Public Editor

October 1, 2013

When computer code and page layout collide

It’s easy to make sure hyperlinks and other bits of computerese work online. But when they jump to print, it’s all too easy to confuse readers. The instructions in the paper to enter FYI's Scary Story Contest caused one entrant to make a double-take.
The FYI section has been running a Scary Story Contest

, asking readers to send in their best submissions. But the instructions in today’s paper caused one entrant to make a double-take.

She had what she thought was a pretty good yarn, so she submitted it according to the instructions that ran last week in The Star’s print edition. They said to email the stories to star-fyi@gmail.com

But today, the solicitation listed the address as starfyi@gmail.com And so she contacted me, worried she’d sent her entry into the ether.

As it turns out,

starfyi

, all together as one word, is the right account. But the page layout software The Star uses automatically breaks words from one line to the next when there isn’t room for everything to fit together. This can of course be overridden, but nobody working on the page noticed the confusion it might cause. And that isn’t something you can teach a computer to account for easily.

I’ve argued in the past that copy editors should openly flaut the rules of punctuation and typography when it comes to email and Web addresses. When they end a sentence, omit the final period. If they must break between lines, do so without the dash. After all, periods and dashes do figure into many valid addresses, and email addys and URLs are nothing but computer code.

Not everyone agrees with me, and that’s fine. But better to print something utilitarian and “wrong” grammatically than to mislead readers, in my book.

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