Double space after periods? Just say no!

It used to be acceptable to type a double space after periods. Why did the rules change?

One space between sentences.

I know, I know. Most of us who learned to type on one of those—whatchamacallit—typewriters have a thing for hitting the space bar twice.

Unfortunately, that “two spaces” rule is going the way of the dinosaur. Modern word-processing programs are intuitive. Did you know they automatically insert a little more room after the end period, question mark, or exclamation point so that you don’t have to?

As a matter of fact, you shouldn’t. As you’re typing away at the keyboard, it may seem counterintuitive (or even wrong) to only add one space at the end of a sentence. You might even feel as though you’re committing the unpardonable sin!

But maybe—just maybe—the time has come to stop inserting two spaces after ending punctuation. 

If my word doesn’t hold enough sway to convince you, here are few more voices on the subject.

Butterick’s Practical Typography

Spaced Out

Space Invaders

Grammar Girl: How Many Spaces After a Period?

GOOD Design Daily: Do You Double Space After Periods?

Though it was once acceptable, many think it’s a habit worth breaking. Are you game? If I could learn to stop using a double space after periods, I’m confident you can too!

Are you a one-spacer or a two-spacer? What do you think about this somewhat-controversial subject? 

Copyright 2013 © by Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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Photo: Henry Bush, courtesy of Creative Commons.
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20 comments ↓

#1 Mary on 01.22.13 at 1:06 pm

Funny that you posted this today. There is a dear woman in our church is a former magazine editor. She has been after me to “fix” my blog and only write with one space at the end of a sentence. I just sent her this article! It is such a hard habit to break. I was taught in typing (so many years ago in high school) to always put 2 spaces after a period. It is a physical habit that will be hard to break. Thanks for this post!

#2 Dawn Casey on 01.22.13 at 1:33 pm

I was taught that way too, obviously more than twenty years ago. Yep, I had a typewriter, and it was a nifty new one, too, that would “erase” if you made mistakes. Computers were pretty dumb and they also didn’t have word processors that made things all pretty. Now, like she says, the end of the sentence has “a little bit more space”. If, like in Ye Olden Daze, the space looked like, oh…a space!! then there would be a problem. Fortunately, it auto corrects it to not squish all the sentences together.

And for the record I did have to check and see how I’d typed this paragraph. I actually used one space after the periods :)

#3 Kim on 01.22.13 at 2:43 pm

You’re right, Mary: It’s a hard habit to break. After 30+ years of inserting two spaces, I finally got into the swing of using just one space. If I could relearn this in my “elderly” mid-40s, I’m confident anyone can!

#4 Kim on 01.22.13 at 2:44 pm

Thanks for commenting, Dawn. Sounds like you’ve been there too!

#5 Shauna on 01.22.13 at 3:59 pm

If you aren’t still writing documents on an IBM Selectric II, what you learned in typing class about spacing after a period isn’t relevant. This isn’t a new thing. It’s been the standard in publishing for decades. I learned two spaces in high school typing class. I soon had to break that habit and use one space in college when I started working on the school paper—over 20 years ago. I’m surprised it’s still such a contentious issue after so long.

#6 Kim on 01.22.13 at 5:05 pm

Thanks for stopping by, Shauna. I’m surprised at how personal a topic this is! Lots more comments here at our Facebook page.

#7 Megan Z on 01.23.13 at 3:59 am

I had no idea! I’m definitely a two space gal (I did it while typing these comments) from way back when. I just started a business/blog with two friends so this is very timely. My children are just working on their keyboarding skills and this is something I’m going to teach them as I try hard to break the habit. I see a lot of backspacing in my future! I’m going to Beech next weekend and I’m looking forward to meeting you and learning more.

#8 Kim on 01.23.13 at 9:19 am

I’m not quite sure how or when I learned that one space had become standard, but I know it was a long time ago! And I also know it didn’t take me nearly as long to break the habit as I thought it would. Of course, it helps that I do a LOT of typing, so I had lots of practice! ;)

BEECH is going to be amazing! Looking forward to making loads of new friends–including you!

