Single space: the final frontier

Right now, I am a troubled little soul.

You see, I was taught at school that there should be much space in between sentences. Indeed my teacher at the time, in the days of yore before computers were standard issue, literally applied a rule of thumb: there should be a full thumb’s width between a full stop and the subsequent sentence. Even with my rather petite thumbs, this amounted to quite a hefty gap.

On the second day, God invented computers—PCs in the morning; Macs and handheld devices in the afternoon, I believe. To allow me to move beyond my first typed sentence, I subconsciously—if I don’t remember correctly—converted the SI unit of space measurement in the handwritten world (the thumb) into two spaces in the space age, for want of a better phrase. (I’m laughing at that one, even if you’re not.) And ever since the mid-1980s, sentences emanating from my fingers have been succeeded by a double-tap of my right thumb.

(I later discovered that my mum has ever used three spaces, a behaviour that I can only describe as deranged (in the loving sense, of course), similarly deranged to the way in which sticklers will no doubt describe my own double-space habit.)

I always thought it was a style thing, a view likely encouraged by my mum’s quirky behaviour on this front. But my behaviour has drawn an increasing number of frowns of late. Those in the world of publishing—both online and offline—have reliably informed me that such behaviour is not to be accepted, and that one space is the standard.

This is a revelation that I’m happy, nay eager, to embrace. But I expect it will be my equivalent of giving up smoking. Or putting your socks on in the opposite order to which you generally do it (my modus operandi is left, right, btw). It sounds easy. But it’s not. For the split second for which my right foot is besocked and my left one is bare, my world is in utter turmoil.

I will need a support mechanism to help me through the months ahead, to unlearn something that has been a subconscious action for well over half my life.

If you catch me using two spaces, please take me to one side and slap me gently across the face. I expect it will be a rough ride, but I’m hoping you can help me reach the other side a stronger and better person.


9 Responses to “Single space: the final frontier”

  1. Isabell L. on January 14th, 2011 14:36

    I did notice you’d cut down the number of spaces! It wasn’t that long ago that I was asking you what the *actual* rule was! After training myself to use two early last year and then getting knocked back by people online who said it was pointless and that I should only use one, I similarly painfully slipped back myself! For what it’s worth, I was always taught to “finger space” in primary school too.


  2. Dave Briggs on January 14th, 2011 14:54

    I’m a one-spacer but remember when being taught word processing at school in the mind 90s that it ought to be two spaces. So at some point I switched, but don’t know when, or why!

  3. Gavin on January 14th, 2011 15:05

    I’ll be sticking to two spaces, I think. It feels natural, it feels correct, it more closely matches the traditional em-space, it looks nicer in fixed-width fonts, and makes proportional text no less easy to read. It’s also trivial to take a large document and find/replace two spaces into one, should you ever need to. Wanting to go the other way isn’t fun.

    I say: stick with two spaces!

  4. meemalee on January 14th, 2011 15:13

    I feel kinda bad now, but happy to administer a virtual slap whenever required 🙂

    On a vaguely related note, I’ve noticed an increasing number of people putting spaces before exclamation marks eg “I am so happy !”

    This is annoys the hell out of me …

  5. Doug on January 14th, 2011 15:38

    I’m a one-spacer too; always have been. I must have missed the lesson at school when they told us about two (or more) spaces.

  6. Stefan on January 14th, 2011 17:51

    The three spaces rule may be a component of a wider system – I was aware in my early days of typing (by which I mean operating a typewriter) of a school of thought which favoured one space after a comma, two after a colon, and three after a full stop, though I was never that extreme myself.

    I was taught the two space after a full stop rule as part of my introduction to typing as a teenager, using my father’s manual typewriter which he had bought second hand in Germany in the mid-1950s – there was no particular link to the layout of handwritten text.

    I have kept to the two space rule ever since. Or I had until I started using wordpress which can’t manage line breaks properly. So now my technique has inadvertently become:

    1. write post
    2. go back and remove second spaces typed on autopilot
    3. publish post
    4. spot the second spaces missed at step 2
    5. update post.

    I still prefer to think of that as a weakness in wordpress rather than in my typing.

  7. Mum on January 15th, 2011 08:40

    I’m still sticking to three! Hope it doesn’t bother Brian! Nice to be mentioned though! x

  8. JohnnyM on January 15th, 2011 14:25

    Shortly after reading your post I stumbled across the following article.

    I’ve always been a two space man and I think I’m going to stick with it. Out of sheer bloody mindedness if nothing else.

  9. Robert on February 3rd, 2011 05:20

    Short but sweet–Double spaced does not just mean 2 spaces between sentences, it also means 2 spaces between lines and a 5 space indentation for each paragraph.

    Long Answer–When typing a manuscript it’s doubled spaced. Also each paragraph should be indented 1 em(look it up)which is about 5 spaces.

    However when writing for a publication the publication has information on what style reference to use. The best known is the Chicago Manual of style followed by the New York Times Manual of style.

    However double spaced does not only refer to distance between sentences but refers to the distance between lines on a page.

    This is an example of double spaced manuscript submitted for publication

    mmfkdlsjflkgkljwksdgmpwjtpjwep. ashdfleh. ddhnnk

    jhdjkadni. ndsbdjbdjfljfoiejfoi. bfjkhfkehfuhjknfh

    hahqhohfehfeklefjlfnlnf. hbouehfuohfuo.


    Why you may ask? It is so the editor has room to mark corrections on the manuscript, the copy editor has room to make marks to fit grammar, usage and spelling. After these corrections are done it still needs to be resubmitted in double spaced so the designer can then mark their instructions to the typesetter.

    Computers have altered this system but it is not a simple issue as two or one spaces between sentences. However the most important thing about double spacing is the two spaces between the lines not the sentences. Double spaced allows teachers or editors to mark their notes and corrections. If you ever try to mark a manuscript up that is single spaced you will understand.

    My problem is I sometimes include the coma before the and in a series. I believe that is no longer needed but I am not 100 percent sure what way is now correct.

    The Chicago manual of style costs about 200 to 300 dollars so it is not a reference manual that most people would have but it should be in the reference section of most libraries. I am sure the latest edition includes changes caused by the computer age.

    Anyway whomever you are writing for should tell you the style manual to use or tell you what their own style is and have you follow it.

    The big problem is that in the early days of home computing many people who never worked in publishing did not know about manuals of style so they wrote their material in any style they felt like and did not include directions for submissions and comments as most websites don’t have anyone to check submissions or comments so they are posted as received and uncorrected and it is too late to make a computer manual of style or to make people conform to a computer manual of style unless they are submitted for printed publication.

    At some point soon this will probably be a big problem. However if you are submitting a manual for publication to a book publishers you will be told what style to use.

    Told you this was a long answer.


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