple plain text


At this stage of every edition’s production (28 days to printing) we’re starting to receive submitted article text for inclusion.  A mixture of longer pieces and some shorter pieces of local information.

Simple, straight-forward and stress free?  - Of course not.

On our website we’ve tried to explain how we need to receive text, but this is nearly always unseen or ignored!  The only time we receive contributions 100% correct and ready to use is when they are being submitted by either professional writers or those involved with modern publishing technics. I suppose that there is no great surprise there.  But what we are asking people to do is to make life easier for themselves and not just us.

So where do the problems creep in?

Well, it’s with the dreaded and often dreadful use of ‘formatting’!  Every single bit of which we have to remove from the submitted text.   People carefully set out their text; including the use of underlining, emboldening, indentations, centering, fancy fonts, colours, different font sizes and the real bug-bear of images (even worse set in a box) within the text. The first thing we have to do is remove every single bit of formatting from the submission.

If you consider how text appears in a magazine, it is usually placed into two or three columns.  So if the text arrives (as we would expect) as a single column (full-page width) then every bit of fancy formatting done is just a waste of time.  Not just the time of the person submitting it but also our time as it takes time to strip out all these ‘extras’.  Even when we have cleaned up a piece of text there are sometimes hidden bits of formatting (strange spacing at the end of rows for example) creating problemsthat only appear once the magazine is set ready to print.  This then requires further time and energy to sort out – usually when we are short of both. 

This is also a problem with the submission of adverts.  We can (and offer to) prepare adverts for people but there is a small charge.  It is a skilled job getting everything into the correct size, resolution and designed to look nice – and all in a format ready to print.  So regularly we receive files for adverts that are supposed to be ‘camera ready’, where someone has decided to prepare their own work (and avoid a small charge).

We receive these half prepared adverts on either publisher, power-point, word and even excel documents.  We cannot use any of these.  A ‘camera ready’ advert would be sent to us as a high resolution .jpeg or pdf file.  Prepared to an exact size and resolution.  When we receive these ‘alternative’ productions – we have to try and take it apart and the see if any of the component parts (logos and images) are fit for use.  This takes time and causes frustration.  Invariably the small images included in the ‘prepared’ advert are too low a quality for the correct preparation of the advert and then we have to go back to the client for more images and to explain that we cannot use their submitted advert.  People can get upset – but the way things are printed requires absolute adherence to what the final computer/printer can accept. 

We mentioned images there – we will come back to those in a further blog – there’s a whole further set of issues with images!

Having complained about things being included unnecessarily – how about an omission.  Accents! It can be time consuming to add appropriate accents to text – we know that – we do our own and often have to go through everything that comes in to make sure it is done correctly.  Insert - then Symbol on any QWERTY keyboard – so now everybody knows!

Increasingly we move the submissions with the least problems to the front of the queue for space and preparing for print.   So, naturally, the more bizarrely the state in which things are received – the less likely they are to get into print.

What do we dream of?

Single space text, no indentation and a double space between paragraphs is what we need.  Images, to accompany text, should be sent only as attachments and all by email.  We cannot use submissions sent on pdf files – we need word documents only. 

There!  That's solved that problem- or has it?