September 20, 2012

Stop Typing Two Spaces After A Period

How many spaces do you type after a period? One? Two? Sometimes one, and sometimes two? One of my pet peeves is when people, especially those who are supposed to be professionals, type two spaces after every sentence. When asked why, these people often cite their high school keyboarding teacher or suggest that it's "more professional" than typing a single space.

If you're a convinced two-spacer, please take a look at any professionally typed publication. For example, here is an excerpt from a recent article in the Journal News:

Take a look at the end of each sentence: only one space after every period, question mark, or other sentence-ending punctuation. The vast majority of everything you read uses single spaces.

And, even if you use double spaces in your own writing, it's unlikely that you've ever noticed the difference in publications or wished that there was more space after every period.

I took a typing class too, so I had a habit of using two spaces for a very long time. There are plenty of circumstances in life where large numbers of people, sometimes the majority, understand and do things the wrong way. Typing two spaces because it's "more professional" is like avoiding sleeping with a running electric fan because you might die. It's a misconception.

The most common explanation for the introduction of double spaces at the end of a sentence is because of fixed-width characters on typewriters, where they theoretically improved legibility. However, few people today use fixed fonts: we use proportional characters on our computers, and professionals long ago established that single spaces work better for proportional type. The job of a typographer or page designer is to make words as clear and legible as possible. None of them use two spaces to do so.

If you're typing for print, single spaces automatically make text flow better on the page. More than one space can create rivers of white space on the page that unconsciously distract your readers.

If you're publishing text online — on a web page or blog, on Facebook, or elsewhere — web browsers automatically convert any multiple spaces to a single space, in accordance with the HTML standard. That means that typing two or more spaces is simply a waste of time and effort, because your readers will never see it. Sure, you could use this behavior to continue on with your habit, but that's like never learning to spell because your word processor has a spell checker: what happens when the machine isn't there to help you?

Two-spacers also seem to be very inconsistent. In documents written by two-spacers, sometimes there are two spaces after a sentence; sometimes there are three or more; sometimes there's only one. It seems that no one who prefers to type two spaces after periods can actually make it happen regularly. Maybe they hold the space bar down for too long so it repeats, or sometimes only hit it once instead of twice. Perhaps the extra spaces end up migrating around when writers copy and paste sentences.

Whatever the cause, it's much easier, much neater, and far more professional to just type a single space.

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