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Web typography

  1. Sep 25, 2014 #1

    Stephen Tashi

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    One thing I find consistently disturbing about the way printing shows up on web forums is that it's hard to perceive the customary double-space between two sentences.as being much of a physical division. The period is usually a tiny speck, so it doesn't, by itself, do the job of separation.

    Another thing that looks bad in many typefaces is the customary no-space between the end of a question and the question mark. The question mark seems to be a character that's part of the last word instead of something that applies to the whole sentence.

    I wonder if reading web pages is usually a fundamentally different perception task that reading printed matter. I suspect that compared to printed matter, reading a web page requires reading smaller printing that surrounded by more distractions.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 25, 2014 #2


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    I'm not aware that double-space between sentences is in any way a standard, although I agree w/ you that it looks better. If you type a double-space in HTML, it is rendered as a single space. For that matter, if you type n spaces in a row in HTML, the bunch is rendered as a single space. I don't think that applies to what we type here, but I'll find out ... I'll leave 10 spaces after this sentence. As for the no-space before a question mark, I've always hated that and often don't use it, but it is the standard, whether typographers pay attention to it or not.

    EDIT. OK, my 10 spaces got thrown away and replaced by a single space, so it DOES apply here and thus you can't DO a double-space between sentences. That's probably why it's hard to see :)
  4. Sep 25, 2014 #3


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    The double space after a sentence convention was taught to me when I originally learned to type on an old, manual, mechanical typewriter. That convention was used a long, long time ago because the typeset was fixed. But it's strongly discouraged to use two spaces between sentences when using any modern font; the correct spacing between sentences is built into the font itself. I never use double spaces between sentences anymore.

    An exception might be if you happen to be typing in a fixed-point font such as Courier New. But even with fixed point fonts I find a two spaces distracting. There are those who disagree, however.

    In the system that PF uses now, all whitespace more than a single space is automatically removed between sentences, so using more than one space in between sentences wouldn't show up anyway.

    Code (Text):
     Unless you wanted to use the "code" tags.  In which case it would show up like it is here.
    Otherwise like this:
    Unless you wanted to use the "code" tags. In which case it would show up like it is here.
    Otherwise like this:
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2014
  5. Sep 25, 2014 #4

    Stephen Tashi

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    Like collinsmark, I learned the double-space-between-sentences convention in typing class. Whatever is built into modern fonts to replace it, doesn't look good, to me.

    When I use a word processing program like Libreoffice, I double-space after the period ending a sentence. Do "modern" people still do that?
  6. Sep 26, 2014 #5


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    From what Junior told me (he was interested in typography at some point) when TeX generates documents it should change the length of the space after the dot - but to some extent it is a matter of convention. Worth its own wiki page:

  7. Sep 28, 2014 #6

    Jonathan Scott

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    There certainly used to be separate typesetting rules for space after a period at end of sentence and after a period following an abbreviation such as "St." or "Mr.", requiring significantly more space at end of sentence than after an abbreviation (but not as much as a double space). This is a very long-established convention, and I find it significantly improves readability of large blocks of text. I did some printing using manual typesetting when at school (45 years ago), and there were definite rules about the sizes of space to use in various contexts. In monospaced fonts as used for computing and typewriters, the convention was to approximate the larger space by using a double space, and some text processing software used this as a convention to indicate end of sentence.

    When I used to write text for computing manuals using GML mark-up (a predecessor of HTML), or earlier "Script" mark-up, there was an input rule that a new sentence should always begin a new line so that the text processing software could tell the difference between end of sentence and a dot followed by a space in some other context, such as after an abbreviation. If an abbreviation would be at end of line, one had to move it to the next line, and it would normally be followed by a non-breaking space anyway if it was an abbreviation such as "Mr." which would look odd at the end of a line. (The abbreviation "No." for number is a subject in itself).

    I strongly suspect that the current convention of no longer having extra space at end of sentence derives from the fact that word processor software with the convention that newline is end of paragraph cannot support simple automatic detection of end of sentence. This results in problems both with the fact that word processors do not leave enough space after sentences and also the converse, that they leave too much space after abbreviations, which means that the period after an abbreviation is often either omitted nowadays or the following space is omitted instead. Personally, I still follow the convention of typing two spaces after a period at end of sentence (and I see I have been doing it in this post), and I find it quite exasperating that HTML-based software discards the extra space and does not distinguish between end of sentence and other spaces after a period. When I'm writing in HTML (either directly or using conversion tools) I generally represent end of sentence by a period followed by a non-breaking space before the ordinary space, as this normally has the right effect.
  8. Sep 28, 2014 #7


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    This thread strikes a chord in my heart. Hoping I can share some 'folklore' that adds value. And I promise, I won't even begin to get into the folks who want to eliminate teaching cursive writing in our school systems.

