At many points in time I’ve complained that if you have a URL in your email, don’t use a period at the end of it because that can break links. That led to me being asked what the proper usage of URLs with punctuation actually is.

This is not the law but it’s the rules I’ve come up with to ensure readability, linkability, and sanity when emailing links.

Assume no HTML

It would be easier if I just said “Visit example.com” and it was a link. You’d know what to do. You click on a link. The problem is not all email clients are HTML friendly. I’m aware it’s 2017. The fact is, the world is not as advanced globally as you might wish. Thus we have to assume that we will be emailing someone who cannot see HTML.

Arguably that means they’d see <a href="http://example.com">example.com</a> and that may be okay to some of you. It’s not to me, since I aim for the lowest common denominator, and I know that modern email clients will convert http://example.com to a link for me. Therefore the correct solution is to send only the URL, without HTML surrounding it.

Style Manuals

The Chicago Manual of Style, which has been updated a few times, suggests you format footnotes with URLs as follows:

  • Fiona Morgan, “Banning the Bullies,” Salon, 15 March 2001, http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2001/03/15/bullying/index.html (accessed 24 Feb. 2003).

Now in their example, there’s a space before the accessed date, so it’s easy to prevent errant trailing characters, but also they have a space before the link to make sure there’s no mistake there as well. The lesson to take away from this is that your URLs shouldn’t be marred with punctuation.

Punctuation

I believe the correct use of a URL is to never prepend or append punctuation. Or in other words: Do not end your sentence wth a URL.

  • Good: Please visit http://example.com/
  • Bad: Please visit http://example.com/.

That trailing period? That’s bad. That will break on a lot of mail readers. But back to my gleanings from the manual of style, the correct usage is with a space on either side. In order to force that we can just remove the period but then do we use a capital letter for the next sentence?

The Best We Can Do

Grammar means we put words in a specific order to have a specific meaning. The same holds true for using URLs in our content. We must be aware of their context and placement.

Some good examples:

Please visit our site at http://example.com for more information.

Or

If you look at their website – http://example.com – you can see the magnitude of their errors.

In both of those cases, we’ve put the URL in the middle of the sentence either prefacing it with an ‘at’ or using hyphens to indicate the URL is something special. The second way highlights the URL more in a text-only environment.

Alright, what if you want to tell someone to download a link?

Lorem ipsum blah blah blah
Download the code here: http://example.com

Notice how I put the download link on it’s own line? That breaks it out visually as well as generating a call to action. Download the code here.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Hi Mika,
    Thanks for this interesting piece 🙂
    First of all, thank God not all mail clients are HTML aware! Those who are online since the end of the 90’s, are likely to be familiar with the RFC 1855 (Netiquette Guidelines). I still like and try to follow it as much as possible, where appropriate.
    For example using a proper line length of around 65 charachters – or anything < 72. Unfortunately, this often means a very long hyperlink, or URL, is cut off somewhere. This can be overcome by enclosing the URL in < and > (< >).

    Just my $0.02 🙂

%d bloggers like this: