In writing authors' initials in research papers (either in the author by-line or the bibliography), should there be a space between intials?
- R.P. Feynman
- R. P. Feynman
What's the preferred way of writing it?
The periods in the initials stand for truncations, so you would put a space after each one. I don't think British English uses the initials, but I have seen various ways of doing it based on different style guides that govern different domains.
Check out the APA style guide, where they do use spaces:
Van Vugt, M., Hogan, R., & Kaiser, R. B. (2008). Leadership, followership, and evolution: Some lessons from the past. American Psychologist, 63(3), 182-196. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.63.3.182
The MLA style guide concurs:
Palmer, William J. Dickens and New Historicism. New York: St. Martin's, 1997. Print.
You certainly do not want to use full spaces within strings of initials. Indeed, you quite possibly do not want to use any spaces at all. It depends whether we are talking about text generated under the tyranny of the typewriter or text that is to be professionally typeset. With a typewriter, you should not use any spaces, but when typeset, smaller spaces are usually best.
One page 30 of version 3.2 of Robert Bringhurst’s Elements of Typographical Style, the de-facto “typesetter’s bible”, he writes:
2.1.5 Add little or no space within strings of initials.
Names such as W. B. Yeats and J. C. L. Prillwitz need hair spaces, thin spaces, or no spaces at all after the intermediary periods. A normal word space follows the last period in the string.
That was set with U+200A HAIR SPACE between each initial in the two strings of them. And I use “set” guardedly, considering that that was in HTML.
Even so, that probably looks terrible to you, but that is because web typography is almost always more primitive than even Gutenberg himself used. Notice for example that the placement of the dot in Georgia is distractingly far from its letter in the case of J and even worse for the W, and how it is so close to the L as to be nearly touching.
Properly set with correct kerning, that statement should read more like this:
That’s basically what it looks like in the printed book, but I have greatly enlarged the font here to make it easier for you to see the differences.
As you see, the dots are now at a constant distance to the right of the letter immediately previous to them, and there are numerous other adjustments to make the text look less like a hastily typewritten ransom note and more like a printed book.
Those were set using U+200A HAIR SPACE just as in the HTML above it, but as you see, it looks infinitely better when properly typeset. That’s because it now has correct kerning and ligatures, and because the length of the line is now in balanced proportion to the x-height of the font — something that Stack Exchange has yet to get right.
Some journalism style guides recommend a space between the initials, and others recommend no space:
Peter Taylor's advice (above) is probably best: do whatever is customary in that journal.