Writers: Stop Using Two Spaces After a Period

This morning at the day job, I worked in the computer lab and the fourth graders came in to write up some poems they had been working on. While giving directions, the teacher said, “When you type a period, you have to type two spaces before the next sentence.”

I almost had a heart attack.

It’s not the teacher’s fault. She was taught the same thing through college, and she is only a few years younger than I. Many of my co-workers—teachers and administrators—do the same thing. To my surprise, so, too, do many of my writing colleagues.

Rather than get into why the two spaces convention died, I’ll point you to “Space Invaders: Why you should never, ever use two spaces after a period” by Farhad Manjoo for Slate. It includes the required snark and typography elitism.

Now, writers, here’s why you definitely shouldn’t do it.

Go pick a book up off your shelf. Do you see two spaces after every period? Nope. Go pick up a newspaper. Do you see two spaces after every period? Nope (at least, not in any non-fully-justified text, like captions). It really is a dead convention.

So, writer, if you turn in a manuscript with two spaces after the period, you know what happens? Someone has to go in and strip those out. Now, to be fair, there are easy ways to do this in any word processor app worth a damn. However, the proofreader and final designer will still have to be aware of it.

Assuming we’re dealing with professional editors and publishers, of course. In self publishing and small presses, this could be missed, especially if they’re dumping straight from Word to the final product on CreateSpace or Smashwords. Even with some major publishers, things like this have gone unnoticed. Then the writer catches some, if not all, of the blame.

It makes more sense to turn in something as close to the finished product as possible. It saves time and headaches, and your editors will thank you for it. Is it a tough habit to break? Absolutely. I’m sure some of us have a few more bad habits we picked up from school way back when, but it’s not something we should be passing on to the next generation.

That’s why I passed that Slate article on to every teacher in my district. The responses so far amount to “mind blown.” If it results in changes in instruction, I’ll have done my good deed for the year.

Editors and publishers of the future: you’re welcome.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

16 comments

  1. PH says:

    It’s worth noting that the Manjoo piece in slate is fully of nonsense, even if you agree with the conclusion: http://www.heracliteanriver.com/?p=324

    • Mike says:

      A very interesting read. Thanks for sharing.

      I have to disagree with his “people want two spaces” theory, however. My Twitter feed has blown up with writers, most of whom are trying to break the habit. The people who still want them are the minority.

      I’m not saying it’s wrong, my only point is the extra spaces generally disappear from the final product. It creates extra work throughout the production chain. It makes more sense (to me) to kill them from the beginning.

  2. Angela Barry says:

    Although I appreciate your difficulty, I wrote the APA people before about this issue because I *hate* the change. I still remember the day in class where we were all taking turns reading aloud. We were learning punctuation and still struggling with new words as well. Spotting that little dot to tell us to end a sentence was difficult. Then the teacher told us there was a longer gap at the end of a sentence than between words. Guess how many errors we had after that tidbit? A lot less. It also increases the white space on the page so it isn’t as eye-straining. The people at APA said the change was optional not mandatory. But it doesn’t *feel* very optional. Single-spacing was used in newspapers because they had severe space limitations. This was said to be “informal” style and not to be used by us in class. I’ve seen the argument that word processors can make everything all nice now and it isn’t needed. Yet I see sentences with w o r d s s t r e t c h e d o u t l i k e t h i s by word processing software attempting to adjust the sentence and it makes it even harder, not easier to read. That double space can still come in handy to know when the sentence properly ended. I can accept that some use this style, but I do not care for it and after being trained by nuns, I can’t do it. I can’t.

    • Mike says:

      It’s not so much my problem as it is the publishers’ and designers’ problems. However, let’s consider something here. Given your reading in class, what’s more proper, to look at the dot (period) or to look at the whitespace? Why should it be different when there’s an exclamation point or a question mark at the end of the sentence?

      Further, we read with single spaces after periods all the time. We also tend to pick up the exclamation point and question mark very easily, sometimes before we’ve consciously seen the thing. I’ve noticed this many times when reading a passage in front of an audience, whether it’s reading from my own work or not.

      Consider, too, how the habit was drilled into you. Nuns also beat left-handedness out of my father. He went back to writing with his left hand, but he can still write passably with his right and he does just about everything else from clicking a mouse to swinging a golf club to using a firearm with his right hand.

      We are all creatures of habit, whether those habits are bad or good. If you like two spaces, hey, carry on. There’s no shame in it, much as the Slate article seems to suggest there should be.

  3. Tyson says:

    If I’m using a monospaced font such as Courier (or more likely Consolas, Inconsolata or Andale Mono), I use two spaces for the same reason that was the convention with typewriters — making it vastly easier to identify the break between sentences; otherwise, I use one space, which proportional fonts should automatically embiggen after a period (just as typesetters do) for the same reason, thereby making the double-space unnecessary.

  4. Judy dickinson says:

    I do like a double space. For years I had to teach the single space theory, but I think that a double space aids readability. I also think we should double space after question marks and exclamation marks for consistency which negates that point.

    I shall continue to champion the double space!!

    • Mike says:

      I hear the argument from readability a lot, but the funny thing is, there’s very little we read out there that includes the double spacing. I’ll be posting some follow-up thoughts in a new post today.

  5. Nancy says:

    As a student/adult with a disability, if I am to read something out loud at church or in front of the classroom, I re-type everything and add the double spaces. This tells my brain to pause, otherwise I read everything as if it was a single sentence without taking a breath. I can’t “see” the difference between a , and . and the spacing tells me which it really is. When I am reading to my self, I sometimes have to stop and re-read the sentence for I didn’t stop end up paying more attention to the punctuations and less to the concepts. Spacing is a visual factor which enables me to overcome my disability. As you see, when I type, I need to see my sentences so I use double spacing which enables me to see where the sentences begin and end. Single spacing is great for everyone — except for someone like me with reading difficulties.

    • Mike says:

      In that case, absolutely continue to do what works for you.

      Notice, however, that your comment on the page, once published, has stripped the extra spaces. HTML programming, by design, dumps extra spaces. Why? I’m not sure, actually. There’s no reason the computer couldn’t pick it up, but it follows the (admittedly new) convention.

      I would also suggest trying different fonts and see how it affects your readability. Clearly you can read it in your head without the extra spaces, so I wonder if you couldn’t train yourself to slow down with whatever you are reading. I’m also curious, do you read passages directly from a Bible in church without the spaces? I don’t know your disability and I certainly don’t mean to trivialize it, I’m just wondering how changing some other factors might change your experience, if at all.

  6. I am over a half-century old and I honestly don’t remember being taught to use double spaces after the period! How odd.

  7. […] me who care about such things. This week, writer Mike Oliveri, also championing the single space, mentioned it again on his blog. It was a perfectly nice post; I personally am a one-spacer myself. But then this […]

  8. I was never taught to use double spaces. Any time I accidentally put an extra space in between sentences or words, it sticks out to me like a neon light. The worst are people who don’t use periods or spaces at all,,,they separate thoughts by commas,,,and that’s really annoying.

    One useful thing I learned in college concerned dashes. Nobody had told me up to that point about en dashes vs. em dashes.

  9. […] already talked about what I think of typing two spaces after a period, but there’s really no standard requirement behind it. Double spacing between lines, […]

  10. […] then, the period is no different from manuscript habits like using two spaces after a period or double-spacing after line breaks. I once drove an editor mad with tabs at the beginning of […]