The Legals (or, you don’t have to use spaces!)

InDesign, Tips

Not all aspects of newspaper ad design are as sexy as they sound (I’ll pause until you quit laughing). Sometimes, we do text-heavy ads that are quite dull, but obviously necessary, like the legals.

Legal ads are a staple of newspapers, especially in small markets. So much so that newspapers and their associations have fought proposals to allow governments to post them online instead of purchasing the ads.

Confession: I kind of like these ads. Sure, getting to play in Illustrator and Photoshop and create something cool is rewarding, but working with text can be, too. Maybe it’s my inner copy editor. Maybe it’s my love of typography. Maybe it’s because I understand how to work with type in InDesign.

Here’s some tips on working with setting type, specifically for legal ads.

A character style sheet applies the text attributes to the selected text.

A character style sheet applies the text attributes to the selected text.

Use Style Sheets. When you have something that runs on a regular basis and needs to appear the same, InDesign’s style sheets are pretty handy. Formatting for our legals can vary, but they have an overall style of Helvetica 7.5 pt with 8 pt leading and justified. With one click, the entire text is set in that overall format.

LEFT: Use the tabs function (under the Type menu) to set tabs, indents, etc. Here, I've used it for a paragraph indent. RIGHT: This section of the legal has a paragraph that is indented on both sides. On the tab bar, drag both arrows in.

LEFT: Use the tabs function (under the Type menu) to set tabs, indents, etc. Here, I’ve used it for a paragraph indent. RIGHT: This section of the legal has a paragraph that is indented on both sides. On the tab bar, drag both arrows in.

• Use tabs and indents — not spaces. This is something a lot of people don’t seem to understand about their word processing software, judging from the kind of Word documents we get. Using spaces to set a paragraph indent or hitting tab two or three times to place copy further to the right isn’t even old-school, it’s archaic. If you are using justified copy, then using spaces to indent a line will often result in the indentations being uneven. The tab bar will let you set an indent for the beginning of a paragraph, indent both sides of a graph, create a hanging indent, etc., that is consistent no matter what. Explore it and see what you can do.

The eyedropper tool lets you copy and paste attributes.

The eyedropper tool lets you copy and paste attributes.

• Use the eyedropper to copy and apply formats. Often throughout the legals, some of the text will have to be set in bold, underlined or italicized. Sometimes it’s a whole sentence, sometimes part of a sentence, sometimes just one word. Use the eyedropper tool for this. Set your first group of words with the proper attributes, then click on it with the eyedropper tool to “fill” it with that formatting. If there’s just one word that needs changed, click on it with the eyedropper. You can also select a range of words, just as you would with the type selection tool. Just remember, the eyedropper tool will copy all formatting, so any paragraph indents, tabs, colors, etc., will be applied, too.

I hope these tools make your work a little easier, as formatting text can be tedious. Find what works best for you, and if you have any tips of your own, feel free to add them in the comments. I’ll have some future posts on formatting text in different situations, I’m sure.

If you’re someone who writes legal ads and other documents and uses Word, Legal Office Guru has a blog post that describes that feature.

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