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Adding Half Spaces to Punctuation

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Adding Half Spaces to Punctuation.

David wonders if there is a way of getting a half-space in front of colons, semi-colons, question marks, and exclamation marks to improve readability in computer fonts that appear in his documents. He finds that the punctuation appears too close to the characters that precede those marks.

There is no way to do this automatically; Word is not (and was never intended to be) a desktop publishing program. That being said, there are a few ways you can manually add the desired spacing. One simple way is to simply insert a regular space in front of the punctuation and then adjust the size of the space. For instance, if your normal typeface is 12-point, you could select the added space and then adjust its point size to 6-point. You could also simply make the space a superscript character, which also reduces the point size used for the character.

There is a problem with this approach, however. The added space will affect how Word handles line breaks. If the punctuation appears near the end of a line, it is possible for it to wrap to the next line instead of staying with whatever it follows (as it would if the space wasn't added). To get around this you could try using a non-breaking space instead of the regular space.

Another thing you can try is to use what Word refers to as a "1/4 em space" before the punctuation. Some people like this approach because you don't need to mess with changing the font size of anything. Just use the Special Characters tab of the Symbol dialog box to insert the character. The width of this special space is (as its name implies) one-quarter of the width of the letter "m" in whatever typeface you are using. If this is still too wide of a space, then the approach described earlier will be your best bet.

You should understand that the narrow space symbol entered in this manner is handled just like a regular space when it comes to line breaking. There is no non-breaking version of this narrow space, so you are left to try what may appear to be a complex approach: put a "no-width non break" character on both sides of the narrow space. Thus, the sequence would be "no-width non break", "1/4 em space", no-width non break", and then your punctuation. The addition of the "no-width non break" characters acts like a non-printing "glue" that holds the sequence together on a single line.

If you know that the width you want to add is equal to the width of an existing character (such as an "i", an "l", or a horizontal bar), then you could simply add that character before the punctuation, select the character, and then format it as white text. If you have a lot of such changes to make in a document, you can use Find and Replace to do the changes for you:

  1. 1. Set up a wildcard search that looks for "([\:;\?\!])" (without the quote marks) and replaces it with "$$\1" (again without the quote marks). This puts two dollar signs ($$) in front of each of the target punctuation marks.
  2. Do a regular search (with wildcards turned off) for the two dollar signs and replace them with your single character of the desired width, formatted as white text.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (7655) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Adding Half Spaces to Punctuation.

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Comments for this tip:

YossiD    06 Apr 2014, 11:17
As a technical writer I find that having a half-space between digits and units makes documents more readable. No space, e.g. 20MHz, can be hard to read, and a full space (e.g. 20 MHz) loses the connection between the number and the units.

The solution I worked out is to use a non-breaking space and then format it with 50% character spacing. I have written a simple macro to insert the half space and mapped it to a keystroke for convenience.

This approach works well and has the following advantages:

* The non-breaking space always keeps the numbers with the units

* It will remain a half space even if the font size of the text is changed

The disadvantage is that if manual formatting is removed (ctrl-space) or if the style is changed, the half space will revert to a full space, though it will still remain non-breaking.

The best would be a true non-breaking half-space but I'm not holding my breath.

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