Artemy Lebedev

§ 143. The vexed question of punctuation

October 27, 2007

The problem of unsightly text is often caused by a designer’s failure to use neutralizing techniques. Some of them require time, and some just simple attention. Here we’d like to speak about punctuation in a number of complex situations.

In typesetting, punctuators are never equal to letters. They play an accessory role, so when loose tracking is applied, letters are always wider apart from each other than from punctuation symbols.

Particular attention needs to be given to spacing aroung the comma, the exclamation mark and the hyphen. In each of the examples below, corrections were made manually.



Punctuators in a centered text occupy much horizontal space although they cannot be seen as equals to the letters.

Therefore, when centering, these symbols should be disregarded. All the full stops, commas, brackets and quotation marks can be added afterwards to the already center aligned text. The distortion is especially obvious with ellipsis.

Wrong Right

Multi-styled text
In just about any case, a punctuation mark is to be formatted in the same way as the word it accompanies.

It’s best not to be afraid to do this.

Wrong (regular semicolon) Right (bold semicolon)

Wrong (brackets sticking awkwardly straight) Right (brackets agreeably italicized)

Quotes in a hyperlink
Quotation marks embraced by the blue underline look just ugly. So, a hyperlink should be limited to the words, and the quotes be left out.

Wrong Right

If a footnote is essential, its number mark should appear between the word and the punctuator. It may look better put after a comma, but that would violate the syntax.

If manually adjustable, the number can be co-aligned with the punctuator (which would be the most appropriate thing to do, if numbers run up to 2-3 digits).

Wrong Right

Rules for typesetting emoticons never existed. Let us bridge this gap.

A smiley has to be separated from the word by a space. If a punctuator follows, no space should be put between. As a rule, using an emoticon means no full stop at the end. A smiley may coincide with a closing bracket (given that it is preceded by an opening one :-).

Wrong Right

Mixture of rules
Different countries have their own typesetting traditions: Russian, Anglo-American, French, etc. These should not apply simultaneously.

For instance, a Russian quotation in the body of an English text has to be enclosed in English quotation marks with a full stop before the closing mark.

Wrong Right

Typesetting may be considered superior if all the troublesome spots become unnoticeable.

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