Text objects have traditionally been constrained to be rectangular,
a constraint inherited by modern computer document preparation systems.
However, a variety of tasks in document formatting benefit from a more
general notion of shape. This paper describes such a representation,
suitable for graphic composition at both low and high levels of
document layout. Intermediate in generality and complexity between
rectangles and arbitrary polygons, it comprises separate left and right
margin functions composed piecewise of linear segments. Such shapes
can be compared, conbined, modified and generated using simple, economical
algorithms. This notion of shape appears to provide the correct level
of abstraction for elegant solutions to several knotty problems in
existing systems. Software methods making use of shape have been
implemented in JOT [Bonham 1985], an interactive documentation system
under development as part of the University of Calgary JADE project
[Witten et al 1983].
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