Tag Archive for editing

Double-Spacing: Another Relic of the Typewriter Era?

I’ve 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, however, is a whole different animal. Some editors still require double spacing in their submission guidelines, and most teachers still require their students double space their work per MLA format guidelines.

MLA format also says, “Leave only one space after periods or other punctuation marks (unless otherwise instructed by your instructor).” To me, this demonstrates that two spaces after a period is an artifact of academia: some teachers are enforcing it out of habit and because it’s how they learned, not because there’s a practical reason to do so, so MLA takes the middle ground.

Have we reached the point where double-spaced lines of text should be treated the same way? If an editor or a teacher requires double-spaced manuscripts, then of course the paper should be turned in that way, but why? It’s time to discuss letting it die as a standard, if not a habit.

The first argument is for readability, but as with two spaces after a period, that’s subjective. We spend hours a day reading without double-spaced paragraphs, both on the Internet and in print. This is when the argument turns to readability for proofreading, where the eye is better able to spot errors. I’m with you there.


I still prefer to proofread in print, but I don’t double space. For me, a printed manuscript is not so much for readability as it is the feel of taking a pencil (yes, a mechanical pencil, because that’s how I roll) to a manuscript to tear it apart. Some writers prefer the nostalgia of a red pen carving a bloody trail of destruction across their beloved manuscripts.

If a proofreader is reading carefully enough, it shouldn’t matter whether he’s reading on screen or on paper. Our eyes can—and should—be trained for both. So what are the red pen and the double spacing about? Efficiency and clarity in communicating corrections.

Yet there’s a computer sitting right there. Don’t worry, we’re coming to that.

Double spacing a manuscript is not for the proofreader’s ease in reading, but for the proofreader’s ease in communicating corrections back to the writer (or to a typesetter if we want to go way back). A red pen contrasts with the black ink so the writer sees every correction, and the double spacing gives the proofreader room to lay down edits and notes. If an editor or a teacher chooses to rewrite a sentence or make a longer note, they’re going to need room to write, right?

Do newspapers still work this way? I wrote and edited for a college newspaper in the ’90s. Our instructor was a former newspaper editor, and we did zero proofreading on paper and never fiddled with double-spacing. Do publishers still work this way? In the last decade, I’ve only turned in one double-spaced manuscript per the editor’s request. I haven’t handled a printed, double-spaced manuscript, proofread by an editor, since high school.

So why are writers and students still doing it? Habit, and because academia says so.

This is for 3rd graders. Elementary teachers love their comic sans.

Proofreading marks would make great Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? questions. We all used (or at least saw) proofreading marks in school, but most adults have forgotten all about them. Hell, a college student at my karate dojo tried to remember some of them while we were proofreading a new manual we’re putting together for students.

We’ve replaced all of this with track changes, commenting, and similar functions in word processors. Even Google Docs now offers a Suggesting mode and allows users to see the entire revision history of a document, and the writer and an editor or teacher can see it all happen in realtime. It’s more efficient than passing papers back and forth and is a much faster and more direct way of communicating.

College students already turn in their work electronically, so colleges are already halfway there. Most K-12 schools are starting to make the change, too. 1:1 programs (1 device to 1 student) are the new trend, whether with laptops or tablets, so every student has an electronic workflow. At the school I work for, every student from grades 6-12 has a Chromebook or laptop and a Google Apps account.

At the elementary level, we’re seeing long-form writing replaced by multimedia presentations and blog-style electronic journaling. Elementary students at my school still write papers longhand occasionally, but even proofreading marks are starting to die out. One of my sons saw them in 2nd grade, but the other has never seen them. They had two different teachers, one of which is in her third decade of teaching, and the other has been teaching less than ten years. Guess which one taught proofreading marks?

That all said, I spoke to a second-year junior high English teacher who requires double-spaced papers, even electronically. He finds seventh graders’ run-on sentences and similar issues are tough to parse in single-spaced text. However, he also admits he requires it because “that’s how it’s commonly done,” and because it’s easier to communicate page-length requirements to students.

Readability, again, is subjective. By high school, and certainly on a professional level, students and writers should be past the point where their writing can’t be parsed in single-spaced text. I’m much more interested in the why of things over “because we’ve always done it that way.” The latter is a dangerous statement, and only invites stagnation.

As for his page-length requirements, it’s not hard to say “give me half a page” instead of one double-spaced page. I suggested word count, but he feels if he required 500 words, they’d stop writing at word 501. They won’t do the same when they hit the end of a page? In any event, these things can be corrected through education and grading.

Double spacing is worth debating. If even academia is starting to make the switch, then maybe it’s time to revisit double spacing as a standard. I can see arguments on both sides, but I think we’re better off taking steps to dump it. Let’s start drilling the habit of proofreading accurately in regular text into our students instead.

And by the way, how many of us catch ourselves proofreading websites, books, magazines, and newspapers? We do it all the time, even when we’re not consciously thinking about it. We tell ourselves it’s easier one way or the other, but we read single-spaced text (with one space after periods!) all day.

If double-spacing manuscripts is already a habit for you, by all means, carry on. If a publisher, editor, or agent requires it, then definitely do it! I just see no reason to keep drilling it into students as a requirement, or to require writers to use double spacing if we’re going to use an electronic workflow through the rest of the publishing process.

I imagine pretty soon it will become optional, just like those two spaces after a period.

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.

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.

Old School Editing

One of my editors kicked a manuscript back to me on paper a couple of weeks ago. I can’t remember the last time I did a paper edit, and even then, it was on my own. I’ve never had an editor send me an old-school, marked-up manuscript before.

Editing progressing well. Page 244 of 314.

Making with the red ink.

I used to print manuscripts myself for editing all the time. I feel like I catch more errors that way, and I get a better idea of the flow of things. I would sit somewhere quiet, away from the computer, and go through the whole thing, then key the edits in later.

Lately, however, an editor would kick their corrections back to me using Track Changes in a word processor like Word or Pages, maybe leave some comments, and then I’d accept or reject, attach my own comments, and return the file. It’s not as hands-on or organic, but it does streamline the workflow and speeds up the process.

Coming down the home stretch. #amwriting

Something to drink, some music, and a quiet place to work.

I don’t know that I have a preference anymore. There’s definitely some nostalgia in doing it on paper, and it was fun to dust off old skills like reading the proofreading marks and seeing typography notes. When it comes down to it, though, this is work, not hobby, and what the editor wants is what the editor gets. Some editors still want subs double spaced and in Courier font, and I will never argue. On the other hand, as fun and challenging as it might be to write something on a typewriter, I’m sure many editors wouldn’t touch it because of the work it would create for them.

The main reason my editor went this route is he’d already formatted the manuscript for print. This wasn’t a done deal, and he started off by fiddling around and playing with design work. Pretty soon it became the real thing, and it didn’t make much sense to send me a file that I may accidentally screw up his design work on. His final round of proofing would be that much more difficult, and it would delay release plans.

In the future, I’m sure we’ll be right back to our digital methods, and that’s just fine.

Booyah. Tomorrow, the post office.

Booyah! It should have arrived back in his hands today.

Writing “Draft Complete” at the end of this one was almost as satisfying as typing “THE END” at the end of the first draft. I still owe him some ancillary materials for the book, but in general it’s just about ready for print. I’m looking forward to it.

So what’s the project? Well, I can tell you it’s not Lie with the Dead, though that book is through the final round of editorial and is back in my hands for the final revisions. We just haven’t announced anything formal with this project yet.

But I did post a teaser a short time ago…

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.