    Allow me to begin with stuff most germane to the OP. I'll try to keep extra-credit work towards the end, yet one of my liabilities is tangenting off topic. :)
    A significant, contributing issue is the way the specifications for HTML (the coding that creates web pages) were designed. The term "whitespace" is used to refer to any non-displayable characters except those that perform functions like tabs, carriage returns and line feeds. HTML specs designate that 'whitespace' is always compressed into one, single space. Any spacing that the web designer inserts using the keyboard using normal space, tab, etc... keystrokes in sequence will be condensed into one space.

    Absolutely! This is a well-known standard taught in Typing 101.

    Not true. Spacing is built into font characters. It's never added to a period for end of sentence spacing. If it were, that would mess up displays where the period is used as a decimal point.

    There are procedures to format text the way that (I think) it should be done. The HTML tag for a 'hard, non-breaking space' is ,<&nbsp> . This will always insert a space - as many as this tag is inserted. However, the software that provides support for user messages (like this forum) almost always looks for HTML tags and removes them, so they cannot be used to affect the web page presentation in unplanned or undesirable ways. For example, the HTML tags for bold text are <b> and </b>, but the forum code will require brackets ( [ ] ) instead of <> to maintain control over what it displays.

    With that said, the method to properly delineate the end of a sentence for HTML designers is to follow each period with <&nbsp;> followed by a regular space. Doing so will insure that two space are always inserted when the break is on one line, and also prevents extra spaces from being inserted if the next sentence happens to begin a new line.

    I don't know off-hand of a method to double-space within the XenForo forum software, but I'll keep it in mind and check the fonts that PF uses to see if I can find a non-breaking space character (or one that will provide that functionality)

    That about sums it up for the sentence spacing portion of my post. The following is additional, extraneous stuff for anyone who finds it interesting... oo)

    It will be easiest to observe the following if you have a book handy. Most any book will do (If you're not sure, a book is like a blog that's printed on paper).

    Everything beings with the first word in the first paragraph. I didn't see any mention of paragraph spacing in the thread so far. Do you see the indentation at the beginning of each paragraph in the book? Just like double-spacing at the end of sentences, that's also a standard, and when it's typewritten, the rule is five spaces.

    NOTE: If you're looking at a book for the double-space after sentences, find one that is 'left-justified'. IOW, not one that spaces the words so everything lines up flush on both left and right.

    Both paragraph and end-of-sentence spacing standards were designed to improve readability using structure. But what about the characters?

    Typography/fontography history:
    For example, serif fonts (fonts with curly-Q's at the end of strokes) like Times Roman were created for the printing press industry. The reason was to make characters more distinguishable (i.e., g's and q's, f's and t's, c's and e's..., to supplement the shortcomings of smaller type size with the current printing technology. The serifs may look fancy, but they were added in strategic places and the reader's brain learned new tricks.

    The recent introduction of delivering text on computer/video displays was an about-face on this. Displaying characters was difficult enough on video monitors using pixels, without the extra challenge of trying to add those little curly-Q's. Horizontal and vertical lines were the cleanest on monitors, and the industry responded by introducing Helvetica and Arial fonts to provide crisper, sharper characters.

    Whew! I hope y'all can scan this post for just the good stuff you find helpful or interesting. (I hope it's in there somewhere!)
  9. Oct 1, 2014 #8


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    Testing non-breaking space: > <
    Sentence #1. Sentence #2.

       “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation.

    - Moby Dick
  10. Oct 1, 2014 #9

    Jonathan Scott

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    Seems to be working - how did you enter it?
  11. Oct 1, 2014 #10


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    Good to see someone's watching my escapades. o0) It's not ready for prime time and I'm not sure I can wrangle it.

    I've drilled down to trying to get around the XenForo parsing and replacing. I created the post by using the WIndows Character Map app to locate special spacing characters. There are a half-dozen or more, including 'n' space, 'm' space, and the one I used, 'non-breaking' space.

    The weird part is that I was able to create the spacing between the acutes (><), and then I couldn't do it again. It gets weirder: If I try to copy that extended space all by itself in the message editor and paste it where I'd like to, it doesn't work.. BUT, if I Copy all three characters, Paste works and I can backspace over the acutes to leave the space I want.

    I'm dabbling with this as an in-between, pleasant distraction to stuff I'm putting off. :D I'll be back!
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