23 Jan On the correct use of, part 01 — White-space characters

INDEX | NEXT : Part 02. Word spaces, tabs and first line indents

Most of us have to write something from time to time. An essay. A paper. A blog post. A report. An article. It doesn’t matter what it is, what matters is that it has to get done. And too often, your writing app gets in your way, without ever letting you know why. For some reason, there’s suddenly too much space below one of your sentences. Your paragraphs align at three different places. Creating columns breaks your whole document.

This series aims to make the process simpler by outlining steps to understand and solve the problems in your documents.

Part 01. White-space characters

Part 02. Word spaces, tabs and first-line indents

Part 03. Line and paragraph breaks

Part 04. Page and section breaks

Part 05. Hyphens and dashes

Part 06. Parentheses

Part 07. Spaces before and after punctuation

Part 08. Quotation marks

Part 09. Paragraph styles

White-space characters

The first step to take to understand the structure of your document is to enable or show white-space characters, also referred to as hidden/formatting/nonprinting/invisible characters.

What they are : invisible characters that your word processor places in your document to give it its format and that don’t appear when printing.

They exist whether you want them or not, but seeing them when editing can be invaluable. You might find them distracting at first, but they can help you figure out what’s making your text behave in odd ways. Use the following section as an index to find the white-space character you’re looking for.

Enabling white space characters

Not all word processing applications will give you the option to enable white space characters, and they’re referred to differently in menu options : hidden characters, formatting characters, nonprinting characters, invisible characters.

Microsoft Word : nonprinting characters

Microsoft Word 2016 for Mac is used for examples throughout these chapters. While they may be found in different menu or toolbar locations, the same functions are available in Windows versions.

In the Home tab of the ribbon toolbar, you’ll find the Show nonprinting characters button.

Curiously, there is no option for nonprinting characters in the menu bar.

Keyboard shortcut : Command-8 (Control-Shift-8 on Windows)

Apple Pages : Invisibles

In the menu bar, select View > Show Invisibles.

Adobe InDesign

In the menu bar, select Type > Show Hidden Characters.

Keyboard shortcut : Command-Option-I

Microsoft Word 365

White space characters aren’t yet included in the feature set for this app.

Google Docs

White space characters aren’t yet included in the feature set for this app. Request it on Google Docs Help Forums


Other ressources

The Chicago Manual of Style, the Associated Press Styleguide, the MLA handbook, and the APA Publication Manual are all examples of large bodies of work that go over thousands of details concerning formatting, punctuation and referencing. They’re not free, however, although higher learning institutions may have these available to students and alumni.

Otherwise, the following ressources are available on the Web and can be incredibly useful for your publications.

Butterick’s Practical Typography : an incredible collection of typography, formatting and layout principles

Termium Canada : a chapter on punctuation in Canadian English.

The Punctuation Guide : detailed explanation on how to correctly use punctuation in English.

Whatever your professor or employer says…

Follow it.

It’s not worth using these chapters or other style guides to argue with them about proper formatting and punctuation. Especially if you have something to lose from doing so. Discuss it with them prior to writing. Ask about precisions and which style guide to follow.

INDEX | NEXT : Part 02. Word spaces, tabs and first line indents