by Jennie Ruby
"And do not underline the colon at the end of a heading..." I found myself saying to a classroom full of document preparation specialists at a large government agency. Most of them nodded in agreement. They already knew that rule. Their very detailed in-house style guide specified the spacing, underlining, capitalization and alignment of the required headings in their technical documents, including this nicety of typography. But not everyone has a style guide that covers such fine detail about type.
You may be on your own when faced with questions about typography: Should you italicize the punctuation after an italic word? How about a word set in bold? Should commas and parentheses and brackets follow the same rules? Here some examples illustrating the problem:
How to Set Tracking Options: You can adjust the space between words by setting your tracking options.
Now type the word Maryland: the software will automatically abbreviate the state name.
In the first example, check out the appearance of the first two underlined headings compared with the last one: When the colon is not underlined, it has a cleaner, less crowded appearance.
In the second example, however, the non-bold colon fades from view, whereas in my opinion it is logically part of the run-in heading. I think it would look better with the colon bold. Nevertheless, many styles state that a colon should never be made bold after a boldface word.
The third example strikes me as one where the colon should not be bold. The colon is part of the sentence, and does not logically "belong" to the word Maryland.
When italic words are followed by punctuation marks, the issues are even more subtle:
Use one of these transition words: however, moreover, thus, hence.
Should the commas be italicized? Some styles say that if the commas are not logically part of the italicized material, they should not be italicized. They act as separators between the italic words. In fact, keeping the commas roman (not italic) creates more space around them, making it clearer that they are separators between these italic words. Here is an example where the commas are part of the italic material:
We rented the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
The comma is part of the title, and thus logically should be italicized. If you look closely, you can see that the italic comma is closer to the word before it than the roman commas are in the previous example. But should I use italic for the period at the end?
Italics can cause kerning (spacing) problems that are visually distracting and that must be corrected manually in your design software.
The difference is statistically significant (p < .05).
Here, logic calls for roman parentheses interrupting the roman sentence, but the italic p very nearly touches the parenthesis on the left. The problem is aesthetic, and you have to decide whether it is worth the time to fix this typographic nicety through manual kerning (if your software can even do that).
I worked for years with a style guide that called for always matching the formatting of the punctuation mark to the formatting of the word before. Now I prefer to make the decision on a case-by-case basis. It is a lot more work to make the case-by-case decisions, so the arbitrary style is probably more practical. Which do you do? Please tell us about it.
Are you an eLearning developer who has been tasked with creating an effective voiceover script? If so, consider attending Jennie's Writing Effective eLearning Voiceover Scripts class. Jennie also teaches the Writing Training Documents and eLearning Scripts and the Complete Review of Grammar class.
About the Author: Jennie Ruby is a veteran IconLogic trainer and author with titles such as "Editing with Word 2003 and Acrobat 7" and "Editing with MS Word 2007" to her credit. She is a publishing professional with more than 20 years of experience in writing, editing and desktop publishing.