Dots, Brackets & Spaces {Copy Editing Quick Note Series} 2

Dots, Brackets & Spaces 

I can not tell you how many times I see people use three or more full stops, to either interrupt dialogue or to denote something’s missing.

Here’s the rule, yes you do use dots to show something’s missing, create a melancholic pause or a thought drifting off  but you don’t type three full stops. And you definitely do not type more than three full stops! The actual correct term is ellipsis (plural ellipses) and you make it in Word by typing control-alt-full stop — note the difference in spacing, yes subtle but the ellipsis is spaced more. Word often creates it for you when you make a space after the following word but not every time so best to get into the habit of using the shortcut.

Strictly speaking they say (the great Grammar Gods on high) there should be a space either side but often that’s a house style thing and the interesting thing about grammar is it is not so much defined by absolute laws but by common usage, hence you see rules broken and other interpretations. But aim to get it right. Only break rules when there is a function to that, it aids the story flow, adds an interesting element that forces a reader to read something a different way. For something like this — stick to the rules. The publisher I copy-edit for prefers a space after an ellipsis but not before and I see this a lot in common usage — just be consistent and when your work is published the house style will be applied by the editorial team.

Note how often, in interrupted thought or dialogue, these days the em dash is preferred to the ellipsis:


rather than


But either is acceptable. I tend to use the em dash if someone is interrupted by someone else speaking and the ellipsis if a more subtle drifting off, losing the thought or words.


Brackets or parenthesis. Yes there are different types and some like to use the curly ones if they further parenthesise inside a parenthesis (is it too early for this?), well you can do this, or you can use the same type. All I plan to talk about here is where to put the full stop.

Okay, simple rule, if you use the parenthesis inside a sentence so the sentence continues afterwards — no full stop. Example: The girl (she so hated my mother) sat herself down right in front of her.

If you end the sentence with it but you don’t end the sentence it’s in —  full stop outside bracket. Example: The girl sat herself down right in front of my mother (she so hated her).

If you end the sentence and then have the parenthesis so its contents form a separate sentence, the full stop is inside the bracket. Example: The girl sat herself right down in front of my mother. (She so hated her.)


Spaces! Listen up! These days there is no need to type two spaces after you end a sentence in Word. So don’t have: She looked down at her hands and saw the blood.  Oh God!

Like this: She looked down at her hands and saw the blood. Oh God! The double spacing is a throw back from when we used typewriters and it looked too close together so the tendency was to enter space twice. Most modern word processing documents build in enough space that a single space looks fine, look okay here, right?

Single standard spacing is the preferred norm although this might be one of those subjected to house style rules. I set my Word document to highlight anything that is not single spacing (although it doesn’t always pick up on everything!) — I even see mixtures of triple and quadruple spacing that makes it look bitty! I searched for a quick fix so I could change a whole document when I edit and just find and replace for spaces does some odd things but this works:  Find and Replace, click more and tick wild cards, then in Find type a space and then {2,} and replace with: just type a space! Replace all. If the author used multiple spacing and some are 3 or 4 this might not work on those. I have also used (without wild card ticked) ^p^p replace with ^p and that has worked too!

That’s my tips n tricks for the day folks!



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