Don’t Hit Your Space Bar Twice

For the writers among us, let’s heed this warning. At Slate, Farhad Manjoo chastises all of us who use two spaces between sentences in our typing.

Can I let you in on a secret? Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.

Most ordinary people would know the one-space rule, too, if it weren’t for a quirk of history. In the middle of the last century, a now-outmoded technology—the manual typewriter—invaded the American workplace. To accommodate that machine’s shortcomings, everyone began to type wrong. And even though we no longer use typewriters, we all still type like we do.

I admit that this is what I was taught, and it’s what I practiced until very recently. My book editors have required a single space after sentences, but my academic writing — including my dissertation, completed last year — still called for two spaces.

So, I’m a convert to the one-space rule. Are you?

  • David Blackwell

    Hmm, never heard of two spaces. I was taught one space and never thought of adding an extra space.

  • http://www.arnizachariassen.com/ithinkibelieve Arni Zachariassen

    I read that article a couple of months ago, having never heard of people hitting the space bar twice or noticed them doing so before. Now I see it everywhere. Kind of sucks.

  • http://www.butnotyet.com JoelR

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m getting a little tired of the insinuation that I’m a drooling moron because I still use a double space after a period every now and then. I’m old and learn to type on a manual typewriter (there were electric ones available, but the teacher wouldn’t let us start on them), so I’m programmed to double space when I end a sentence. If you want me to change that, insulting my intelligence isn’t the best way to achieive that aim. Evidently, these people have never heard the old adage, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”.

    • James

      Right on, Joel.

  • Loren Whetsell

    Having come from Academia prior to being called into ordained ministry, I have considerable difficulty with the single space rule. Being an Historian, Turabian was pounded into my head in Grad school. We even had the official University reviewer of Theses and Dissertations who made sure the proper format was used, including the two space rule. Now as I help my daughter edit her Freshman college papers, she is constantly correcting my incorrect corrections on spacing. Necessity is remaking me into a one space person. (Plus it saves a character in Tweets.)

  • http://www.tracieonthego.com Tracie

    I missed the part about the ‘drooling moron’…I didn’t think it was that harsh.

    Having said that, I find it a very hard habit to break and wish everyone would just agree that both are right. Why not?

    I’ll try to change my ways and join the crowd. I hear it’s what all the cool kids are doing.

    • http://www.butnotyet.com JoelR

      “Drooling moron” is implied and it’s entirely possible that it’s a figment of my over-active imagination and pitifully low self-esteem.

  • Dan Hauge

    I’m getting more used to seeing the single space, and I’m not opposed to switching–but, yeah, we could probably chill out a bit. I mean, can’t we make room for differing manifestations of truth? ;)

  • jcarlgregg

    I’m also a relatively recent convert to the one-space rule after having learned the two-space rule in academia. I think MLA now calls for one space, but I’m not positive. Since I still reflexively put two spaces sometimes, I will — when I remember — use the “Find” function (Command + F) when writing in Pages to “Find:. ” and “Replace:. ” in order to switch all the two spaces to one spaces.

  • DaveB

    I’m old too, so have the same story as others with typing class and Turabian’s Manual and typing my way through college. I don’t mind the change, and I realize two spaces is actually not just unnecessary now, but wrong. I’ve been trying to be a convert for a few years now, but my thumbs sometimes don’t go along with the program. In my inner being I delight in the one space rule, but I see another law at work in my thumbs.

  • http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47 Keith DR

    I prefer two. It makes the divide between sentences visually apparent to just about the right degree. I tend not to notice how others are doing it, but when I do notice, I would prefer it as a reader if they used two spaces, too. But, in reading drafts of the papers of others, etc., I have never thought the issue rose to the level of even being worth mentioning. Yes, I’ve written this whole (well, not *that* long) comment about it, and that may have been unwise, but it was a comment on a post already devoted to the issue, and, well, now it’s all written, so I might as well hit “Submit” — once.

  • http://shantzontech.wordpress.com Brad Shantz

    I have been trying for YEARS to break myself of the two space rule. It’s what I was taught in typing class, and it’s a really hard habit to break. Shoot, I used two spaces between sentences just typing this!

  • Joshua Thomas

    I have always used one space. But recently while writing something, my wife told me that it was proper to use two spaces. But my wife is a grad student on a fast-track to get her Ph. D, so she is enmeshed and immersed in the world of academia and is a terrific writer. I’ll have to show her this blog post.

  • Steve Chastain

    Brad, you may have used two spaces in typing that comment (as I assume as an advocate KeithDR did as well), however if you’ll notice I believe the interface here adjusted for it so it looks like one space.

    Let’s do a little test. I just put one space after that last sentence. And now I just put two spaces after this one.

    Can you tell the difference?

    Anyway, one space is correct. The face that your most recent dissertation required two spaces demonstrates how either truly out of touch higher places of learning are or how they just don’t want to change. Interesting.

  • curtis

    The 2-space rule was commonly taught when learning to type on a typewriter and for academic papers. However, I believe the 2-space rule officially died in 1990, which is the year HTML was released. In the HTML specification, as Steve has noticed, more than one space between any two characters gets ignored.

  • Larry Barber

    As long as you’re using a proportional font, and most people almost always are, it doesn’t really matter, the second space will be reduced to almost nothing. Do what you’re comfortable with. Unless you have very anally retentive thesis advisor, of course, but then you can tell your word processor to ignore double spaces.

  • Cameron

    A long space after a fullstop has long been the norm in English typesetting. But here’s the thing: modern word processors insert it automatically so you don’t need to.

    Try it. Fire up your favourite word processor or typesetting software, make sure you’re using a proportional font and your language setting is a common form of English, and type two sentences with a single space between. It’ll come out longer than the usual interword spacing. If you try two spaces the gap will look too long, although your software may ignore the superfluous space.

  • MisterTee

    The instructor in my first master’s degree class last semester [Music Research and Bibliography] informed everyone in class of the one-space rule and the class audibly gasped. The flabbergasted co-instructor in the class, a librarian, asked “Really?” The Turabians came out of the book bags that day!

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      MisterTee, I’ve missed you. Welcome back.

  • http://www.earlychurchstudies.com John Contabile

    Don’t worry…soon enough we will all be chastised for actually writing sentences that are too long!

    LOL…L8R!

  • http://late-emerger.blogspot.com Andrew

    (a) Your software takes care of it. That’s why typesetting beats typewriting. Get over it.

    (b) If you have a thesis advisor who spends their time caring about this, swap her/him for someone who cares about the content.

  • Brian

    I like the double space. Even with newer technology I think the double space makes for a more pleasant reading experience.

  • dwight

    I agree fully with the logic — but as one who was taught to type this way over 40 years ago it is easier to talk about than do. Not sure this particular topic deserves all the energy mounted against it.

  • http://www.simplyshalom.com Naomi

    You know, a main reason why this changed is because word processors like Microsoft Word have an automatic function that makes the space after a period a little bit longer than regular spaces. So if you manually add two spaces after a period it makes it extra long, and therefore unnecessary. It’s not because someone decided two spaces was stupid. It’s because our technology caught up to us to make our lives easier… and now we just have to catch up with it! (The find and replace trick is a great way to compensate for a long-learned habit, and then you won’t piss off your copy editor!)


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