Thin Spaces in the SCOTUS Style Guide

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The U.S. Supreme Court seems to have dominated the news lately and I found it interesting, from a synchronistic viewpoint, that a request for help came in at the same time about the SCOTUS Style Guide rules concerning the use of Thin Spaces. Specifically the request for help concerned how to adjust existing briefs that are hundreds of pages long.

A Thin Space in Microsoft Word is a blank space that is approximately 2-points narrower than a regular blank space, based on a normal font size of 12-points. Again, we are talking about just the character’s width and not overall size and Microsoft Word does not have a shortcut method for inserting them. You have to start with an existing blank space and then use the Font > Advanced > Character Spacing function to Condense the spacing by 2-points.

Of course you can manually create a Thin Space character in a document and then save it as either AutoText or and AutoCorrect entry, which will allow you to insert the saved Thin Space character using a keyboard shortcut, but what do you do with existing documents that are hundreds of pages long?

The SCOTUS Style Guide calls for a Thin Space to be used in between a Section character “§” and the section number.

Look closely at the following example.

The first line contains the Thin Space between the Section Symbol and the Section Number 2100. The second line contains a regular space.

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To accomplish this you need a Macro that you run against the document when you have it completed. The Macro is a relatively simple Find loop that looks for the § character and then adjusts the spacing on the following character. However, when writing any type of macro, you have to think about the “What Ifs” and include the appropriate conditions to handle the scenario. In this case …

  • What if the spacing on the character has already been adjusted?

  • What if the character following the § character is not a blank space?

  • What if the character following the § character is numeric, should you assume it’s the Section Number and insert a blank space with condensed spacing?

  • What if the character following the § character is not numeric, should you leave it alone?

The following VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) Macro adjusts the character spacing based on my understanding of the requirements, and the Attorney who initiated the request for help is “pleased as punch” with what I provided.

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Click on the link to download a text file of the Find_Section_Symbol VBA code and feel free to use the macro yourself on the next brief you are preparing to submit to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Written by Richard V. Michaels, M.Ed.

Chief Product Architect, Great Circle Learning
Microsoft Word MVP