Punctuation–rules for when you type

“When do I add a space?” “How do I break a line of type; what can start or end that line?” “What are the rules for naming files?”

Most of my EFL students have never been taught the simple (?) rules for typing or using a word-processor (PC): where to put spaces, when to break words or lines, characters to avoid in filenames, etc. However, punctuation and neatness can mean the difference between failing to impress that international client or evaluator, and winning that contract or scholarship! Likewise, avoiding a few “filename” mistakes can make it easier to successfully transfer files to anyone.

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How to present typed material successfully

(From section 14.2b of my book: Successful Writing for the Real World)

The following guidelines will help your word-processing software do its job (if you set the language mode to English).

  1. Most punctuation marks come immediately after a word (not after a space).
  2. One space normally follows punctuation marks (except a dash, slash and hyphen, which have no spaces after them).1
  3. The periods within abbreviations and web addresses (for example, U.S.A. or www.krigline.com.cn/RealWorld.htm) do not need spaces after them, and if an abbreviation ends a sentence, do not use two periods.
  4. A comma, period, semi-colon, and colon always have something (NOT a space) immediately before them and almost always have a single space after them. A closing parenthesis always has something (NOT a space) immediately before it, and is either followed by a punctuation mark or a space-then-a-word.2 For example:
    • This closing parenthesis is followed (without punctuation) by a word. Here it is followed by a punctuation mark (in this case a comma), which has a space after it.
  5. Hyphens and dashes have no spaces before or after them, and a hyphen is different from a dash. (One-hour does not equal One—hour.) When you type, press the hyphen key ONLY ONCE for each hyphen, and a dash should be ONLY TWO hyphens (not one, three, four…).3
  6. When you (or your software) break a sentence, the first character in each line of type needs to be a letter, number, opening parenthesis, or opening quotation mark. A line can’t start with a hyphen, period, comma, apostrophe, closing quotation mark or closing parenthesis.
  7. Likewise, a line of type can’t end with an opening parenthesis, an opening quotation mark, or the apostrophe in the middle of a contraction (i.e., you can’t put you’ at the end of a line, with ve at the start of the next). As mentioned above, it is best to avoid breaking a word at the end of a line.

Notice the correct spacing, punctuation marks and capitalization in the following examples:

  • He said, “That will be all.”
  • “That will be all,” he said.
  • He asked, “Will that be all?”
  • “Will that be all?” he asked.
  • He left the U.S.A. at 3:23 p.m. with three friends: Bill, Sue and Tim.
  • Wrong: He left the U. S. A. at 3: 23 p. m. with three friends. (spaces aren’t needed after the periods or colon)
  • Wrong: Secondly,a new street(completed last year)lets buses move faster.
  • Right: Secondly, a new street (completed last year) lets buses move faster.
  • Wrong (a lot of spaces are wrong!): Tommy(class212) ,#B,134words,due Oct28
  • Right: Tommy (class 212), #B, 134 words, due Oct 28

1 My students sometimes forget the space after a comma. Some typists still type two spaces after each sentence, but Turabian says this is no longer appropriate. (For “Turabian,” see the bibliography of my book.)

2 A closing parenthesis can have a period immediately after it (as in this example). (Likewise—as in this example—a period can come immediately inside a closing parenthesis if the entire sentence is parenthetical.)

3 (from 14.1c) Hyphens can be used at the end of a line to break a word (if you run out of space), but words MUST be broken in specific places. NEVER break off a single letter and avoid breaking off two-letter endings; the other rules are even too complicated for word processing software, so do what your computer does and simply move the entire word to the next line!

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How to name computer files correctly

(adapted from Michigan Tech’s website)

Most of my students use a PC (Window-based Personal Computer), but someday you may need to send a file to a client or professor who uses a Mac or Linux-based computer. I’ve even run into trouble (due to filenames) when moving files from a PC to an external hard drive or to “the cloud.” The following advice should help you “play it safe” so that files can be opened on most systems and devices.

How to name files, folders, web folders, documents, pictures, spreadsheets, etc

First, avoid the following common characters or symbols (as well as blank spaces!):

& ampersand          @ “at” sign (commonly used for email addresses)

= equal sign          % percent          | pipe          + plus sign          # pound

$ dollar sign (or signs for other currency)

< left angle bracket          > right angle bracket{ left bracket} right bracket

* asterisk          : colon          ! exclamation point          ? question mark

` backtick          \ back slash          / forward slash

‘ single quotes          “ double quotes

Second, consider these guidelines:

  • Don’t start or end a filename with a space, period, hyphen (-), or underscore (_)
  • Always use lowercase letters (a, b, c, instead of A, B, C)
  • Avoid using spaces or underscores; use a hyphen instead [because when a computer sees a space, it “fills” it with “%20”]
  • Avoid excessively long filenames; try to keep them under 31 characters

Weak filenames:

F&A Costs.html          my PDF file#name.pdf

Because web browsers “see”:

F&amp;A%20Costs.html          my%20PDF%20file%23name.pdf

Better filenames:

costs-f-a.html          my-pdf-filename.pdf

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