Character Formatting

Written and published April 1, 2000

Have you ever added text to a document and be surprised that your new text was coming in bold, colored, or in a font you never expected? There are reasons for that, so that's the topic of the week.

These little experiments demonstrate the simple formatting of characters and spaces. Try them in your own favorite program, whether it's a word processing program or any other application in which you type.

  1. Type this: We love our Macs.
  2. Drag over the w and e to select the word "We," making sure you don't select any space before or after those letters.
  3. Make 'we' bold.
  4. Place your cursor immediately after the "e" in "we" (NOT after the space that follows) and type "really" after it. "Really" came in as bold, didn't it? That's because the formatting from the character before it is carried on.
  5. Now undo the addition of "really," (Use Edit->Undo or Command-Z.)
  6. This time place your cursor after the space that follows "we" immediately in front of the "l" in "love," then type "really." "Really" will not be bold this time because the space is not formatted to contain bold.
  7. Begin again with the sentence: We love our Macs.
  8. This time, as in step 2, drag to select the word "we" but this time drag past the "e" and select the space that follows it.
  9. Make the selection bold.
  10. Again, as in step 6, place your cursor after the space after "we," in front of the "l" in "love," then type "really."

What happens now? In many/most programs since the space was bolded along with "we," when you place your cursor immediately after the space the bolding is carried on. This has confused many a good person. The space, although not a character and sometimes invisible, still counts in your selection and can carry formatting. Such is the case with AppleWorks 5 and most programs. Word 98, however, is an exception: the programmers seem to have made this easier on us. So in Word 98, you'll find the new text is not bolded.

As an experiment in your programs, instead of manually dragging to select "We" double-click it and see what happens. If the application selects the space along with the word, it may format that space with the same formatting you apply to the selected word. In that case, your new text inherits the formatting, just like in the last experiment. (Again Word 98, and perhaps some other programs don't format the spacing that follows. I believe Word 5.1 did, however.)

Here's another experiment to try:

  1. Again type: We love our Macs.
  2. This time select "We love"
  3. Make the selection bold. Do you see what happens this time? This time, no matter what program you're using, the space between the words is also bolded.
  4. Place your cursor between "we and love" and press Return. It doesn't matter whether you place the cursor before or after the sentence.
  5. Try typing on either line, The results on each line will be the same: your new text is bold. That's because every character you selected was formatting with that bolding so it is carried on from each character.

A Good Typing Habit

For the most part, as I type, I prefer to get my words onto the page, then go back and format my text. However, you may prefer to format your text as you type. In that case, be sure to get into the habit of always typing a space after your last text character -- and then doing your formatting (not formatting the space). That little space will save you a lot of time in the end.

To see what I mean try this:

  1. Type this: "We love" and then no more. Not even a space.
  2. Select "love" and make it red. (If you don't have color, make it bold.)
  3. Now type: a space and then "our." Notice the new text is also red.

Try this again, but this time, lets add a space to the end:

  1. Type this: "We love" and then a space.
  2. Select "love" and make it red. (bold if you don't have color.)
  3. Now, after the space at the end type "our." Notice the new text is not red this time. See how the space at the end of your last word was more efficient?

Sometimes the formatting time and steps you save can be greater than just clicking the bold button an extra time or two. For example, in Adobe GoLive, a web site creation program, you commonly turn text into a link. If you type the text to become a link, then make the link, all text you type after that will also be part of the link. But, if you type a space after the text that's about to become a link, then only the desired text becomes a link. You can then place your cursor after the space and carry on adding plain, unlinked text.


After you understand these little experiments, you can carry their logic further. You'll notice that formatting of all sorts is carried on the same way. Formatting of paragraphs is also carried forward. Maybe I'll talk about that next week.

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