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Is there a typographic convention or practice about placing punctuation marks after emphazised text?

I ran across this example on a website today that adds an additional space after emphazised text when the next glyph is a punctuation mark. (However, there is no extra space if the next glyph is the next word's beginning.)

enter image description here

The red circled spots are what I am refering to, in contrast to normal punctiation marks, which are underlined red.

I basically understand this choice, so what I am really looking for would be citations or references to a style guide that outlines this practice. Explanations as to why or why not this is or should be done are welcome also, just to see what is people's take on this.

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I'm not certain about it being "good practice", I've always thought it did more to distract than anything more. In many cases it's merely a stylistic choice. I have a client which simply prefers a short space before any exclamation mark. I hate it, but that's how he likes things. –  Scott Feb 26 '13 at 11:24
The reason why I did not dismiss this as plain wrong right away is that the website I saw it on is a highly respected source on all things to do with web usability - so I wondered if there is a particular reason behind it. –  kontur Feb 26 '13 at 11:29
I didn't mean to say I think it's "wrong" just that it's a stylistic choice - similar to bulleted lists with no indents (which they use a great deal). –  Scott Feb 26 '13 at 11:59

4 Answers 4

No, it's not correct to put space before comma or other punctuation marks in English texts:

So what you see on that website is incorrect. As far as I'm aware though sometimes in other languages (French???) it is allowed to put a short space before comma. But I don't know what's the rule behind it. I'm sure it's not correct in English though.

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No, no, no, absolutely not, no, hell to the no, no way, and if I were working on this document in any capacity I would be looking for my Hammer of NO to hit the originator with. Did mention "no"?

There is no reason, rule, suggestion, guide, stricture, or recommendation to put a space before a mark of punctuation. What I see there is someone who either doesn't understand how typesetting works, or someone who coded the HTML by hand and didn't preview to see how it looked.

Your first instinct to "dismiss this as plain wrong" was right on target.

(I am also an editor and proofreader, so this makes me scream from two directions.)

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Well, you see, over at UX.SE there has been a question about how to end sentences that have a link as last word, i.e. how or where should the period be placed. In that light, I can understand that with certain emphasizing text it might be tempting to invent some scheme to handle these cases - which is why I asked this question with the example given. –  kontur Feb 26 '13 at 12:49
@kontur I understand the UX concern, but the solution is to take three seconds to go into the code and put the punctuation outside the closing anchor tag, and make sure that the URL in the href doesn't have the punctuation either. It's really not hard. I do it all the time. Then the user clicks on the link, which does not have the punctuation embedded in the code. Problem solved. –  Lauren Ipsum Feb 26 '13 at 14:11
@LaurenIpsum: If text containing a space-bracketed URL gets copied and pasted, the result will still have a space-bracketed URL which matches the original. If the URL is marked in other ways, such markings may not survive the copy/paste round-trip. –  supercat Jun 17 '14 at 16:57
@supercat I'm not clear what you're describing. Can you show me an example? –  Lauren Ipsum Jun 17 '14 at 18:16

To answer the implied question "Why would a respected source of usability advice do something convention-breaking like that?", the answer is in the source code.

It's not something a human did by adding spaces, it's something their site's CMS does indiscriminately to every inline element on the page (not just links and bolding / italics), because of the way it formats its code.

If you know HTML, this gives it away (if you don't, there's a plain English explanation below):

 Communicative Content
 Text-only ads might have one durable advantage: because they&#39;re a
 <a class="old" href="/articles/low-end-media-for-user-empowerment" title="Alertbox April 2003: Low-End Media for User Empowerment">
  low-end media format
 , users might take them more seriously. Being forced to express a message in a few words concentrates the advertiser&#39;s mind, and probably leads to more communicative ads that are better
  focused on explaining how users will benefit
 from the product or service.

If you don't know HTML and that means nothing to you:

  • There aren't actually any spaces after the links or bold or italic/em text. No human hit the space bar or added an extra space after adding a link or bold or italic/em formatting.
  • Spaces appear because something in their system is formatting the code in a way which puts every HTML element on a separate line - even inline ones like links and <strong> (bold) tags.
  • HTML parsers like web browsers turn line breaks into spaces.

So, it's their CMS indiscriminately adding spaces to every inline HTML element, not an unconventional editor purposefully targeting links and emphasis.

Also, there are <p>&nbsp;</p> dummy paragraphs. This is a really clumsy way of increasing the spacing between two paragraphs - literally the equivalent of hitting 'Return' twice (and might actually be the result of someone doing just that in a wysiwyg editor). It's unsemantic and offers no control at all on how wide such spaces will be - any attempt to widen or narrow these breaks will widen or narrow every paragraph.

It jumps out as a hallmark of an organisation where there's something of a lack of control of their web publishing, or an organisational disconnect between the needs of the writers and editors, and the features and styles created by the designers and developers.

Normally, you'd expect them to use something like <hr class="wide-break" /> which is semantic, follows web standards as the correct way to "transition to another topic within a section", and allows complete control as to how wide this type of space will be.

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Nicely spotted. A sloppy CMS didn't occur to me. –  Lauren Ipsum Feb 26 '13 at 15:10
Very good catch. –  Scott Feb 26 '13 at 17:00
Considering the context, this is a really good answer. Somehow I was just assuming they did it for a reason rather than by mistake. –  kontur Feb 27 '13 at 7:35

IMHO there is one exception when it's acceptable: after a web or mail address. If you cannot avoid having punctuation there, better put a short space there. These addresses often are strange and can end in a dot or a comma; this way you avoid confusion. In a printed text, you should of course use a different font face with different size of dot or comma, which is sufficient. But you cannot do this everywhere. (I prefer good and consistent typography in general, yet I think that one has to remember that typography is here to make documents better, and if it's better for the legibility to add a space there, you add it.)

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True indeed, there also was some discussion over this issue in this questions on UX.SE. –  kontur Feb 28 '13 at 12:40

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