The Newsroom’s Typographic Stylebook

Jan. 18, 2022–May 4, 2022
Adobe InDesign
Adobe Illustrator
Typographic Systems
Dr. Molly Briggs, assistant professor
Natalie F. Smith, instructor
View PDF


Natalie F. Smith’s research focuses on the way typography courses are traditionally taught — letterforms to typographic systems — and how it might be improved by reversing the approach.

Her typographic systems syllabus asks students to read, take notes, abridge and typeset chapters from Robert Bringhurt’s The Elements of Typographic Style. The book is widely regarded as essential reading for graphic designers. Smith refers to the abridged versions students produce as “Pocket Bringhurst” editions.


Already familiar with the main takeaways from The Elements of Typographic Style from a guest lecture Smith delivered during my first year in the design program, I had the opportunity to focus on two other learning objectives: (1) using more advanced Adobe InDesign features and (2) thinking critically about the way Bringhurt’s advice conflicts with that of other style guides, especially the The Associated Press Stylebook.


Standardized journalistic writing is sterile and pragmatic — no italics or bold text; short, concise sentences and paragraphs. The Associated Press’ stylebook has been the authoritative voice on American English grammar for journalists and public relations professionals since the first public edition was published in 1953.

But it is only a starting point for publications and corporations; hope remains for those who wish to see print (and perhaps online) journalism embellished with all the available typographic decor.

The Newsroom’s Typographic Stylebook is an attempt to blend the authoritative guide on journalistic writing with the typographic guidelines outlined by Bringhurt. The two acknowledge each other on equal footing; one does not envelope the other. It is a primer for those whose in-house style and technology allow them to deviate from the typographic norms of print journalism.


The semester-long project followed the typical editorial process. Students were expected to bring printed proofs of the typeset notes to be reviewed and critiqued by peers and the instructors to each class meeting. Each assigned chapter was an opportunity to experiment with layouts and typefaces and to iterate based on the feedback received.

It’s impossible to assess readability, scale and proportion digitally on a computer monitor — and you’d be a bad designer for trying. Book design is product design; it requires a user-centered approach. It is necessary to examine the pages exactly as the end users will.

The end users of The Newsroom’s Typographic Stylebook are designers and editors at grassroots publications and student newsrooms. These publications do not have access to the advanced printing facilities of the art and design programs, and if they did it’d be too costly.

The book needed to be optimized for printing on standard office equipment and media: black and white inkjet or laser printing on letter size copy or printer paper.

Each page measures 5.5 × 8.5 inches, or half letter size, instead of the more standard 6 × 9 inches. This way, four pages can be printed on one sheet of letter size paper with no trimming required.


One common use of character styles is to apply small caps and italics. Bringhurt’s advises the use of small caps for abbreviations using the following rules:

Character styles in Adobe InDesign are often used to set text in small caps and italics. Bringhurst advises the use of small caps for abbreviations and acronyms using the following rules:

  1. Use spaced small caps for abbreviations and acronyms within normal text

  2. Except for two-letter geographical abbreviations and acronyms that stand for personal names

Character styles can be applied three different ways: manually, using the find and replace feature, or using GREP styles within paragraph styles. To apply a character style manually, the typesetter must highlight the target text and click the desired style in the Character Styles panel.

The Find/Change… and GREP Style features allow users to automatically — to different extents — select and apply character styles using regular expressions.

A regular expression is a sequence of characters that specifies a search pattern in text. They are used in search engines and the find and replace dialogs of word processors.

The following regular expression can be used to find abbreviations and acronyms:


It searches for strings of at least two {2,} uppercase letters [A-Z], each optionally ? followed by a period \.. If this regular expression were used to apply a small caps character style using the GREP Style feature, two-letter geographical abbreviations and other exceptions would be set in small caps. The existence of exceptions requires the flexibility of per-instance review offered by the Find/Change… feature.