Ellipses

What are those three little dots for?

"I don't think anyone would think that an ellipsis represents doubt or anything. I think it's more, you know, hinting at the future. What lies ahead." Sarah Dessen, authorA lot of people seem to use an ellipsis to show a pause or hint at the future in informal writing. Ellipses appear this way frequently in Facebook messages and emails. Interestingly, although this use of an ellipsis was technically incorrect at one time, it’s becoming “more” correct over time with some style manuals suggesting you can use an ellipsis in this manner if you use it sparingly.

Still, in formal writing, it’s probably not a good idea to use an ellipsis to show a pause or to create anticipation of some kind. Generally, academic style guides recommend using an ellipsis to show that you have omitted words in quotes. Here is an example of how to use ellipses in a formal, academic writing situation.

Quote:

“Often, a school is your best bet—perhaps not for education but certainly for protection from an undead attack.”
Max Brooks, The Zombie Survival Guide 

With an ellipsis:

“Often, a school is your best bet . . . for protection from an undead attack.”

A school building

The key is that you shouldn’t change the meaning of the quote. The second quote here isn’t nearly so witty, but the basic idea hasn’t been changed. When you have long quotes and you need to eliminate some unnecessary information from those quotes, an ellipsis can be very helpful.

Making the Ellipsis

Of course, now that you know when to use an ellipsis you may be wondering how to make one. An ellipsis is three periods or dots, and most style guides call for a space between each dot. So, you would type period, space, period, space, and period. You also need a space before and after the ellipsis. One tip is to make sure your ellipsis does not stretch to the next line. It must be all on one line. If you are ending a sentence with an ellipsis, it may look like you have a four-dot ellipsis, but there is really no such thing. The first dot is your period. Then, you have your ellipsis. In this situation, you will also put a space between each period.

Example:

According to Jones (2012), “The Walking Dead series has added to the new popularity of zombies. . . . However, several movies are responsible for the initial interest” (p. 31).

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