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I am involved in the writing of a lot of scientific texts. A lot of them I (am forced to) do in LaTeX. However, I prefer InDesign, and use it more often than Latex.

Scientific/engineering texts often requires lots of numbers with units ("5 m", or "10 s", or whatever). The scientific styleguides I tend to write to usually want at least a space between number and unit, but even more preferable is an em-space. Latex has this nice package called siunitx, which handles a few things with regards to units. To my knowledge, it:

  • Deals with the em-space between number and unit
  • makes the number+unit pair non-breaking, IE, you never get '5' on the end of one line and 's' on the next
  • Handles the fact that you might want to change the writing style of a certain unit based on industry standards (Common example: gigabit-per-second should, in true 'SI' style, be written as Gb/s, but many electrical engineering works prefer Gbps instead). This can all be tweaked later.

The third point is something I don't really care about too much, but it would be nice if I could get a similar functionality in InDesign that handles the other two points: Make the space between them be em-space length, and have the entire thing be non-breaking. I've experimented around with paragraph and character styles, but it always ended up still being a hassle. Is there a 'correct' way of implementing this?


Edit: As pointed out, I was incorrect about the em-space (I will not change it in the original body to preserve context for the answer below). After more research, it is a debated topic among certain engineering, scientific and mathematical communities how wide this space should be (some saying it should be the width of a multiplication-dot, others using regular 'space', etc).

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    An em-space, really? Are you totally 100 % on that? It is the largest of all fixed width spaces. "A length of 3 m" looks positively weird. – usr2564301 May 28 at 14:48
  • You a re correct, it is not an em-space. I was told that once, and it sounded logical, but I wasn't aware how wide the em-space was and it was clearly wrong. The space used by siunitx is narrower than a standard space, but I'm not sure how narrow. It is also not a official ISO or SI standard, but to keep consistency with texts written with latex, I would like to also implement the narrower space. – Joren Vaes May 29 at 7:31
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You can create a GREP style inside a paragraph style which uses a character style to apply a non-breaking attribute to a GREP string like \d+\ss✝. Which, in english, means any pair of 'number-space-s' will be forced to stick together on the same line. You can then duplicate this GREP style for other units like \d+\sm✝ and so on.

✝Note: depending on the format of your numbers, these strings may need more tweaks if, for instance, decimals are being used.

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As to converting that space between number and units into an EM space, that can't be a 'live' action, like the GREP style above, but it can be achieved via a GREP find/replace and you can save this search for repeated usage, see below.

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Also adding I agree with some of the comments that the EM space may actually be too much. Consider experimenting with narrower spaces, InDesign has a whole set of these.

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    If you convert all the spaces between numbers and units to em spaces (which is crazy wide, I would just use non-breaking spaces or maybe even a sixth spaces) you don't really need the non-breaking character style do you? BTW: Since we are dealing with typography: Shouldn't you use a dagger symbol (†) instead of latin cross emoji (✝)? 😁 – Wolff May 28 at 15:39
  • Yes, there are a few different ways to approach this. – Lucian May 29 at 7:34

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