Get your type under control, dang it!
Defining and using styles is important for two main reasons. First, it makes it very easy to make changes. For instance, instead of going through all your headers and changing the point size a half-point, you can just make one change to see how it looks throughout your document. Second, styles promot consistency. You can’t have that mistake where you left one line a quarter-point larger than the rest of your text. For type changes within the paragraph (like italics), styles are easily over-ridden.
Columns & text threading
Chances are good that you will want more than one column on a page (see Length of text lines). In InDesign you should thread the text frames together across colums and across pages.
The point of typography, and also pretty much all of design, is to comunicate clearly and beautifully. We want to attract the reader and have them think about what is said, not about the design. The best design is invisible to the reader.
Learn from the experts
When you are doing any project that requires text you can easily learn how it is done with instruction by some of the world’s best designers. Just pick up a magazine or a book. Look closely. What is the type choice, point size, leading? How are the headers done, how is the right margin handled? Etcetera.
Body Copy (extended reading type like the paragraph below)
Break the typewriter
Typewriters haven’t been around for a while, but many people still cling to their limitations. Don’t underline — instead use italic or bold. Don’t put two spaces after a sentence — computers can figure out the correct space to put after a period with one space. Use the correct dash: Hyphens connect words that make up one word or spread a word across lines. En dashes (command+hyphen keys) connect numbers or words like in dates or addresses. Em dashes (command+shift+hyphen keys) connect thoughts in a sentence. More info on Wikipedia...
Body copy text choices
Serifs fonts are easier to read and many are classic looking. Sans serif can look cleaner, simpler and more modern. The little tags on the end of serif letters help the eye distinguish one letter from another, which is important because when we read we read patterns, not letters. There are exceptions to this, such as type on a on a low-resolution screen and short bits of big type (like headers). Type size is also important, and unfortunately can only be judged in a print (if that is the final medium). Different typestyles will look different sizes at the same point size, but generaly point sizes from 8 to 11 are good. Type that is too large looks awkward and amateurish, and type that is too small is hard to read. And never use decorative type for your text unless you don’t want anyone to read it. Times and Helvetica are bad choices if only because they are over-used.
Justified left and ragged right is the best option, but if you want your page more regimented, or if your columns are close together, you might want to use fully justified type (left and right). Watch the spacing of your words when you fully justify, and to help word spacing you should probably have hyphenation turned on. Centered text and ragged left text are really just for special purposes. Save them for your poetry.
How much leading to set is a personal thing, and it also depends on what you need. Too little leading will make your lines crowded and jumbled. Too much leading will make your body of text look unconnected with itself and give the feeling of stripes. Start with a leading 2 points larger than your type size and print it out to see if you need more (or less).
Length of text lines
A general rule of thumb is to keep lines to 50-60 characters (letters and spaces). Too long text lines makes it hard for the reader to pick up the next line as they are reading. If you want to use longer lines, keep the text down to only three or four lines and do not fully justify it. Increasing leading will also help. Very short lines of text should never be fully justified, since the word spacing will suffer, even with hyphenation. There are controls in InDesign with which you can vary how words are spaced and how they are hyphenated, but for now just make sure you don’t have ‘rivers’ of white space running down your body copy from poorly spaced words.
Paragraphs are good. They group the text into inviting chunks and help the reader skim. Paragraphs can be separated with a line return or by indenting the beginning of each paragraph after the first. The ideal indentation is usually around the width of the letter ‘M’ in your typestyle (that width is called an ‘em’), but some designers use a bit more.
Italic and Bold
Italic and bold versions of your typeface are great ways of emphasizing words or separating them from the rest of the text. Get used to using them. Color changes can also be used for the same purpose, although that technique is much less common.
Header & Title Text
Make sure your headers and titles play nice with your body copy text. They don’t have to be in the same typestyle at all, and often times serifs and sans serif styles are mixed between headers and body copy. Whatever your choice of header typestyle or size, make sure it doesn’t speak too loud (usually too bold or big) or too soft in comparison to your body copy. All caps is fine in headers. All caps is harder too read, but headers are short.
Fun with type
The point of typography is to communicate, not show how many fonts you can use or how ‘creative’ you are (ugg). Use as few fonts as possible, and don’t beat the user with decorative fonts. Layout and what is said can communicate something like ‘fun’ better than Comic Sans. Decorative fonts work best when they silently quietly communicate a mood.
Headers should always be scanned to see if they need any letters kerned. Body copy doesn’t generally need it at all (whew), but if it is not good try setting InDesign’s kerning to ‘optical’ or better yet, change your typestyle to something with better ‘kerning pairs’ built in.
There is much more to typography, but this should get you started. A well set page with a good layout is inviting and beautiful. You have seen them, but I am sure you haven’t noticed them. That was the designer’s intent.