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Bar Association of San Francisco Member Benefits: Publications

Condense Legal Writing With Ellipses


By Leslie Gordon, BASF Bulletin Contributor


Dubbed “three-dot journalism” by Herb Caen, using ellipses in writing has gained popularity, particularly in emails. Here are tips for using ellipses accurately and effectively.

Ellipses indicate omitted words, phrases, lines or paragraphs.

“Why did she leave? . . . Why didn’t she call me?” (Text omitted between two sentences.)

“Why did she leave . . . ? Why didn’t she call me?” (Text omitted before question mark.)

Ellipses are frequently used to condense text or quotations, which is especially helpful in legal writing when attorneys face page limits. Condensing content with ellipses also focuses the reader on only the relevant language. Ellipses should never misrepresent or change the meaning of quotations.

“The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works . . . . Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward.”

Ellipses can also indicate a hesitation or trailing off in dialogue or an
incomplete list.

“It’s . . . just . . . I need to tell you something.”

“Apples, oranges, kiwi . . . “

To make ellipses, use three dots – only three dots. The Associated Press Style Manual characterizes ellipses as a three-letter word, complete with spaces before and after. The dots may have spaces between them – as always, just be consistent throughout your document – but all dots must remain on the same line.

You do not need ellipses at the beginning and end of direct quotes.

Correct: “It’s become clear that I don’t care what you think,” Tracy said.

Incorrect: “. . . it’s become clear that I don’t care what you think . . . ,” Tracy said.

Ellipses may precede a period, which will result in four dots in a row, but the ellipses themselves are still just three dots.

If you have a grammar or writing question you’d like addressed here, contact

A former lawyer, Leslie A. Gordon is a freelance journalist living in San Francisco.

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