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?

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    Whatever the journal you're trying to publish in wants. – Peter Taylor Feb 4 '11 at 14:59

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.

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    The MLA link says nothing about spacing, and with all due respect, the monospaced APA examples look nasty: monospace is for typewriters, not for typesetting. Moreover, Bringhurst disagrees; see my answer. Having a “space versus no-space” distinction probably only makes sense on a typewriter; with typesetting, other considerations apply. – tchrist Feb 27 '13 at 21:02
  • Truncations did not require spaces back when acronyms where spelled with periods; the ones that still have them (Ph.D., e.g., i.e.) still don't require spaces. – Merk Oct 3 '13 at 7:53
  • @tchrist: Your beef is with the MLA and APA style guides then. When I've submitted manuscripts in the past I was instructed to use Courier monospaced font because that's how editors prefer to see it. See this answer by JSBangs for further information. – Robusto Oct 8 '13 at 0:50
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    There must be a typo in "I don't think British English uses the initials" it doesn't make sense otherwise (to me). Could you please clarify, maybe I'm misunderstanding something. – Mari-Lou A Sep 21 '18 at 5:22

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:

image of correctly typeset

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.

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    I'd give this +2 if I could, because "less like a hastily typewritten ransom note and more like a printed book" thoroughly tickled me. Great answer. – Chris Krycho Oct 7 '13 at 14:59
  • This would be of value for a publisher. It has little to do with the submission of manuscripts, especially for academic papers. – Robusto Oct 8 '13 at 0:52
  • @tchrist I don’t think the problem of kerning is with Georgia, but with the working of the software. E.g. InDesign would kern properly if OPTICAL is used instead of METRICS (the default). With METRICS kerning used used, OP’s example of R.P. Feynman would look almost as bad in InDesign as in any other amateur application/website. – LWTBP May 21 '15 at 6:12
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    @Robusto Please do not undervalue the importance of good typography in academic publishing of any kind. Yours, Copy Editor. – yo' Sep 1 '15 at 10:53
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    @TheoYou It's because it is more comfortable to read lines of a certain length in running text. Bringhurst gives several different rules of thumb for sensible defaults, but all are shorter in ens than what Stack Overflow uses. – tchrist Feb 8 '17 at 1:00

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.

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