Many of you kind folks have provided invaluable information that has improved my LaTeX skills, but along the way, has also provided some inspiration to improve my typographic style. I have a few questions on some style choices I make among various documents and am interested in sparking a discussion. Some examples are:

  • Captions on top of figures (as well as tables). I've seen some great discussion here about why figure captions should go on the bottom (due to how we process graphical information), but for a figure with footnotes, and because it is more consistent with tables, I feel that it wouldn't be objectionable to place figure captions on top.
  • I am producing a document of technical requirements that has many, many sections, and is somewhat "legal" in nature. In some sections, we have small tables that I think look better in the section if the section was double-columned. Any objection to mixing sections that are single (page-wide) and double-columned in one document? I think the document I'm creating is aesthetically pleasing but is there something I might be missing logically?
  • Are there any objections to hanging section numbers? I like that they clearly display when a new section begins, this is great for reference type documents. Perhaps in two-paged formats it could look ugly.
  • Roman numerals in front matter. Just bothers me. It causes misalignment with some pdf viewers, and I don't think it needs to be pointed out in the pagination that the reader is seeing front matter. Roman numerals are antiquated and just don't add value, in my humble opinion.

The saying I keep seeing is that the critical mistake in typography is ignorance. I don't have any colleagues that I can discuss these considerations (due to lack of interest), and am hoping to have them online with people of diverse backgrounds.

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    the question in the title is a question about the site so should be asked on meta. but as the answer there would be more or less "no that is off topic" the body of the question which is not the same question as your title at all, does not fit on meta or here, sorry. – David Carlisle Dec 12 '20 at 18:52
  • I don't quite follow how the body is not the same question, I just provided some examples of what sort of topics I would like to discuss. – likethevegetable Dec 12 '20 at 19:00
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    The title is a standard question suitable for meta "is this forum a good place for ..." but your body does not have the meta question "is this a good place to ask about Roman numeral page numbers" it has the actual question "should I use roman numeral page numbers" – David Carlisle Dec 12 '20 at 19:05

The best book I know of about typography is Robert Bringhurst's The Elements of Typographic Style. Some way behind this you might find my A Few Notes on Book Design (texdoc memdesign) which is more related to LaTeX users.

I think that the fundamental principle is that the reader does not notice the typography and is able to concentrate on the content, not the display.

Traditionally captions are put above tables and below figures.

If I read a document where some sections were single column and others were double column I would assume that they had different levels of importance; be consistent with the number of columns.

Roman numbers are traditional in the frontmatter. Are you against several hundred years of typesetting in order to confuse the reader?

  • These are good points, thank you. I'm just not convinced that roman numerals offer anything to prevent confusion. Any section heading should obviate that the content is front matter. I don't think a reader would notice their replacement with numbers we actually use today, and it might be worth it to make it easier for them to navigate a digital copy. – likethevegetable Dec 12 '20 at 19:40
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    Convenience, more so than the avoidance of confusion. It is easy to spot where the text starts: the author's work is visually marked. A random example: the work begins on p 1 and the index on p 653. Before that, as ancillary matter, there are 63 pages of Table of Contents, Table of Cases, Table of Statutes, and a short Foreword and Preface (George on Defamation, 2d). Another example: 180 (clxxx) pages of similar front matter, then the text starts on p 1, index on p 1377 (Cheshire & Fifoot, 11th Aus). Paragraph numbers are used for navigation. Page numbers vary by page size, margins and font. – Cicada Dec 13 '20 at 2:12
  • If you have 63 or 180 pages of front matter, I feel like I can provide an even better argument to not use Roman. The front matter or ancillary matter would likely have it's own ToC. It wouldn't be so convenient seeing that your desire page is on XXXV (35), accidentally over flipping the page to LVI (57), and seeing that you overshot it by 22 pages. With numbers getting that high, reading the numbers is even more challenging. Why not just put some prefix to the numbers, ex. F-1. – likethevegetable Dec 13 '20 at 15:16
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    Roman numbers have been used in the front matter for technical reasons: the front matter could not be prepared in advance, because the number of pages thereof is unknown until the last minute. Nowadays this is not of a concern and I find no objection to using continuous numbering. – egreg Dec 16 '20 at 8:08

No, I'm afraid that TeX.StackExchange is not for discussing purely typographical questions. Of course, since TeX is a typographic tool, the border between “pure typography” and “TeXnical ways to achieve a typographic aim” is a bit blurred.

Questions such as “should captions go above or below tables/figures?” are purely typographical in nature and should probably go to GraphicDesign.SE, a more specialized site for such things.

Anyway, while we're at it, my opinion is that there is no “right or wrong”. Consistency should be our guide; also, the graphic format of captions might command the same positioning for captions: there are so many factors involved, that no general guideline can be given.

As a matter of fact, the standard LaTeX classes are designed so all captions should go below the object, be it a figure or a table. The author of the caption package seems to think differently and the default when loading it is to place table captions above and figure captions below.

A point I'm adamant about is that a figure or table caption must never be footnoted. Not only for TeXnical reasons (floats make this very difficult to attain), but because it's very hard for the reader to understand. Similarly, mathematical formulas should never be footnoted, because the footnote mark would be confusing.

What about page numbers? The real reason why the front matter is usually numbered differently than the main matter is that the number of pages in the front matter used to be unknown until the last minute. How many pages the table of contents consists of? Will the preface be two or three pages long? And so forth. With computers under our hands, instead of movable type, the problem no longer exists. To the contrary, document accessibility demands continuous numbering. So the internal frontispiece is page 1 up until the last page: this makes navigating the document much easier.

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    Thanks, @egreg, always happy when I see a response from you. I do like the notion that consistency is king. Interesting take on the footnotes. I have yet to run into a scenario where a figure needs to be footenoted, and perhaps can revise my captions for tables to avoid them. The TikZ manaul makes an excellent statement: don't be afraid to produce several line captions. Also glad to have assurance regarding page numbering. – likethevegetable Dec 17 '20 at 14:09

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