2 spaces: the Dodo bird that refuses to die.

Two spaces after a period is typographically incorrect.
You heard me. It’s wrong.

The Sixth edition of the APA Publication Manual suggests 2 spaces after a period. But I refuse to do it. For I can not, in good conscience, commit such a foul deed. We will explore the APA manual a bit later. First, some background.

I know that keying two spaces after a period was likely taught to you in typing class, but you aren’t in typing class anymore. And without being critical of your age, if you (like me) had to take ‘typing’ in high school (as opposed to it’s younger sibling, ‘keyboarding class’) that was a long time ago. It’s okay, just let go. Your typing teacher would probably forgive you for it. Now.

The whole 2 spaces issue arose from a modern invention: monospaced fonts. And where is the most common place where monospaced fonts are needed? You guessed it, the typewriter. You see, in a typewriter, every character is placed on the page the exact same distance from each other. This is necessary of course, because of the mechanical nature of the device. You press the key, the type ‘strikes’ the paper through a ribbon. Every letter is the same distance apart from the next. Which means that some letters, like the letter ‘I’, are going to be further from other letters, like ‘M’. And in order to aid in readability, people came up with the idea of adding an extra space at the end of a sentence. In the late 60’s, IBM developed the Executive Model D typewriter, which featured proportional spacing (IBM archives, 2012), but it was expensive at over $700 in 1969, and by the time the technology really caught on, the damage had already been done.

With computers, we do not need monospaced fonts anymore. Probably one of the only examples of a monospaced font on your computer is Courier. You don’t use that one, right? I hope not. Why? Because it looks like it came from a typewriter, that’s why!

Typeface fonts are created with what’s called ‘proportional’ spacing. Professional typesetters have been using proportional fonts from since before typewriters were invented. Gutenberg used proportional type. What that means is that when you put the letter ‘i’ in between two letter ‘M’s, there isn’t a huge gap of whitespace. A proportional font closes the gap. The type, as a result, is set properly and therefore is easier to read, with characters looking like they belong together in a cohesive word. And the space at the end of a sentence is plenty large enough (deliberately) to do it’s job. Two spaces is overkill. The Chicago Manual of Style specifies one space (University of Chicago Press, 2010).

Which brings me back to the APA 6th. I have been told that the manual specifies 2 spaces after a period, which is odd, because we are commonly working in Times New Roman, a proportional font. Let’s look in the book: Item 4.1 says “Spacing twice after punctuation marks at the end of a sentence aids readers of draft manuscripts” (American Psychological Association, 2010, p. 88). Compared to the other rules in the manual, this one sounds a little weak, and refers specifically to draft documents. Which could mean articles written for a class, for instance. This is causing what you might call “cognitive dissonance”. I actually teach my students not to use two spaces, and now I am being asked to do the opposite.

Looks like this is shaping up to become my own personal academic rebellion. I’m going to be writing a lot of reports for this master’s degree, but I’m not going to be able to break away from using only one space, even though the APA suggests it. Who’s with me?

Note: After writing my rant above, I went looking for other writers to back up my argument, and found this excellent article on the subject from Slate Magazine that pretty much echoes what I said above.:
http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2011/01/space_invaders.html

References

American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. Washington: American Psychological Association.

The Chicago manual of style. (2010). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

IBM Archives: IBM Office Products Division highlights – page 2. (n.d.).IBM – United States. Retrieved August 22, 2012, from http://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/exhibits/modelb/modelb_office2.html

7 Replies to “2 spaces: the Dodo bird that refuses to die.”

  1. I love that you are possibly even more passionate about the two-space debate than I am. I agree with you wholeheartedly. My blood boils when any of my content writers use two spaces, and I often refer them to Chicago.

    As a side note I like this new, more aggressive Ken, apparently now that you aren’t going for marks anymore the gloves are off!

  2. Okay, I admit it. I am a double-spacer and I refuse to change! I not only learned to do the double spacing when taking “typing” in high school, but the double space was also key during my career in law. So it’s ingrained. The fact that I can now type about 85 wpm without thinking about it also makes it difficult to stop doubling spacing. Guess I’m just an old fart. 😉

    1. Yep – you are a lost cause! 😉 But seriously, because typing is one of those activities we learn to do without thinking, it’s terribly difficult to change. At 85WPM your brain is already moving well into composing the next sentence as you blow by those two spaces. What I find most interesting is the idea that we have created the 2 spaces specification based on the limitations of a mechanical device. Typesetters can (self-admittedly) be seriously elitist, yet the typewriter was cheap and accessible for generations of people. I typically find myself at the front of a class of students that are studying typography, and that’s where my rant can usually make the biggest impact!

  3. I’m a two-spacer as well, and I have adapted by doing a “find and replace” on all my periods with two spaces afterward, bringing them back down to one. Alas, this doesn’t work so well with going from one space to two – too many false positives get changed unnecessarily. So fight the good fight, Ken and Danielle!

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