Abbreviation Small Caps

haocc's picture

Should abbreviations be small caps at the beginning of paragraphs?


Should plural abbreviations be ALL small caps or just the abbreviation?

Nick Shinn's picture

If possible, this should be re-written so that the acronym does not start the sentence. Same with numbers.

Also: those are petite caps, too short for acronyms IMHO, especially in a sans.

haocc's picture

Thanks Nick. I just caught wind of this discussion as well

haocc's picture

Would you recommend all small caps with the ( 's ) or first letter capital and the rest small caps?

hrant's picture

To me both of those look stupid because the smallcaps are too small.


Joshua Langman's picture

I tend to strongly favor small caps with a height matching the x-height, so both of those look fine to me.

I have no problem starting a sentence with an acronym in small caps. I would keep the s as a lowercase, but there will be barely any difference.

charles ellertson's picture

This is the umpteenth time this topic has come up. I don't know just how to search for all the posts, but it could be worthwhile, as some of those threads were quite long & brought up many points worth pondering.

For just one example: In my line of work, scholarly books, the decision would usually be considered "editorial" rather than "design," though that can vary from press to press.

Nick's suggestion -- rewriting -- would again be an editorial decision. In my experience, the editors would not consider it.

Then you get into opinions. For acronyms and abbreviations, I think small caps should be a bit bigger than x-height. The goal is to not have them stick out as full caps do, but also not to cause confusion. You can have acronyms that are also words; best to subtly signal them as acronyms.

Personally, I find no need for complete consistency. For example, in a subhead where each word begins with a full cap, any acronym should be set in full caps. The rhythm of the line is broken up less that way. In running text though, use the small cap setting. Others will disagree, and if they're editors, they'll win.

But extending that thought, setting an acronym that begins a sentence -- or as you show, a paragraph -- in full caps might be considered preferable. Not to me, but the argument can be made.

Another point is whats the rest of the text look like? If there are a lot of names with initials, the lines are already visually broken:

G. E. M. Anscombe and W. V. O. Quine are members of (acronym)


J. E. D. Smith, M.D.

where some would insist "M.D." should be set in small caps. I'd say "why?"


joeclark's picture

They’re acronyms, not abbreviations, and you write them in full capital letters. We have indeed been through this before. Old Man Bringhurst and his acolytes are simply wrong, and in any event have never tested their theory of small-cap acronyms beyond simple test paragraphs.

Don’t rewrite the sentence. Sentences can start with acronyms or numbers. Old Man Shinn is wrong on that count, too.

R.'s picture

I’d like to point out that the small caps in the sample (first line below) are not the real small caps of TheSans (second line below):

Some prefer small caps, some prefer full caps—I think both is fine for acronyms, also at the beginning of a sentence. It’s a matter of taste.

hrant's picture

Charles, agreed on all counts.

you write them in full capital letters.

Makes no sense, in the context of why text is typeset (hint: it's not to titillate the typesetter).

It’s a matter of taste.

That's Art.
Don't use FF Pitu for the body of a novel even if you love looking at it.


R.'s picture

That’s Art.

Is it? I think I disagree. There are cases in which you can’t clearly determine which option yields optimum readability. And using full caps or small caps for acronyms seems to be one of those cases. At least I don’t have any clear evidence that speaks against either. And I personally find full caps quite jarring for acronyms (and slightly downsized full caps even more). Others might feel differently. It seems unlikely to me, however, that anyone would like to read a novel typeset in FF Pitu.

hrant's picture

There are cases in which you can’t clearly determine which option yields optimum readability.

You're actually describing all cases! We just don't Know. All you can do is think, and make a decision, but placing the reader above yourself. My contention being that that's far better than blindly following one's own taste or some pedantic formalisms. A designer's taste and discretion will still kick in, but without being forced, without being the goal.

For example, you might personally like how x-height smallcaps line up nicely with the x-height, but if you believe (I hope you do) that immersive reading isn't about things lining up* then you demote your own conscious desire for things to line up.

* Consider the "ideal" binocular lc "g" for example.

It seems unlikely to me, however, that anyone would like to read a novel typeset in FF Pitu.

Most laymen will love reading it for 10 minutes. And when they stop loving it, few of them will realize why - they will blame something they can relate to (as opposed to readability).

When I made Maral for AIM Magazine (a hundred years ago) everybody loved it! I was so proud. But then the people actually reading every article, the minority who knew what reading Armenian is supposed to feel like started complaining that the magazine was hard to read. We figured it must be the font, and they commissioned me to make an ungainly -but readable- revival as a replacement. But it took me about 8 years to come to grips with exactly what was going wrong (the x-height was too big).


R.'s picture

I think I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it is unclear in all cases. Is there any chance that FF Pitu is better for a novel than, say, some Caslon? I don’t know if Pitu is better than Narziss, however.

What you suggest sounds good, i. e. one should try to take decisions that in all likelihood are best or at least not bad for readers (regardless of whether or not these readers—is this even a homogeneous group?—would have taken the same decisions). But as you said: In many (or even all) cases, we don’t know what reads most comfortably and what the impact of deviating from ideal conditions is. We start reasoning from general ideas (like ‘It’s not best for immersive reading if everything is lined up and smoothed out’, some would disagree) that do not say that much about full caps or small caps for acronyms. And even two people who agree on the general idea might differ when it comes to practical execution: If you want an acronym to stand out more than a regular noun, full caps are probably best; if you want it to blend in like any other word, small caps might be the right choice. Or are small caps too unobtrusive, even in this case? It’s difficult to tell. That does not discharge us from trying to serve the reader, but one should not forget that most typographic preferences, whatever reasoning they are based on, are not carved in stone.

hrant's picture

Well stated - I essentially agree with all of that.

Just to be clear about my view of ideal cap-string size specifically: when it's too small (x-height, or only slightly higher) the letters that are structurally similar across the two cases can cause confusion - think of the string "US"; when it's too big (full caps) then it jumps out at you from previous lines you're reading, destroying immersive reading. Avoiding this latter case is parallel to the benefit of making the lining numerals "3/4" height instead of full cap height (at least for a font with a modest x-height). Also, at the beginning of a sentence a diminutive smallcap is particularly confusing. At the beginning of a paragraph it might seem relatively harmless, but it probably looks Wrong to most readers.


Syndicate content Syndicate content