#9 Jennifer on 01.23.13 at 12:38 pm

As a homeschool mother, my 14 year old is delighted that I just shared this with her! I have been pounding the “two space” rule into all of her writing! I will let her be the victor on this one ;)

#10 Carolyn Lystig on 01.23.13 at 1:29 pm

When I receive a Word document to edit, the first thing I do is a search and replace—searching for two spaces and replacing them with one! A good title for a book is “The Mac Is Not a Typewriter!” In the old days when each letter took the same amount of space, the two spaces after a period made sense. Now with various type faces it does not. With two spaces you get rivers of space down the page. Any good book and any good newspaper or magazine has a single space after each period. THANK YOU!

#11 Kim on 01.23.13 at 1:51 pm

Thanks for joining the conversation, Carolyn!

#12 Kim on 01.23.13 at 2:25 pm

What a good mama to concede to your daughter on this, Jennifer!

My 12 yo grandson, upon hearing my conversation about this with his mom yesterday, exclaimed, “Two spaces? When has it ever been two?”

#13 Barbara on 01.23.13 at 2:45 pm

Where do the rules come from, anyway? After two-spacing since 1973 (yes, 1973 when I was in high school) I may not be able to change. Well, when I’m thinking about it, I can, but when I’m typing, I’m thinking about what I’m typing, not about the rules. Why does it matter?

#14 Crystal on 01.23.13 at 3:02 pm

Ahh, I was in the first class in my high school to take typing on a computer. All though high school and college I had teachers write on my papers that I needed to double space. Not all, probably about 1 a year. Generally the next paper I would turn into them I would add an extra space after every word. I had no idea until now exactly what they ment by double space.

#15 Kim on 01.23.13 at 3:54 pm

That’s a great question, Barbara! Just as certain writing and grammar rules evolve with usage and time, I think rules like this one also evolve with the advent of new technology. In the “old days” of typewriters, every space between letters and punctuation marks was identical. Typing an extra space at the end of a sentence kept sentences from running together visually.

However, today’s word-processing programs such as Microsoft Word and OpenOffice are designed to be more intuitive. There’s no longer any need to manually add that extra space because the word processor does it for us. As a matter of fact, adding an extra space can create what’s known as rivers of white space in a block of text. Justifying the text can cause this, but so can double-spacing after ending punctuation.

If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us are resistant to change. Take Facebook, for example: Every time Facebook rolls out a new change, the outcry is huge! But having no choice, we all learn to deal with it. Eventually, we can hardly remember the “old” way at all. Same goes for upgrading computer software or getting a new smartphone or switching from PC to Mac. When forced to learn a new way of doing something, we usually manage to figure it out through lots of practice.

When we first published WriteShop I and II back in 2000, I didn’t know about the one-space rule. But with all the writing I do, I had to make the change for future books, my blog, and articles I write for magazines. When it became mandatory, I was forced, in essence, to learn a new way of doing something. As with any new habit, it takes a bit of time to develop, but once I “got it,” I don’t have to think about it at all. It’s perfectly natural now for me to type one space instead of two. (And I’m afraid I’ve got you beat on this one: I learned to type in 1968! If this old dog can learn a new trick, I’ll bet you can too.)

Again, I don’t know who establishes these rules, but this one is pretty much standard in the publishing industry: Pick up just about any book, magazine, and newspaper and you’ll see the one-space rule in effect. Still, there are plenty of voices speaking in favor of the two-space rule. I’m not going to chase anyone down for refusing to change. ;)

#16 Kim on 01.23.13 at 4:07 pm

Thanks for stopping in, Crystal! While some may refer to two spaces after ending punctuation as “double spacing,” that’s not really accurate.

Double-spacing refers to leaving a blank line between lines of type. When there are no spaces between lines (single-space), there’s no room for editing marks or comments. So when your teachers asked you to double-space, I’m guessing they weren’t referring to the spaces at the end of your sentences. Most likely, they simply wanted you to add extra room between each line of your paper. Make sense?

Setting Line and Paragraph Spacing

#17 Marcy @ Ben and Me on 01.25.13 at 10:17 pm

I’ve been a one-spacer for several years now thanks to working for TOS :)

#18 Kim on 01.26.13 at 6:50 am

Proof that a leopard can, indeed, change her spots, Marcy!

#19 Julieanne on 02.07.14 at 10:01 am

For those of us with visual tracking disorders, even mild cases, the manual two spaces after the end of a sentence is a lifesaver, not rivers of unnecessary white space. :)

#20 Kim Kautzer on 02.07.14 at 10:27 am

That’s a great consideration, Julieanne. It makes complete sense. Do you find that this is the case both online and in print?

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