The Great Space Debate

The Copyeditor's Handbook cover imageIn a recent column for Slate, Farhad Manjoo takes up a cause for the ages: typing only one space after the end of a sentence. “Typing two spaces after a period,” he says, “is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.” To support his claim, Manjoo brings in some authoritative sources. He talks to James Felici, author of the The Complete Manual of Typography, who says that after a long period of inconsistent spacing, typesetters adopted the one-space rule around the early 20th century. Further, the Modern Language Association Style Manual and the Chicago Manual of Style both proscribe a single space, as does Amy Einsohn’s popular guide, The Copyeditor’s Handbook, published by UC Press. Manjoo traces the double-spacing convention back to the manual typewriter’s monospace type, which gives every character equal horizontal space. People found it hard to distinguish between sentences, and began adding an extra space to enhance readability.

Even though modern guides advocate the one-space rule, many people still cling to their spaces. It may have to do with the way we were taught in school. A teacher Manjoo interviews admits to requiring her students to use two spaces after a period, even though she knows the approach is no longer favored. “Primarily, I base the spacing on the way I learned,” she explains. Judging from the 2,080+ comments posted in response to the article, the decision to use one space or two is still a hot button issue. The proponents of the two-space rule refuse to go down without a fight, passionately arguing that using two spaces aids in comprehension and is more aesthetically pleasing. And many of the commenters point out that spacing conventions vary according to profession. One person writes, “Lawyers are always required to use 2 spaces. Judges demand it, and law schools teach it.”

Ultimately, it’s a question of values—do you follow the book, or simply do what works for you? What’s your take, readers? Should we be using one space or two?

2 thoughts on “The Great Space Debate

  1. Haha! I remember my teachers growing up insisting on the 2-space after period rule. I think I eventually ditched the habit when instant messaging became popular, and efficiency became more important than following the rules of my elementary school english class!

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