I am Normal

Waxing-Philosophical on the inner workings of Styles

Whenever you open a QuarkXPress document, and define a text frame, and start to type, you are typing in a Paragraph  Style Sheet called Normal. There is really no way around it. Every time you make a new text frame and type in Quark you type in Helvetica. Why is it Helvetica? Because Helvetica is Normal. Confused yet? Let’s take a closer look at what is Normal, what styles are, why to use them, and all the other good stuff that goes along with that…

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Style Sheets palette, let’s slow it down for a minute and start at the beginning.

What is a Style?

A style can remember all the changes you make to type, so when you have to do them again, it becomes a one-click apply. For example, every time you have to style a header in a newsletter (the name of the section), you choose Times New Roman, then change it to Bold, then change the color, then change the point size. Now do that 30 times. My Carpal Tunnel is aching just thinking about that. Instead you can define a new Paragraph Style in QuarkXPress. Now the next time you want to apply all of those attributes to some text, just click on the new style you defined as header.

In the Style Sheets palette you have two different sections. The top half of the window represents what are known as Paragraph Styles, the bottom half contains Character Styles. Paragraph Styles apply a style to a whole paragraph, while Character Styles are applied to just what you have selected. That is why Character Styles are best for things like bold, italic, and colorizing text.

Why use styles?

I am a self proclaimed Style-Nazi. It frustrates me when people don’t see the value of Style Sheets. Style Sheetscan make your time spent in Quark so much more productive. Imagine this: You work in production, laying out books. You get a template from the “Creative” department, you spend months laying out a book, making sure the look and feel of type is the same across the whole book. You don’t use styles. At the end of the process, someone decides to make major design changes to all of your intro paragraphs, headers and captions. Life is not good. By making the decision to not use styles, whether consciously or unconsciously, you really made making any universal changes to your document an extreme amount of work.
Now let’s say you you’ve suddenly seen how powerful Style Sheets can be. So instead of doing what I described above, you lay out the book using Style Sheets. The changes come in, you change the styles in one document, then append the changed styles into all of your other documents (if they are separate documents). Done.

How do I start using styles?

I often get asked, “I see the importance of Style Sheets, but I never have used them. Where do I start?” Well, If you already have a finished piece: a newsletter, publication, brochure, really any document that is more than a page, you can see that styles would be of benefit to your workflow. Go to each of the places on a page where you’ve styled some text, select the text, and create a new Style Sheet for that kind of text. (Just click the New button on the Style Sheets palette, as below.)

Do this for all the different kinds of text in your document and name them something logical, so you know what it is next time you go looking for it in your Style Sheets palette. Then you can delete the old text and start laying out new text using your Style Sheets.

Back to Normal

So, as discussed, every time you type, you are in the Normal Paragraph Style. You can’t throw it away, although you could assign No Style which would mean that it is not linked to any Style at all. Just so you know, Microsoft Word has the Normal style sheet, and it behaves the same way.

Can I change what Normal is?

Yes. In QuarkXPress 8 you can select Normal in the Style Sheets palette, then click on the Pencil icon at the top of the palette. In earlier versions of Quark you can choose Edit> Styles Sheets… and then pick Normal. You can then edit Normal and change its attributes to whatever you like. A lot of companies like to change Normal to whatever their most commonly used font is — perhaps their body copy font. This saves a great deal of time. Now every time you define a new text box, you’re already in your company’s font.

I think the second major thing to consider is whether or not you should set the leading to Auto or some exact number. It is of my opinion that you should set it the font in Normal to your body copy, but set the leading at Auto. This way as you grow the size of text you won’t see lines crash into each other. If you leave Normal at a fixed leading, that is what will happen when text size increases.
However, I have had many heated debates with my colleagues that say they hate Auto leading and wouldn’t want to build it into any Style. My rebuttal is that we are just re-defining Normal to give us a head start when creating new text boxes. If you intend the text to be body copy, start typing, highlight it, then apply the Body Style. If you’re creating text that isn’t like an existing Style, set its attributes to the look and feel you want, then create a new Style from it and apply the Style to that text. The great thing about styles is that even if you’re not sure about the final look for the style, you can go ahead and apply it throughout the document, then later edit the Style and watch as it updates across your whole document.

On a page, or forever and ever?

If you change Normal Style while you have a document open, you will redefine what Normal is for that document. If you have no documents open when you edit Normal, every new document will use the re-defined Style of Normal.

Problems with re-defining what Normal is

The most common problem with re-defining the Normal style appears when you copy text between documents. This is one to watch out for. Let’s say in one document Normal is defined as Times, and in another it is defined as Helvetica. When you copy the text from one document to another it will still look the same as it did in the other document, with its local attributes overriding the Style’s attributes.

What is an Override?

If you see a + sign next to the name of the Style Sheet, some attribute in the current text is different from the attributes in the Style Sheet. To clear an override, hold down the Option key (Macintosh) or the Alt key (Windows) then click on the style name. This will remove any manual formatting made to the text.
Overrides can make using Style Sheets to update text not work. For example, if you have Body defined as 11 points, and you change the size of the text on the page to 12 points, you only changed it on the page, but not in the Style. Later, you decide that you want to change the Style so that all of your Body text becomes 14 points. When you edit the Style, all the text updates except the text you manually changed. Herein lies the problem with overrides. If the override is size, and you re-define size, you will not see a change to that text that has the override. So whatever the override is, if you change that attribute in the Style, it won’t update. Beware the override!

Using QuarkXPress 8’s Update Style Sheet feature

Instead of always going into the Style Sheets window to change your Styles, a new feature has been added to QuarkXPress 8 that makes re-defining styles much easier. Highlight some text you want to change, change it, then click the new Update icon at the top of the Style Sheet window. It looks like a green half-circle with an arrow at the end.

For more on the Update Style Sheet feature, see our story: “QuarkXPress 8: Update Your Style Sheets.

Are you feeling Normal?
I hope this story sheds some light on how to use Styles properly, what Normal is, and what overrides are. Now go back to your machine and try it out. Changing what Normal is could save you a lot of time. Don’t we all wish we could change what Normal is?