Leading, a term that goes back to the days of typesetting, is the space between one line of type and the next. Originally a strip of lead was placed between each line of set type to provide that spacing. These strips varied in width to compensate for the different type sizes. Today, we use the term “linespacing” and our word processing applications provide the capability to control it. Most linespacing is adjusted automatically. Your word processor adds linespacing in proportion to the font size. You also have the ability to manipulate it manually.
There are times when the manual settings can come in quite handy. That letter that spills over into a new page by just two lines can be condensed to one page with a tiny linespacing adjustment. In the example below (Microsoft Word 2008 for Mac) you can see the first paragraph has been set to 0.8li – or 8/10th of a single-spaced line for that font. The paragraph is more difficult to read because the lines are so close together. You can make very small adjustments – 0.95li in the following paragraphs for example – which will give you the space you need to squeeze those two extra lines in your letter without appearing obviously squished.
There are times when readability can be improved by adding a smidgen of extra linespacing. This is especially true with smaller font sizes. And, since the height of a font includes characters with ascenders (like the “h” or “b”) and descenders (like the “g” or “p”), multiple lines of all caps can be improved by reducing the linespacing to compensate for the lack of them.
The days of an extra tap on the Return key to add space between paragraphs are long gone too. In the example above notice the Paragraph Spacing is set to 12pts after each paragraph. That automatically added the space you see here.
Now that you know what linespacing is and how easy it is to use, you’ll find many situations where it will improve the appearance of your publication. Soon, you’ll be wondering how you ever survived without it.
Robin Williams is the queen of e-Style, typography and design. She is the author of several informative – and enjoyable – books on these topics. Any of them would be a useful addition to your reference library.