Column – Stop putting two spaces after periods

January 18, 2010 — Leave a comment

Originally published in The Daily Toreador.

When I joined the editorial board of this newspaper, I expected to deal with an occasional misspelling. An occasional grammatical error. The far-too-often disregard for AP style. What I didn’t expect to be infuriated so much by was double spacing.

Farhad Manjoo over at Slate.com published a pretty good and well-researched piece recently on why putting two spaces after a sentence is always and completely wrong. You should look it up if you’re interested. I’m not going to spend my time here talking about how typographers have supported single spacing for a long time now, nor am I going to try to cite scientific studies that prove that I’m right and you’re oh-so-very wrong. Instead, I want to speak from my heart for a moment and share my personal testimony on how double-spacing ruins lives.

OK, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but it is a problem. I’ve dabbled in several areas of publishing now — from newspapers to fiction to screenplays to the Internet — and in all of them, one space after a period is the rule, not just a preference. It’s not a matter of, “We’d like you to use only one space, but do whatever feels right to you.” It’s a matter of, “Don’t use two spaces or our copy editor will hunt you down and gut you like a fish.”

In the case of newspapers it can be especially crucial. We’re given a limited (and diminishing) amount of space as it is, and while we work pretty hard to make sure the paper is aesthetically pleasing to you and words don’t look cramped or clustered when you read them, we do want to give you more quality content. Every unneeded space takes away room for potentially good writing.

Yes, personal aesthetic preferences do play at least a small role in this argument. When I’m editing a column or a letter to the editor and I see that it makes use of double spacing, part of my soul dies simply because I hate the way double spacing looks. But it also makes my job just a little more frustrating at times, seeing as how I’m the one who has to remove all the redundant spaces before the piece goes to print.

“But master,” you say, “with modern technology’s ‘find and replace’ tools, fixing that mistake only takes a couple of clicks.” You’re right; fixing the problem isn’t typically a huge ordeal. However, those few clicks are a few clicks I could have spent on Facebook instead of editing, and really, which clicks are more valuable when it comes to that?

Plus, there’s always the issue of spacing typos. Occasionally a single spacer will accidently put two spaces after a period. That’s fine, it happens. But when a double spacer similarly slips up, you end up with the dreaded three spaces after a sentence, and that just makes kittens cry. I’ve even dealt with a few instances of four spaces after a period, and I think there’s a verse in the Bible somewhere about God considering that an affront to His glorious creation.

Some people try to defend their ugly habits by saying it doesn’t matter with today’s fonts, as two spaces in Times New Roman isn’t as gargantuan as two spaces on a typewriter. But that’s just an addict’s lie. I can tell if you’re high, and I can tell if you used more than one space.

Look, I can typically let the older typists out there slide on this thing. They learned to type back when Moses was mass-producing copies of the Ten Commandments, and old habits die hard. What frustrates me is that schools are still teaching children that putting two spaces after a period is the right thing to do. It hasn’t been right since the time of typewriters.

A quick Google search will bring up Internet posts from people who say they’re still being taught to double space, even today. A quick poll of my friends and columnists confirms this. Teachers are still teaching the practice because that’s how they were taught, and it’s a cycle they don’t plan on ending.

The problem is, that’s like teaching students the earth is flat just because that’s what we’ve taught them for years and we don’t want to invest in better textbooks or risk confusing people. We need to fix this.

If nothing else, the Twitter generation should realize that using two spaces means you have fewer characters with which to tell people how much you love/hate “Twilight.” Consider that.

Putting two spaces after a period is wrong. The sooner we accept that, the sooner we can all recover from this unhealthy addiction. If you’re currently struggling with double spacing, my advice to you is to seek help and to stop now while you’re still young and can make something of yourself. It will only get harder to quit the longer you continue to do it.

Britton Peele

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Freelance video game critic for sites like GameSpot and GamesRadar. Amateur fantasy author.

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