Friday, December 26, 2008

Why You Don't Need Two Spaces

Amongst all the other things I studied in college, I took a few courses in typography and was actually the layout editor where I worked on campus.

As a result, I have an unhealthy obsession with readability/legibility.

When I read a book (or MS), some things just stick out at me so much it drives me nuts. It's not my fault, I've been trained to notice. I'm sure the majority of people don't consciously note these seemingly "minor" typography issues.

One of my biggest pet peeves? Two spaces after sentences. (Please note that I am entirely aware that this is still an acceptable typing practice, as horrifying as it is for ease of reading. I do not condemn you for your vile two-space habit if you have it.)

But, so you know, you don't need two spaces after your sentences. Here's why:

Modern computer typefaces allow proper distance between a period and the next sentence! They program it in, guys, promise.

See, back in the good ol' days when people used typewriters there was only one choice in font: courier. (GAG!!! [can you tell I have opinions on this yet?]) And on those pesky typewriters, each letter (and space) was allotted the exact same amount of room. That meant the "i" had the same space as "m" and "W." So you'd get all these awful ugly gaps of serious grossness.

Since everything was given the same space on said typewriter, you HAD to give two spaces between sentences so everything wouldn't run together in a terrible mess. Once a manuscript was all typed out like that, a typesetter would then set type in a totally different font (thank goodness) and put in the proper spacing between sentences. Then printing would ensue.

Well, word processing has come a long way since then. Now our programs give "i" a small amount of space and "m" enough room to groove. And guess what? They even put the right amount of room between sentences without you having to press that space bar twice. So give your poor thumb a rest and tap it once...if you can. (I know, I know, habits are hard to break. At least now you know it's a BAD, BAD habit;P)


  1. I reiterate my part of the argument this morning:


    It's still an acceptable standard. And I repeat my examples of all of the books I had at hand, each using two spaces after the period. And I will never, ever stop. And you will read my manuscripts regardless.

    Neener, neener, neener.

    Now go and use decimate and enormity incorrectly just to piss me off ; )

  2. Less is more or I'm just lazy, but I have been going strong on single-space sentences for at least 15 years now!

  3. Just because people use it, doesn't make it right, my dear. (I also mentioned that I'm fully aware that's it's well as the horrid Courier.)

    Good typography has suffered under the current publishing push to get things out fast. Many are cutting corners, and quality falls.

    YOU know that...I'm sure you see the typos very well.

    (BTW, when I you send me your stuff in Word, I go in and find/replace the double spaces:P)

  4. I had no idea. Unfortunately, I learned the two space thing in my high school tenth grade typing class. Which means I've been doing it for.....too long to mention. (Let's just say back when I was in high school, we were still learning on typewriters, not keyboards, and we didn't even have the Internet.) And I think it would take me more effort and thought to change it then it would to just keep doing it. At least I'll know now that every time you read one of my manuscripts that I'll be driving you crazy. I love to drive people crazy. :)

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Ooops, I just published that comment twice. Be a dear and trash one for me will ya? And also don't notice that I used "then" instead of "than" in my comment.

  7. Okay, apparently I can trash it myself. I didn't know that. I'm learning so much today from your blog. I should hang out here more often. :)

  8. I use two spaces because it’s a terrible habit that I’ve tried to break and can’t. It’s like a compulsion… my thumb just does it…. *space* *space* You’re right, though, one space is correct. In my defense, I took typing wayyyyy backkkkk when two spaces was the norm. And you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!

    Anyway, if you do use two spaces, and you’d like to switch to two, all you need to use is the “find” “replace” feature in word.

    Regardless, it does not matter either way when subbing a MS.

  9. I meant.... "switch to one space"



  10. This is a really good explanation of why (a) I was taught to always type 2 spaces and (b) why everybody nowadays (editors, etc.) seems to be saying 1 space is the only right way to do it.

    I thought I couldn't change my habit too, but I was motivated by the desire to be published and to appear as professional as possible. In the end, it turns out it took me less than a week to remove all my double-spaces (well, I still see one pop up every now and then, but not often). So to everyone who thinks they can't change, I say try. See what happens.

    And if you really can't change, there's always find/replace. Such an easy solution.

  11. NOT the only standard, folks. Both are fine. Modern American Usage.

    I will admit, it is shifting to one. But I will fight this one to the death.

