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The War of the Spaces

After the period, do you type one space? Or two? Which one is correct?

Well, historically, and yes, considering the typewriter (pre-computers) has been around for over 150 years, we can consider this an historic dilemma, two spaces was the accepted norm. One period – two spaces.

Not anymore. Or, at least, that’s what some people claim. Why the change?

Well, let’s look at the history behind the two spaces. When typewriters were introduced, typists used two spaces after a period to mimic the traditional typesetter style. The spacing between words in typesetting was smaller, hence larger spacing was needed after a period to make it clear that the sentence was complete. This wide sentence spacing was the norm in the printing industry until the mid-twentieth century. Hence the two spaces. It was a format that made it clear to the reader that the sentence had ended.

This form was gradually being phased out in the mid-twentieth century. Computers made the form change more universally accepted. With the introduction of computers and word-processing software which makes fonts proportional, there is no longer a need to insert an extra space to make it visually clear that the sentence has ended; the software has automatically done it for us.

Style guides began insisting that one space after a period was the correct form. The last holdout for this rule was the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA); until 2019, it continued to recommend two spaces after a period. It has since changed its mandate.

Studies have suggested that more spacing between words, and particularly between sentences, facilitates reading, increases one’s ability to read faster (up to 3 percent faster), and the two spaces allow readers to process what they read more thoroughly. In other words, science supports what editors and writers' guidelines are debunking: that two spaces between sentences are really better than one. Apparently, some studies suggest that the eye movement is more succinct when there are two spaces between sentences. That being said, or argued depending on how you look at it, there are places where two spaces are definitely a handicap: like Twitter where every character (which includes spaces) counts. And, not everyone agrees with the study’s conclusions; in fact, many believe that two spaces hinder rather than helps reading and can be unsettling to the reader.

In spite of recent studies that show that readers find two spacing easier to follow, thus resulting in faster reading speed, two spacers have been forced to change to the one spacing rule. However, it’s not so difficult to change. Just type in the style you’re comfortable with and then let the computer software correct the spacing issues. Simply finish your manuscript, then use the EDIT – FIND – REPLACE format to find all the two spaces that need to be made into one. Something else to note, if the pagination of the text is right-justified, there’s all kinds of extra spacing throughout each line of text to make it all fit neatly into the box.

All a matter of perspective, but it looks like, arguments and scientific studies aside, one space after a period is here to stay. So, as writers, we may as well surrender and accept the rule.

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Emily-Jane Hills Orford