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I usually put a space before, and after / when indicating alternatives, such as in the following sentence.

We review a module / theme per user.

Is it correct, or should I re-write the sentence as follows?

We review a module/theme per user.

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6 Answers 6

up vote 19 down vote accepted

You should remove the spaces. Unless, of course, you are quoting a poem, in which case the slash indicates a line break:

We review a module
theme per user.

Wikipedia has more info:

There are usually no spaces either before or after a slash. Exceptions are in representing the start of a new line when quoting verse, or a new paragraph when quoting prose. The Chicago Manual of Style (at 6.112) also allows spaces when either of the separated items is a compound that itself includes a space: Our New Zealand / Western Australia trip. (Compare use of an en dash used to separate such compounds.) The Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing and Editing prescribes "No space before or after an oblique when used between individual words, letters or symbols; one space before and after the oblique when used between longer groups which contain internal spacing", giving the examples "n/a" and "Language and Society / Langue et société".

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1  
RegDwight is correct about removing the spaces. I would make one exception: if the extra space improves readability. This, however, is rare, and the only situation I've seen it used is in computer code that is non-white-space sensitive. –  kajaco Aug 29 '10 at 12:44

I believe the correct usage is word/word unless you're writing a line break in a poem:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate: / Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, / And summer's lease hath all too short a date:

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In print I would leave no space, but for online usage I bracket the "/" with spaces because it is a non-breaking character and results in huge, clunky amalgamations that take up a whole line, leaving the previous line with but a couple of words. This is the kind of break I mean:

If you wanted to use some long words, you could 
go the 
antidisestablishmentarianism/pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis
route.

The two long words won't break at a line end because of the slash, but will if the slash is surrounded by spaces.

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1  
I wish I could give you +2 for 'pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis' –  Mark Rogers Dec 21 '10 at 20:14
4  
The trick there is to put a zero-width space (U+200B) after the slash –  Brian Nixon Dec 21 '10 at 20:22
2  
@Brian: that, and a few soft hyphens (­) into the words themselves, enabling the browser to break them into multiple lines when needed. I once had to use that famous 79-letter German word in an answer of mine, and the soft hyphens worked wonders. –  RegDwigнt Dec 21 '10 at 20:41
    
@Brian Nixon, @RegDwight: Zero-width spaces and soft hyphens aren't always available in the Web's various text inputs. Some systems strip out all exotica. Besides, I don't have all the codes memorized in Windows and I'd rather not have to look them up when a simple tap of the space bar gets the job done and causes no offense. –  Robusto Dec 21 '10 at 23:23
    
Well, yeah, limited systems are limited. I was merely pointing out that not all systems are anywhere as limited as one might think. Otherwise some people might walk away from your answer with a wrong impression of what's actually possible. Many of the Web's various text inputs also don't allow Germans to enter the letters ä, ö, ü, ß, forcing them to write ae, oe, ue, and ss, respectively. That, too, gets the job done and causes no offense, but it's still a workaround, and it should not be mistaken for anything other than that. That's all I'm saying here, workaround ≠ norm. –  RegDwigнt Dec 22 '10 at 14:50

Punctuation surrounding a slash is a matter of style. The Chicago Manual of Style, for example, allows for a space on either side of the slash when either of the separated items has a space itself. For your example a space on either side of the slash would be appropriate according to that style convention.

Regarding line breaks, you probably want the front space padding the slash to be a non-breaking space, as starting a new line with a slash would be jolting for a reader.

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As a technical writer I need to edit content written by engineers. for some reason they have a tendency to use spaces before and after slashes, and I religiously remove them.

I have started rethinking my inflexibility in this matter as I believe there are times that spaces make the content more user friendly.

A case in point is either/or listings of terms that contain other symbols, for example "PMC_IO51 / XMC_IO_B-9". The spacing makes it clear that the slash is not part of either term.

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As noted above, “The Chicago Manual of Style (at 6.112) also allows spaces when either of the separated items is a compound that itself includes a space.” I'd treat your example the same way because of the underscores, which have the same visual effect as internal spaces. Avoiding ambiguity in terms that might contain slashes is another good reason. –  Bradd Szonye Aug 1 '13 at 6:23
    
Note that this isn't a discussion forum, and answers shouldn't invite discussion (“What do you think?”). Otherwise, I think this is a decent answer, so I will edit your answer to remove the “chatty” part. –  Bradd Szonye Aug 1 '13 at 6:25

Normally, no spaces should be used; however, placing a slash with no spaces between two long, polysyllabic words (common in technical writing) makes the sentence harder to scan. This could be one case where ignoring your style guide is justified.

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protected by kiamlaluno Feb 4 at 19:40

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