    Just because it's fun and mostly because it bugs Natalie ; )

  12. Sheesh Kierst, I'm guessing you're a prescriptivist, too. Shall I start singing in a loud booming voice? "Tradition! Tradition!" la di da di da di dum...

    (btw, it's super fun to argue with you.)

  13. It is a tough habit to break--I did a whole lot of find/replace in my thesis to get rid of the pesky double spaces my thumb still likes to do.

  14. Ha, absolutely not. E-mail? Are you kidding me? I'm not going to cap it AND hyphenate! That's ridiculous! Progression, folks, it's email.

    Two spaces, however, is not leaving while I'm around!

  15. At least until your editor tells you to quit it:P

  16. And someday when I'm an editor, I'll make you add them in ; )

  17. Pish, like I would work with you. (Okay, I so would, but still.)

  18. Ha! Ha! Kiersten! That's too funny. I have to admit that I use lots of !!!!!!! to bug Natalie sometimes and I'm pretty sure it still bugs her even though she doesn't call me on it too often! I love you Natalie!!!!

    This was a very informative post and I learn something new every time I read your blog! ;)

  19. I think that two spaces just make the sentence look better. I will continue to use it because I want to. I do not think your argument is valid. Just because something is no longer necessary doesn't make it incorrect. It may be a stupid convention but I like it.


    Hope you had a wonderful Christmas!

  20. I was about to say something about the two space debate, but I found the lively discussion up above so much more entertaining.

    Just for the record, I agree with Kasie. I learned the two space in my tenth grade typing class also, and it takes a lot of effort to break the habit. But personally, I try to eliminate it in my finished ms.

    Hope you had a wonderful holiday!


    It's a sinking ship now that everything is moving to the internet.

  22. Janey, a lot of the "older" generation is used to the two space (and then there are some weirdo youngins like Kierst...). I won't hold it against you;)

    I know for a fact there are several professors in the world who will dock your grade if you don't keep in line with this heinous tradition.

  23. I'm such an old fogey. It's hard to teach us new tricks y'know.

  24. That's what I hear. And I would grumble when I was forced to do two for some of my classes...sometimes I'd even tell them it's not necessary anymore...and then they'd roll my eyes at me and say, "I don't care."

  25. I have fought and fought people over this. It's INSANE that people still do it! My hubby still does it no matter how much I drill it into his head not to.

    I minored in technical editing in college. I have sources to PROVE that only one space is required these days.

    Chicago Manual of Style - the bible in the editing world.

    Thanks for sharing this! I'm glad I'm not alone....

  26. I am proud to say that I am a single spacer. Is there any other way???

  27. I'm a double spacer. I just can't help it. I took a typing class in seventh grade and have been two spacin' it ever since. I don't think I could make myself stop, even if I tried. But I am glad to know the rule, so at least I'm not in a bad habit AND ignorant of my mistake.

  28. I always try to have two spaces between my ears at all times so I have some choice about what kind of stupid to be.

    As for the sentence thing, I'm a confirmed two-spacer, but I can see how and why the convention is changing. I wonder if colons will have their personal space similarly halved? Or is this already happening? Maybe it's gridlock.

  29. Whirl! Are you trying to send me into cardiac arrest? TWO spaces after colons? Can't...breathe...chest hurts...


  30. Yeah, they taught me in high school (using mechanical, monospaced typewriters) to put two spaces after periods (but not after colons or semicolons). When I typed my first masters thesis (on a monospaced typewriter), I was still required (by the thesis office) to put two spaces after periods.

    I went to work for IBM the same year the PC came out, and noticed that their GML (generalized markup language--a precursor to today's SGML and XML) formatters put only one space after periods.

    That was all it took. I have been putting only one space after periods for 24 years now, and have never looked back.

    (Incidentally, if you look closely at formatting done by most Web browsers, you will notice that--unless you tell them otherwise by inserting "hard" spaces--they put a single space after periods.)

    I'm with Natalie.

  31. I don't like the look of only one space. Two spaces makes visual parsing easier for me. Especially when the font has crazy small periods that I never seem to see, and I end up having to back up to find the missed period after the (run-on) sentence makes no sense. Waste-o-time(tm).

  32. I have never used two spaces. One space is perfectly adequate, especially since the period leaves a little space too. I always find it weird when people use two spaces. I do like typewriters, though, I have to say.