Every now and then I am reminded how entirely new I am to the writing community. Sure, I have been writing on my own for years, and have spent the last two years at home focused on writing, but I have not spent much time reaching out and connecting with other writers. Now that I am branching out, I am learning there are controversies that had not even vaguely entered my realm of awareness. It is almost frightening, knowing these issues are out there, because occasionally I am quite viciously attacked for something I was not aware was a breach of writing protocol. (Though I should note, most people are rather polite in their corrections.)
One of these recent missteps of mine came during a read through. Several writers are submitting an opening chapter, and giving each other notes, something I am sure is a regular occurrence around the world. I typed my chapter, sent it in, and waited for my notes. The first note I received was a very adamant, almost angry comment that I should NEVER put two spaces after a period.
This surprised me. From my very first typing class (on a computer) my teacher was very clear that you always put two spaces after ending a sentence. I’m not sure if they ever really told us why, it was just what you do, and just like any other writing or grammar rule, we did it because we were told to. Now after over twenty years of typing, double tapping my space bar at the end of a sentence is so ingrained I don’t even notice I do it anymore. It has become almost as automatic as capitalizing the first word of a sentence, or hitting the tab key for paragraph beginnings. To suddenly hear it was wrong, shocked me, and naturally sent me into a research frenzy.
As soon as my husband came home, I asked him how many spaces he thought were correct and received the same answer I had been taught, two spaces. When my daughter, currently in middle school came home I asked her the same thing and was told ‘I don’t know. Nobody cares, one I guess?” Apparently she was spared the typing teacher who cared enough to make you redo the entire thing, even if you could have just gone through and added spaces. So far, it looked like it might have been a simple result of a generation gap. I don’t consider myself excessively old yet, but at some point between my education and my daughter’s education, they changed the rule.
While my family was there to answer my immediate questions, they were not exactly experts on the argument. I took to the internet, and began searching. I wasn’t certain I would find the answer, but I knew I would find angry people who were certain they were right. At least I would walk away with both sides of the argument.
One of the first articles I found was written by a person who was clear that two spaces is wrong. Seriously, I didn’t know the space bar could elicit such an emotional response, but this person knew one space was right, and everyone else needs to keep up with society. Anyone who dares to use double spacing is, in the author’s eyes, amateurish and ignorant. While they were definitely wrong about it being an inarguable point, since there was clearly an argument, it gave me a little insight into the point of view. Writers Digest and a person known as Grammar Girl seemed to agree, even giving the same story.
According to these sources, the double space rule came from the early use of typewriters where all letters were given the same amount of space no matter their size, known as monospaced type. The double space rule was done, to account for the way the letters looked on the page and give a break between sentences. However, it is argued now, with the use of many different computer fonts, which offer proportional typesetting giving each letter space based on size, there is no longer a need for the second space. Simple enough, right?
Being a person of a balanced nature, I needed to know more, and proceeded to look for the other side of the argument. It only took me a minute to see that not only was there another well written and clear argument in direct opposition of the first, but that the one space argument may not even have all of the facts correct. According to this article the double space standard was not a result of monospaced typing, but came long before that and was always the industry standard. As they say, the single space rule only began about 60 years or so ago as a result of a publisher working to save pages and money by reducing the technically unnecessary spaces that spread a book out a little longer. Agreeing with this article is the American Psychological Association, whose APA formatting standards are used in many published papers for Social Science subjects as a way to cite sources.
What it seems to come down to is readability. Both sides are certain that a particular number of spaces between sentences makes a work easier or more difficult to read. Some believe two spaces is too far, and breaks up the reading in an awkward and unfortunate way. Others believe that one space makes things too close, making the reading run together. Neither side can cite a source giving a readability study and a conclusive answer. Really, it is a matter of taste meaning we may never have a conclusive answer as to what makes something easier or more pleasant to read. I’m not sure if I have ever noticed the difference as a reader. I focus on the words, not the spaces in between.
Writing this post, I intentionally switched from double spacing to single spacing part way through, and it was almost physically painful to only do one space. The habit is there, and it is hard to break, especially when I am not sure there is any real reason to break it. The argument seems inconclusive to me; everyone is sure they are correct, and sure they know why, but the arguments don’t necessarily hold up. It is a matter of taste, and who taught you to type. As a person, I have my habits, but as a writer, I want to be professional. It’s not just fitting in, it is projecting the image of a person who knows what they are talking about. What if agents are turned off from my work because of the number of spaces I place between sentences? Perhaps they may decide I do not have the necessary writing knowledge because there is too much white space on the page. While I may want to be judged for my ideas and words, I cannot deny my ability to present them is a factor. If I need to adapt, as painful as it may feel at the time, I will adapt.
How many spaces do you use after a sentence? Why? Should I adapt to a one space typing style?