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Avoiding Excess White Space in Justified Lines Containing URLs:

When I include a URL — or another long continuous chunks of text — in a footnote in Microsoft Word, the preceding line often ends up having lots of white space. The usual fix for that is to include an optional hyphen, but I don't want the URL to be hyphenated; I want it to break at a slash or a dot. At times, I've entered manual line breaks, but that's not optimal, because I don't want it to break at a fixed place; I want it to break at the place that yields the least internal white space, and that might change as the earlier lines in the footnote change, or as the article gets reformatted.

I've just stumbled on what seems like a good solution: Insert / Symbol / Special Characters / No-Width Optional Break. You can insert this special character wherever you're willing to see the long continuous chunk be broken; it's still not automatic, but it's better than the alternatives I've noticed (at least the alternatives that let me stick with Word). And if you find yourself doing this often, you can easily assign a shortcut key to this special symbol.

Oddly, Word's Help feature doesn't seem to discuss this; I had tried earlier to search for optional line break, but couldn't find anything useful. So I thought I'd pass this along for the benefit of others who might be facing the same problem I had faced in the past.

UPDATE: Commenter Tim_K points out the downside: "The solution works in terms of improving the appearance of the Word document, but when I tried it, add the special character made it so the URL no longer acted as a link to take you to the website in question. I guess you can get around this by copying and pasting the URL into you web browser, but it's far from an ideal solution. What's wanted is to improve the appearance of the Word document and have the URL function as a link." I don't find this to be much of a problem since most of my links aren't likely to be the sort of things that the typical reader will want to follow. But it may well be a downside for others; and it sure would be great if Microsoft kept this from happening, as they could easily do.

FURTHER UPDATE: Commenter Steven Joyce suggests a fix to Tim_K's problem: "Highlight the full URL (both halves), right-click and select 'Edit Hyperlink' or 'Hyperlink', and then put the correct URL (without the special character) in the 'Address' box."

Gabriel Malor (mail):
Thanks! I was recently disgusted by my own inability to get URLs in my writing to not destroy the look of the page without a lot of re-jiggering. This will definitely help.
3.7.2007 12:31pm
Richard Riley (mail):
Great tip, Professor - I just used it in a document I'm working on right now. I encounter this problem pretty regularly. It probably comes up in legal writing more than other types, and I have noted that MS Word and its Help function are not very attuned to orthographic problems in legal writing.
3.7.2007 12:32pm
Lou Wainwright (mail):
Why in the world is it so difficult for Microsoft to communicate these sort of cool features? I've been using Office (esp. Excel) heavily for 15 years, and at least a few times a year I discover a feature that I've never seen before. Is there a book on 'Tricks for Office Experts' that I could read? I've looked on Amazon, and no one seems to have written a good one.
3.7.2007 12:34pm
Anonymous Reader:
It would seem straightforward to write a visual basic script that detects the string http://, and searches for the next blank space, and in between the two, inserts an optional "No-Width Optional Break" at each slash and each dot.

"Word Hacks" by Andrew Savikas has more information on writing such a script. Here's a link to it on Google Books.
3.7.2007 12:37pm
SteveW:
Would it be inappropriate to create a link on a redirect service, such as tinyurl.com, and insert that link into the paper instead of the long original link?
3.7.2007 12:59pm
Anon. E. Mouse (mail):
The Blue Book doesn't say whether a tinyurl link would be acceptable or not.

One problem with the tinyurl link is that it doesn't allow the hardcopy reader to see the source w/o starting up a computer. Its nice for the reader to see that you are at a reputable source for whatever you are citing (e.g., at www.va.gov for a Veterans Administration report).
3.7.2007 1:12pm
JunkYardLawDog (mail):
This might also work or solve related problems. When a short line expands with too much white space as a result of using justified text or because of a long non-breaking string like a url leaves a short remnant on the previous line. End the previous line with a shift-return (that creates a new line without but NOT a new paragraph). Provided you have selected under Tools/Options/Compatibility Tab the compatibility option "Do Not Expand Character Spacing on lines that end with Shift-Return" the stub line ending with a shift return will not be expanded for justification.

Says the "Dog"
3.7.2007 1:13pm
scooby (mail):
There is a Unicode character that, essentially, does the same thing, zero-width space.

One big caveat: If you export your document to a PDF and someone tries to copy it you might wind up with spurious characters in the URL. Most users won't realize why the link fails.

