Did He Use Two Spaces, or Only One?

Well to tell you the truth, in all of this excitement I sort of lost track myself.

An interesting link popped up on my feed today, though I’m sure it’s nothing new for many people.  It was written in 2011, and people are still confused as to why it has suddenly resurfaced.  Anyway, as horrible as the article is, it has sparked (or fueled?) a bizarre debate:  Does one use one space or two after the end of a sentence?

This article from Slate takes the position of one space only, and anything else is absolutely wrong and hideous.  In fact, it argues this point with such venom and a complete lack of actual reason that my first instinct was that it was a work of satire.  But after poking around and seeing similar concerns from other commenters, and finding out that the author no longer works for Slate, I am 75% sure that the article was intended to be serious.  Is this what we can come to expect from internet journalism these days?  But that’s another topic.

The article makes three points:

  • Single-spacing is the One True Typography;
  • Double-spacing is the work of heretics and only serves to make your work uglier;
  • Most people would understand these truths, if it weren’t for historical mistakes and evil typewriters.

Personally, I double space after sentences.  It is habit for me and I refuse to change it, especially for people like the above whose only reasons are “because we said so and it’s ugly anyway.”  That line of logic reminds me of middle school cliques, and anyone who hasn’t outgrown those yet should do so pronto.

Then I came across this article that tells the other side of the story, that double-spacing isn’t an absolute evil and the single-space camp is holding on to false history.  Even with the nature of the internet being what it is, this one has done its homework and cites actual sources, providing more information than “these nameless typographers HAVE SPOKEN!”

Do you think that my writing looks ugly?  I hope not.  Maybe I can hide that extra space padding with the right font and blog template.

What I’ve gathered from this is that double-spacing is an old standard, while single-spacing is the newfangled replacement.  But is one “more correct” than the other?

I’m going to use William Shunn’s manuscript formatting guide as my judge.  Why?  Because now that I’m out of school for good, the time that I use to submit short stories and novels is the only time that I care what anyone thinks of my typography style.  Let’s see what he says:

In the days of typewriters, the usual practice was to put
two spaces after the end of every sentence, and also to put two
spaces after every colon.  This helped make the separations
between sentences more apparent, and helped editors more easily
distinguish periods from commas and colons from semicolons.  With
the dominance of computers, that practice is changing, and it is
more common now to see only one space between sentences.
Ingrained habits die hard, though, so if you're used to hitting
the spacebar twice after a period, you shouldn't stress out about
it, particularly if you're using a Courier font.

Thank you, Mr. Shunn.

I’m not going to let anyone tell me how many spaces to put between my sentences.  You shouldn’t, either.  That goes for the single-space, double-space, and line-break camps.

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5 thoughts on “Did He Use Two Spaces, or Only One?

  1. Hi Bethy, clicked over after you mentioned your new wordpress format on CC. I like it!
    As for the great space debate, I’m a single spacer and I do prefer it that way. I don’t think your writing looks ugly, except for one tiny instance, the paragraph that begins “Personally, I double…”m partway down in the paragraph you have a line that starts “That line of logic reminds me of…”. The word ‘That’ is not lining up correctly with the word ‘for’ above it, and to me it looks a like a little mistake or typo, though after reading the post I see it was an intentional double space.
    It’s such a tiny thing that I consider it a non-issue. One space, two… there are better things to argue about.

    1. Hello Ashes, and thank you! I prefer this minimalistic layout to what I had on Blogger, for sure.

      And thanks for your honest critique of my blog aesthetics. Maybe I don’t need to go font shopping after all.

  2. When I was in middle school and high school sometime last century we were taught double space after periods. I learned typing in middle school on an electric typewriter. When I got to high school we learned “computer skills” aka typing on a computer. Still double spaced. It wasn’t until college that it was switched to single space.

    When my mom went back to college she couldn’t quit the habit of double spacing so she had me type up her papers for her. Apparently her English teacher marked for stuff like that. I think maybe because when I was in school everything was in transition so to speak that double spacing to single spacing was not a huge issue for me.

    Now if I could only become like my grandmother and get 85 wpm and that was on a manual typewriter.

    1. I’m probably a generation too late for typewriters in schools, even if I loved playing with the old machine in my mother’s office as a kid. Still, when high school came around I took a similar “computer skills” class where I was taught to double space. Before then, I’d never heard the rule and assumed that single spacing was the way to go. I think this was the work of my aging computer teacher whose habits died hard.

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