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I am having a hard time with the ellipsis. When I enter dot dot dot in Microsoft Word, it automatically makes the spaces between each dot a little longer than they would normally be.

However, in so many books I have read or am reading, the length of the spaces goes beyond what Word automatically creates.

It seems like in many novels, the punctuation is:

  1. Space DOT Space DOT Space DOT Space

Rather than:

  1. Space DOT DOT DOT Space

In some books I see things like:

A: "Don't think I don't want you...or don't care."

In others I see:

B: "Don't think I don't want you... or don't care."

In yet others I see:

C: "Don't think I don't want you . . . or don't care."

Does anyone have any thoughts on whether option A or B or C is better for a novel that will be self-published on Kindle for example? I see so many different versions that I'm not sure which is best at this point!

Thank you.

  • Anyone using full stops to make up an ellipsis in typography is already wrong, with or without spaces. Ellipsis should always be rendered as its own glyph: "…". Microsoft Word is probably just being nice and turning your dots into an ellipsis character. – zenith Sep 28 '15 at 21:33
  • When you say it should be rendered as its own glyph, how do I do that in Microsoft Word? Let's say I don't have enough money for a typesetter and want to do it all myself, how do I render the ellipsis? – MoniqueH Sep 29 '15 at 5:30
  • Actually I think I've figured it out: CONTROL + ALT + . seems to do the trick. – MoniqueH Sep 29 '15 at 5:48
  • I don't know, I don't have Word. On my system I've simply set up a shortcut that translates three consequent full stops into an ellipsis. – zenith Sep 29 '15 at 8:20
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It's been a while since I formatted a book for Kindle, but back when I did, I remember using the html code for an ellipsis in order to make sure it displayed properly. If you just use three periods (at least a few years ago) there was the chance it would be displayed with one period on one line, the other two on the next line, or something similarly sloppy.

So, assuming this is still a risk (and I assume it would be, since I don't think things have changed THAT much in the last few years) I'd use the html code and not worry about making up my own format for it.

(I formatted using the guide at http://guidohenkel.com/2010/12/take-pride-in-your-ebook-formatting/ which gives you about a million times more information than you need, but does seem to catch all these little issues. If you're using a different formatting system, I'd follow the advice of that system, rather than trying to decide for myself.)

  • Thanks so much Kate S. and thanks for the link--it will be very useful! When you say that you use the html code, what program is that in? Is it in the program you use to format your work for Kindle? I'm new to this and getting ready to self-publish my first novel hopefully! – MoniqueH Sep 29 '15 at 5:32
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Of the three options, C is the only one I wouldn't use; A and B differ to me in the following way:

To indicate a pause within the sentence, use A In your example, this is what I would do; the sentence is not finished, there's simply a stretch of silence between the two words.

To indicate a pause between two sentences, use B As you would add a space after a single period. In this case, you're ending your sentence as you would with any other form of punctuation.

In the end, though, there's no definite rule, which is why you get all those variations. Choose what you want, just make sure you stick to it.

  • Thanks Nathaniel. That's really useful! I am going to go back and redo all my ellipses as I had done the space dot space dot space dot space method which I have seen in several well-known novels! I'm realizing that you're right--there aren't always definite rules. I was reading a very famous novel today and realized the author always used DOT DOT DOT and never any spaces even between sentences. I've seen other novels which put spaces at the end between sentences, so I guess as long as you are consistent, that is what matters. Thanks for the advice! – MoniqueH Sep 29 '15 at 5:35
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Separate presentation from content, or in other words, aesthetics from semantics.

  • As a writer, your job is to produce the content — the actual text and any special characters/markers conveying additional semantics (e.g. an ellipsis character).
  • It's the typesetter's / e-book formatter's job to form the presentation of that content. Of course, you might participate in presentational decisions as well at that point.

The spacing between the dots in an ellipsis character is purely a presentational concern. As such, it's completely irrevelant when writing the actual content.

When you want an ellipsis, write an ellipsis character. No, don't write three full stops. Three full stops don't have the same semantic meaning as an ellipsis character. How is an e-book reader supposed to know how it should pronounce three consequent full stops, "dot dot dot" or leave a small break before continuing? When you write an ellipsis character, the e-book reader will unambiguously know what you meant.

Another example: What if the formatter of your content decides to leave some space between the dots of all ellipses in your book? They will definitely not want to go through each occurrence of three consequent dots, and replace them with the same thing with spaces in between. That'd be cumbersome, and against the basic principle that presentational changes should not require any changes in the content. Optimally, they would simply change the way the ellipsis character is rendered, and all ellipses in your text would automatically be rendered according to that change — no going through the text needed.

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It's not an answer to your question, but the Bluebook, the legal writing and citation manual, calls for Space DOT Space DOT Space DOT Space.

As an editor of lawyers, this is one of the many annoying habits I have to try to stop my writers from doing.

  • Thanks Sam, I'm sure the space dot space dot space dot space thing must come from somewhere. I keep seeing it in well-known novels! – MoniqueH Sep 30 '15 at 6:15

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