An unexpected furor popped up among some family friends last month, and because I work as an editor, I was the subject-matter expert (in other words, the controversy swirled around me). And it all started with a 3-year-old online article.
The very important question: How many spaces go after a period ending a sentence?
The question-asker had stumbled upon this article from Slate: Space Invaders: Why You Should Never, Ever Use Two Spaces After A Period.
And it’s full of fightin’ words.
Forget about tolerating differences of opinion: typographically speaking, typing two spaces before the start of a new sentence is absolutely, unequivocally wrong,” Ilene Strizver, who runs a typographic consulting firm The Type Studio, once wrote. “When I see two spaces I shake my head and I go, Aye yay yay,” she told me. “I talk about ‘type crimes’ often, and in terms of what you can do wrong, this one deserves life imprisonment. It’s a pure sign of amateur typography.”
But, yes, the accepted standard is now one space after a period, in all cases. (If you’d like to look it up yourself, it’s in section 6.7 of the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition.)
It came to be with typewriters, which didn’t leave enough visual space between a period and the next letter with just one space. But you probably haven’t touched a typewriter in years, so it’s okay to drop the preference.
I know, it’s likely you learned the habit in school–or maybe just picked it up as a sly way to increase the page count on assigned homework–but you’ll make your editor’s life easier if you slim your manuscript down to just one space after the period. If it’s challenging to unlearn the long-engrained habit, you can also use your search bar in Word to search for two spaces, then use the replace function to replace it with one space (it’ll look like you’re searching for nothing, but this works).
Does it really matter? Not truly. It’s just one of those accepted rules. Consider it like brushing your hair before you leave the house. Sure, you don’t have to, but you’ll look more polished and professional if you do. I don’t care if you put two-three-four! spaces after a period in your personal emails, your journal, your thank-you notes–but when finalizing a manuscript, stick to just one.
5 responses to “Editing Quick Hit: How Many Spaces Go After A Period?”
I was actually also thinking about writing something about that rant after a friend shared it on Facebook a few weeks ago. I still learned to type at school on a typewriter and have been double-spacing ever since. Naturally that article upset me some, so I checked with more objective sources. The New Hart’s Rules (Oxford’s style manual) confirmed it. I’ve been doing it wrong.
It has been hard retraining my thumbs not to insert that extra space these past few weeks, but I think I’m getting there 🙂
In most situations, it really doesn’t matter. Except for the times it does. 😉
From the tone of the Slate piece you’d think it’s the most heinous crime conceivable, though. I’d rather not make an enemy of an editor or a typographer…
Oh man, the article is so snotty! I don’t recommend that kind of attitude in your editor: even-keeled is best. (That way, when we’re mad, the writer REALLY knows it!)
Good advice. I’ll remember it for when I reach that point of the journey (one day).