Personally, I'd set up a website with links to referenced material. Then if the link moves you can redirect it or use an archiving service.
3.7.2007 1:16pm
James Grimmelmann (mail) (www):
It's useful also to know the opposite: the non-breaking space. It looks like a space, but won't allow a linebreak at it. You can get one in HTML with " " In Word, it's Insert / Symbol / Special Characters / Nonbreaking Space.
3.7.2007 1:27pm
Houston Lawyer:
Now, if you can only find out how to get the PDF toolbar to stop loading every time you turn on the computer.
3.7.2007 1:28pm
Tim_K (mail):
The solution works in terms of improving the appearance of the Word document, but when I tried it, add the special character made it so the URL no longer acted as a link to take you to the website in question. I guess you can get around this by copying and pasting the URL into you web browser, but it's far from an ideal solution. What's wanted is to improve the appearance of the Word document and have the URL function as a link.
3.7.2007 1:48pm
PD Hart:
you may find this link of interest. responses are usually helpful.
3.7.2007 2:01pm
PD Hart:
you may find this link of interest. responses are usually helpful.
3.7.2007 2:02pm
marghlar:
The hyperlink problem (it won't link once you break it up) is easily solved; just go to Edit Hyperlink and manually create a full hyperlink to the full URL for each half of the text.
3.7.2007 2:23pm
Steven Joyce (mail):
The hyperlink problem is even easier to fix than marghlar suggests -- you don't have to fix each half of the hyperlink separately. Highlight the full URL (both halves), right-click and select "Edit Hyperlink" or "Hyperlink", and then put the correct URL (without the special character) in the "Address" box.
3.7.2007 2:31pm
Gabriel Malor (mail):
I think the "hyperlink problem" is really less of a problem than you're making it out to be. Most of the documents I work with in Word are being prepared for publication in paper form; the URL isn't meant to be functional.

In fact, the first thing I do when I paste a URL into a document is right-click and strip out the hyperlink so the feature of Word that allows clickable links to open in the default browser isn't constantly bugging me.
3.7.2007 2:53pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
What Gabriel said. I can't stand having random hyperlinks pop up on screen whenever I mouse over a word document with URLs in it -- let alone having my browser open if I accidentally click on the word rather than the word next to it.
3.7.2007 5:03pm
PD Hart:

The link above is very useful for questions regarding the programs within Microsoft Office. The responses are timely and helpful.
3.7.2007 5:15pm
jp2 (mail):
Eugene -- Why are you working with justified text? Unless you're using a program like PageMaker or Quark that allows you to kern and make individual micro-adjustments in word spacing, your documents will look much better with ragged right.
3.7.2007 5:27pm
JunkYardLawDog (mail):
Houston Lawyer:


Now, if you can only find out how to get the PDF toolbar to stop loading every time you turn on the computer.



There are several solutions to this.

1. Download and install Startup Control Panel by Mike Lin. Its free.

2. Run Startup Control Panel and find the line where adobe is loading stuff and uncheck the box next to it.

Another program that I also use, but might make non-techie types a bit more confused because it includes even more configuration stuff than Startup Control Panel is Sysinternals Autoruns program

Sysinternals was bought out by Microsoft around the middle of last year. Their very cool utilities are still available for free, but from Microsoft now. The link above for Autoruns takes you to the right page for all the free Sysinternals utilities.

Finally, Houston lawyer you can really fix the problem by dowloading and installing the free PDF reader program called Foxit Reader This program is smaller and much faster to open than the very bloated and open for various trojan and virus attack laden Adobe Acrobat. When you install it make sure you select to have foxit be your default reader for PDF files. Or if you have to manually make foxit reader your default reader for PDF files. Then you can happily ignore Adobe's bloatware or even unistall it if you wish. I keep Adobe around but its appropriately neutered with no startup applets allowed to run and with foxit as my default PDF reader.

All of the above are must have programs for the techie inspired lawyer, imho.

And then there's the free Primo PDF for PDF creation and the free PDF Tools for joining, splitting, locking, and unlocking PDF files.

Says the "Dog"
3.7.2007 5:38pm
RV:
When I was a law review editor we always had to resort to the manually inputting a line break in an appropriate place, and then having to change it any time the footnote text changed. This reminds me of the hoops I had to go through to get Outlook to display a warning before allowing me to send an e-mail without a subject line. After sending enough e-mails to clients and then hitting my head on the desk as soon as I pressed the send button, I had to put a macro in the visual basic editor. It seems like these kind of features should be easy for Microsoft to include in its products and it would make life easier for legions of users.
3.7.2007 6:01pm
Gabriel Malor (mail):
jp2, many journals require justified formatting for their article submissions; EV may not have a choice about it.
3.7.2007 6:53pm
John Fee (mail):
Thanks for the tip. I even needed it today.
3.7.2007 7:28pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
jp2: I've always liked the look of justified text more than ragged right margins. Such text also looks more like published text does, so my highly tentative guess is that readers subconsciously see it as more impressive.

Note also that even if the text has a ragged right margin, a break-less URL will make the preceding line have lots of white space, just at the end rather than the middle. Still likely to be a little ugly, it seems to me.
3.7.2007 7:38pm
dsn:
If you want this kind of typographic control, why not use an actual typographic program? Perhaps even LaTeX? Knuth appears to be better at what he did than the entire Microsoft programming team - even if it does take him decades to put out a new book.
3.8.2007 12:32am
awa:
If you are preparing a document for publication in a journal, etc., then this fix is irrelevant, because the text will all get reformatted anyway. If you are self-publishing, then you might consider using professional layout software like InDesign. It's not that hard to use and offers much more functionality than Word and it will fix the problem of bad-breaking URLs--and probably with automatic settings rather than manually inserted characters.
3.8.2007 6:44pm