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How much space is enough?

March 26, 2012

aprilrummage

How much space is enough?Single vs. double spacing after punctuation

In last week’s post, I shared my top five graphic design pet peeves. Today’s post is all about pet peeve number one, double spaces after punctuation.

If you were like me, you were taught to double space after punctuations. I’m here to tell you this is not correct in the professional world. Here’s a test. Check today’s newspaper, the novel you are reading, nearby magazine, or open a new tab and type your favorite URL. Are there double spaces after punctuations? No.

Why were we taught wrong?Why were we taught wrong?

Double spaces became the standard during the days when typewriters were king and letter forms used fixed width spacing. This means that all letters had the same amount of space around them instead of adjusting on a case by case basis. So, ‘i’ had the same amount of space as ‘m’. The reasoning for using double spaces after periods was to increase readability.

Flash forward to the era of computer-based word processing. Today, we use smart fonts that automatically adjust spacing around characters making the need for double spaces obsolete.

Seems straightforward, right? Even though this is the established standard for journalist, editors, publishers, typographers, and others, there are many people who still maintain a strong stance about using double spaces. This may help explain why some of us were taught wrong.

Check out this great post from slate.com related to double spacing. Be sure to check out the comments section for interesting dialogues. You can also see a response argument that defends double spacing. Decide your stance on the issue!

Biggest pet peeve worthyBiggest pet peeve worthy

This may seem like an insignificant concern for most people so why, you may ask, is this worthy to be considered one of my biggest pet peeves? It’s simple. Other than the fact that single spaces are cleaner, more readable, and the industry standard, as a designer, I end up being the one who has to take out unnecessary spaces. Not a big deal if you are talking about a paragraph of text but it does get annoying (and time-consuming) after a few pages.

Voice your opinionDo you still use double spaces after punctuations?

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7 Comments

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  1. Ashley #
    March 26, 2012

    I was taught to always double space but it definitely makes sense as to why double spacing is no longer needed. Even the iPhone knows only one space is needed- if you double tap the space bar, a period and one space will occur. Genius. I used my iPhone to write this comment-no double spacing needed!

  2. Zach #
    March 27, 2012

    Well this write-up seems very near and dear to a recent conversation. haha

  3. March 27, 2012

    I’d like to thank you for the link back to my blog at Heraclitean River, and I appreciate your voice in this debate. I would, however, like to clear up a couple things. The point of my article was not to “defend” double-spacing, but rather to note that sentence spacing is a design choice. (Personally, I tend to like a sentence space that is about 1.5 times an interword space, depending on the typeface, leading, text block size, etc., but that’s beside the point.)

    My broader point is that the modern consensus among typographers to choose designs that have almost all spaces be “the same” is only about 50 years old. For the previous five centuries of movable type typesetting, spaces often varied quite a bit depending on context.

    It is correct to say our modern “double-spacing” practice comes from the practice of typewriters. But that practice had nothing to do with monospace fonts — it came directly from the standard convention used in printed works (using proportional typefaces) from about 1700 to the 1930s or so, where larger spaces were used after periods (often triple or even quadruple the interword space). Look at any old book, and you’ll see this is the case.

    When typewriters came into use in the 1880s or so, they were simplified to have only one spacebar, without separate keys for an em-quad, en-quad, thin space, etc. People using typewriters who wanted to imitate the wider spaces of published books of the time tried using two spaces to imitate them. Over the years, typographers changed their mind and shrunk their spaces (mostly due to demands for cheaper publications), while typewriter practice held to the old standard.

    I’m not saying a single uniform space is good or bad. But it is in fact a design choice, and one which centuries of great typographers would have disagreed with.

    • March 27, 2012

      Thanks for the clarification and for checking out my post, Heraclitus. I can agree that sentence spacing is a design choice. And I really enjoyed reading about your take on spacing in your post especially after reading the slate.com post. I was hoping to give my readers various perspectives on the issue by including both the slate.com argument and your argument as well. Thanks again for the information. It is helpful to better understand the history behind sentence spacing!

  4. April 1, 2012

    I’ve been using single spaces after periods for a long time, since reading “The Mac is Not a Typewriter.” Two spaces just looks wrong!

    If find-and-replace is an option in your layout program, you can set it to replace ” ” with ” ” (but you may need to run it a couple times — people may have slipped in three or four spaces here and there).

    • April 1, 2012

      Great suggestion, Karl! I’ll have to remember that the next time I receive content that includes lots of extra spaces!

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