Questions on Typography


Question (From an N.C. State undergraduate): It is the end of the year, and I have a lot of research papers due. I hope that the Grammar Hotline can refresh my memory of MLA documentation. Specifically, I need to know how many spaces need to be put after commas and periods. Do the standard typing rules apply to the bibliography, or is it different? I would appreciate any help you can give me.

Answer: There's a link from the OWL to a file that reviews MLA style. Your question about spacing, however, is less about MLA style than it is about typography. I recommend leaving two spaces after periods and colons if you are using a noncompensatory font (e.g., Courier), and one space after periods and colons if you are using a compensatory font (e.g., Times Roman).


Question: In the following sentence, would you use italics, quotation marks, or nothing for schedule and baby?

You should not even use the word schedule in the same sentence with the word baby.

Answer: If you have the option, the best choice is to italicize baby and schedule. In print environments that do not offer italics (e-mail, newspapers [at least, until recently]), you have to use the only typographic option open to you, namely quotation marks.

An aside: I hope you have noticed that your sample sentence uses schedule and baby in the same sentence. I think the most you can claim in this context is that the noun phrase baby schedule is an oxymoron.


Question (From an N.C. State continuing education student): Thirty years ago, when I learned to type, you put two spaces after a period. An article I read recently in The Editorial Eye, however, said that "French spacing" is a copyediting error. My question is: How many spaces should you put after a period? Is this something new with computers?

Answer: The number of spaces after periods and colons are traditionally the concern of the designer and typesetter--not the copyeditor. It is true that most typeset copy leaves only one space after a period, but some fonts are more readable with two. I talk about this issue in English 214 when we first started copymarking. I tell students not to close up spaces that will be taken care of later by the typesetter with replicating commands.

I find it interesting that the Editorial Eye classifies this as a copyediting concern--it shows how much responsibility for typesetting copyeditors are beginning to assume in the new technology. Are you sure, however, that this was not classified as a proofreading, rather than a copyediting error? Proofreaders, of course, look at spacing because they are responsible for reviewing the typesetter's work.


Question (From a technical-writing consultant working for state government): Traditional punctuation rules dictated that two spaces are to be placed after a period ending a sentence. However, through my reading and discussions with colleagues, I have discovered that, because of the increased usage of computers and the decline of typewriters, it is becoming more and more common to put only one space after the period. Could you direct me towards any research, readability studies, papers, etc., that have been published on this topic?

Answer: I have spent an hour poking around in my reference sources for the bibliographic references you need, but so far I have been unsuccessful. The Grammar Hotline, however, is of sturdy stock. I know I will eventually prevail. For now, however, I will simply tell you what I think I know. (An hour ago I would have sworn that I do, in fact, know these things. Now that I can't find my sources, I deem it wiser to couch my terms.)

Standard keyboarding practice on a typewriter is to leave two spaces after terminal punctuation. This is because most typewriters are limited to noncompensatory spacing. (Noncompensatory spacing leaves the same amount of horizontal space regardless of the physical width of the letter.) Noncompensatory spacing is very choppy, and the eye cannot discern sentence ends without an extra dollop of choppiness.

Standard keyboarding practice on typesetting machines, however, has always been to adjust the space between words evenly to justify the copy. Typeset copy is generally in a compensatory font. There is extra white space between sentences in compensatory fonts, but this white space is supplied naturally rather than mechanically. Because periods are such small punctuation marks, they leave white space in the very space they occupy. Typesetters, thus, ordinarily leave only one space after a period, reasoning that the period itself leaves the extra space to balance the copy and indicate the end of a sentence. Colons are actually medial-sentence punctuation. They occupy more vertical space than periods, but logically need less space than would be necessary after the end of a sentence.

Computer-generated copy is usually printed in a compensatory font. Recommended keyboarding practice thus follows typesetting rules rather than typewriter rules.

I can recall reading about these standards in several different places. One was a list of suggestions for making one's word-processed copy look typeset. (The first rule was to leave only one space after a period or a colon.) Another was a complete discussion of this topic on an Internet source. Unfortunately, I scanned this only cursorily, since I regard this as a typesetting, rather than a grammar or punctuation, question. I do recall, however, that leaving two spaces was called "French spacing."

So far, the following sources have failed me: The Chicago Manual of Style, Words into Type, The Editorial Eye (though it is possible that I read the French spacing article in The Eye's new anthology, STET! Again), Working with Words, the manual to Microsoft Word 2.0 (a word processor), the manual to Quark (a desktop-publishing software package)

Although I found nothing about leaving only a single space after a period, I must tell you that I also found nothing about leaving two spaces after a period. I'll keep looking.

Answer 2: I submitted your bibliographic request to a copyediting listserve to see what I would get back. So far there have been about a dozen responses, but only two have provided a bibliographic source, both to a book called The MAC Is Not a Typewriter.

To subscribe to the copyediting listserve (which I cannot stand to do for long because the level of detail drives me nuts--a scary thought, eh?) send a message to listserv@cornell.edu. The body of your message should be: sub copyediting-l Your Name.


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