I hereby present a set of rules applied to all ASCII-files that are downloadable from this site. All the ASCII-files published on this site are edited by me, for legibility purposes only, adhering as much as possible to these rules. If there are any exceptions from these rules, it is clearly stated in the item's description.
My wish is that everyone should be able to enjoy these texts with as little effort as possible, which implies that as many authors of NetBooks and other writings as possible will comply with these rules.
After the rules themselves, there follows a little reasoning of some of the choices I've made, a suggestion for a nice text-editor for the Windows-based PC, as well as an example of how a properly formatted document would look like.
Comments, Suggestions, or Additions? Well, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org then!
Every user, no matter which program he's using or what platform he's on, should be able to view and print the document without having to tweak parameters like paper size, margins, window size, font and font size, and tabs.
Every document is organized (with respect to layout) in a similar manner so that the essential information clearly can be found. This, of course, implies that special sections like headers, author info, and tables clearly stand out from the rest of the text.
I have discovered at least four variants of text-widths among documents found on the 'net, none of which seemed better than the other.
First, it seemed like older texts that were ported from DOS or other character-based operating systems had rather short lines, in the range 60 to 70 characters per line. This, of course, seemed absurd to stick with, as almost any windows-based OS effectively extends this limit.
Second, files distributed via email and found for online-viewing seemed to have 72 or 73 characters per line. As I have been pointed out, this might have happened because of an old emailer that had this as an effective limit.
Third, most (reasonably old) text-editors on the PC (and Mac) seemed to fall down on either 75 or 76.
Fourth, files from UNIX-systems often had characters widths ranging from the mid-70's up to over 100.
I fell down on 80 characters, because although it doesn't seem like this is "standard" for contemporary PC and UNIX systems, it is nevertheless close enough. Whenever I opened NotePad on a PC or TextEditor on a Sun Solaris (UNIX), the windows almost always seemed to open up with enough room for 80 or 81 characters.
I wanted to have some more room than the 72-75 range, both in order to view more information per screen and to save some trees, but anything nearing 90 or 100 characters seemed a bit too far out. Therefore, since 80 is a more round number than 81, I decided in favor of the former.
As I've tried numerous text-editor (most on PCs but also some on UNIXes) I found very few that couldn't cope with that limit. With the obvious exception of MS-DOS's Edit. As long as you're on a windows-based OS, resizing of windows to cope with 80 characters is no problem.
There's also another reason: As the editors nowadays are as sophisticated as they are, they inherently have no problem with that width, either. With the advent of the Internet and the Shareware concept, such editors are readily available for download from software archives too numerous to even start mentioning. Therefore, technology did not either seem a viable limitation.
I decided to save paragraphs without linebreaks because this gives the viewer at least some choice of how wide he will want to view/print the document. If not too loving of the limit of 80 characters, you can always print smaller or larger than this. Tables and other similar fixed-formatted sections won't look perfect in comparison, but that's easily overcome. If the tables are too narrow, it's only a cosmetic problem. If the tables are too wide, two or three clicks with columnar cut-and-paste and you're back in business.
Not having linebreaks also have the effect of eliminating justification of text, that is, the insertion of spaces to "fill out" lines so that the right margin also is smooth. Justification is even more a source of incompatibility than setting a fixed line-width, since the viewer is hopelessly constrainted in the choice of which line-width he will want to use.
The most important reason is, as stated, flexibility on behalf of the viewer. Technological constraints again seems no viable limitation.
ASCII-art and other special formatting characters have one major disadvantage: Differing keyboard/language configurations. Since there is not only an American audience (no offense intended) out there, ASCII-art only help degrade the otherwise good impression of a document when the "nice" ASCII-art is not understood by the character sets and is replaced with other, weird characters.
Special formatting characters like page breaks are not recommened because they clearly violate compatibility, not only between operating systems, but also between applications themselves.
If you're on a MS-Windows PC and have 'net access, you can get hold of THE BEST text-editor around, TextPad, at http://www.textpad.com. It is also found on many shareware CD-ROMs and CD-ROMs accompanying computer books.
TextPad is simply the best editor I've tried. It has lots of features, but not so many that it complicates its use. It is very simple to use, and without doubt the fastest I've ever tried. File size is only limited by the computer's memory.
It is also very clean to install and get rid of (as if you'd ever want to do that), and integrates seamlessly into any 32-bit MS-Windows operating system.
It automatically detects, reads, and saves in both PC, Mac, and UNIX-format text files.
It's shareware and it's cheap ($27-$35 depending on distribution).
It's well worth a try. You won't use another one.
As for TextPad, I've found the ideal configuration for these particular rules: 2.00 cm (0.78 in) margins on A4 (or US Letter; they differ only about 0.5 cm in width), and the "standard" Courier New size 10 printing font.
With this configuration, the text exactly occupies the whole sheet (it word-wraps so you'll have 80 (eighty) characters per line, which is just what I intended), and has enough room for holes for use with ring-binders. This configuration is accurate to about 1/5 cm.
This is where an example will be places, as soon as I get around to it. Or maybe it should only be a zipped ASCII-file for you to download to behold in awe. I haven't decided yet.