One Space, Two Spaces…Potato, Potahto?

What do the AP Stylebook, Chicago Manual of Style, and MLA Style Manual have in common? They all recommend using a single space after a period. I’m with them, although I wouldn’t get worked up about it.

Farhad Manjoo’s with them too, but he does get worked up about it. He doesn’t mince words in this Slate article in which he writes, “Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.” He’s clearly not a fan of the “two spacers.”

If you went to high school in the years before typing class morphed into keyboarding, as I did, you were probably taught to use two spaces after a period (while typing on your IBM Selectric).

There was a reason two spaces were preferred for typewritten documents. Typewriters give characters the same amount of space without regard to how skinny or wide they are. In a line of type in which a skinny i takes up as much paper as a wide w, putting an extra space after a period arguably makes it easier to see when one sentence ends and the next one begins. That makes sense for those who are using a typewriter or a monospace typeface like Courier, but that’s a rarity these days.

So with the rationale for using two spaces having become obsolete, shouldn’t we drop the extra space? What do you think, are you a two-spacer or a one-spacer? You can answer by posting a comment or taking the poll below.

In Category: Contract Law Basics and Tips

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Show 10 Comments
  • William Carleton April 17, 2011, 9:00 am

    Brian, I’ve been a two-spacer guy for most of my adult life. This habit I must have learned in Mr. Bay’s 8th grade typing class (most useful class I’ve ever taken, by far). We typed then on manual typewriters (you are showing your youth by referencing IBM Selectrics — either that, or a posher Jr. High than I attended!). But, sigh, I’ve largely given up the two space discipline in the last couple of years . . .

    • Brian Rogers April 17, 2011, 10:42 am

      Bill: I would have pegged you as a one-spacer. Maybe I’m making a false connection in my mind between one’s comfort with technology and one’s typography preferences that doesn’t exist in reality. One thing’s for certain…there are more two-spacers than I expected.

      Thanks for stopping by the blog. It’s a new project–about three months old–so it’s still taking shape. So far, I’ve tried to keep all the posts on a contracts topic. Still, I couldn’t resist putting together a page of collected links to interesting discussions about law practice, business models, and the changes our profession is experiencing. If the pieces referenced aren’t already on your radar, I think you’d find many of them stimulating. You can access the page (which is in a back room of the blog) by clicking the “Law Business Model Discussion” link at the top of the left column, or just click here: thecontractsguy.netlaw-business-model-discussion/ . If asked for a password, just say “speakeasy.”

  • bradleybclark January 31, 2012, 6:44 am

    I have been a two-spacer most of my life as well. I changed in law school while on the law journal. I still catch myself every-now-and-then hitting the space bar twice.

  • D. C. Toedt August 15, 2012, 8:40 am

    Two spaces makes it easier for skimmers to skip to the end of the next sentence. (In long contract paragraphs I occasionally use the pilcrow ¶ too, sometimes along with (a), (b), (c), etc.)

  • Veronica P August 15, 2012, 3:56 pm

    One-spacer. Rarely saw double-spaced documents during my practice (Southern Europe).
    I’m reading “Typography for Lawyers” by Butterick, who also condemns the practice. As you noticed, it sounds like a practice linked to typewriting with old machines, on paper.
    Now not only we have computers, but we also read on screens. Modern, digital-optimized typography options made this practice obsolete IMHO, or, as developers say, “deprecated”.

    • D. C. Toedt August 15, 2012, 5:13 pm

      Most one-spacer arguments I’ve seen have stressed the argument from authority: Publication X says one space, therefore that’s the way we should do it. Sometimes the one-spacers say that two spaces makes the text less visually attractive because of the supposed ugliness of a river of space running down the page.

      It seems to me, though, that far and away the most important criterion is readability. I don’t recall seeing ANY studies saying that readers generally find one space to be more readable, and my own personal experience is the opposite.

      • Veronica P August 17, 2012, 2:55 pm

        Well, authority is a pretty good argument, particularly among lawyers! 🙂
        Also, the “authorities” took the time to justify their position. “Ugliness” is also a readability problem. Maybe your perception of “better readability” between sentences could be better addressed by using a different font, or adding more white space between lines. I find double spaced, particularly in print, slightly distracting, probably because I’m not used to it. It’s not surprising that the habit of double spacing could make it seem more readable compared to “normal” spacing.

  • Denise Bossert February 3, 2014, 8:15 am

    As one who writes and edits many long documents of technological or legal bent, I find two spaces after a full stop much easier to read and review.

  • Sara Mendoza February 3, 2014, 7:45 pm

    My two cents. I am also an old timer and was taught to use two spaces based on the grammar rules of the time. I believe two spaces are easier to see that a sentence has ended and a new or related sentence is beginning. This can be particularly important in legal matters to avoid misunderstanding. In my opinion, the new generations are with the advent of the IPhone and Texting, the English language writing is becoming too informal and too quick. People do not take the time to review and/or proofread their writings even when they are dealing with business writings.

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