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Introduction to the Style Guide: 4

Access Points

All texts exploit underlying principles of organization. The first "layer" of this is physical. Hand someone a book and they will feel its bulk and the fact that it has been bound. In a sense, reading starts with the fingers: since the age of 5 or 6, we've known that books, even bad ones, are created through lengthy manufacturing operations. Even if a book is all lies, they are elaborate lies.

The second layer involves entry points. The dust jacket, blurb, title page and table of contents provide entry points to books. On newspaper pages typefaces and column structures help us distinguish editorial matter from advertisements: upholding the distinction is a key role of the copy editor.

Entry points are so ubiquitous that we only think about them when we can't find any. The Bible is a solid field of grey type, with the dull bits and the exciting bits all looking alike: publishers do not presume to give texture to the Word of God. Patient information leaflets on medicines appear deliberately designed to deter reading. Nadjet Bouayad-Agha gives some interesting examples.

The third layer involves what are sometimes called gestalt features. We perceive certain things on the page as belonging to groups, and others as being separated. Size, symmetry and intensity play on our perceptions, and invisible grids help us to divine what we are meant to read long before our eyes focus on the actual script. A hastily scrawled shopping list has features that make it quickly recognizable, even when written in a foreign language: the hasty handwriting, the numbers, the vertical layout of the list.

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