Avenue 25 - Advertising and Design

Single or Double Space?

Lindi Koprivnikar - Art Director Lindi Koprivnikar Art Director

Ah, the dreaded double/single space debate. Some folks are just downright passionate about this topic. Do you double space after a sentence? Or single space? Or do you go buck wild and type 3 or 4 spaces after a period?

Let’s start with a little history about standard spacing practices. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentence_spacing

Since the introduction of movable-type printing in Europe, various sentence spacing conventions have been used in languages with a Latin alphabet. These include a normal word space (as between the words in a sentence), a single enlarged space, two full spaces, and, most recently in digital media, no space.

Until the 20th century, publishing houses and printers in many countries used additional space between sentences. There were exceptions to this traditional spacing method—some printers used spacing between sentences that was no wider than word spacing. This was French spacing—a term synonymous with single-space sentence spacing until the late 20th century. With the introduction of the typewriter in the late 19th century, typists used two spaces between sentences to mimic the style used by traditional typesetters. While wide sentence spacing was phased out in the printing industry in the mid-twentieth century, the practice continued on typewriters and later on computers. Perhaps because of this, many modern sources now incorrectly claim that wide spacing was created for the typewriter.

Today the desired or correct sentence spacing is often debated. Many sources now say additional space is not necessary or desirable. From around 1950, single sentence spacing became standard in books, magazines and newspapers. However some sources still state that additional spacing is correct or acceptable. The debate continues, notably on the World Wide Web—as many people use search engines to try to find what is correct. Many people prefer double sentence spacing for informal use because that was how they were taught to type. There is a debate on which convention is more readable, but the few recent direct studies conducted since 2002 have produced inconclusive results.

Now that you have a little historical perspective, let’s talk modern day. A lot of people think it just looks more aesthetically pleasing to use 2 spaces, or they maintain it’s the way they were taught. Others (typographers) think it’s an outdated way of typing.

Who’s right? Typographers, that’s who: people who specialize in the arrangement of type matter. Sounds cocky, I know, but we’re really nerdy people in general so give us this ounce of power. And you don’t have to take my word for it, I am prepared to defend my stance.

First and foremost, the double space leaves giant holes within the body of text. To a typographer and designer, it looks like a river of random white spaces. It makes our eyes twitch a little.

Secondly, the text flows more smoothly with just a single space, and there are no pregnant pauses in between sentences.

The readability argument is certainly debatable, but it stands to reason that you don’t need two spaces to indicate the start of a new sentence - that’s why we have punctuation.

Double spacing also makes typesetting content a nightmare. What did people do before InDesign's "find and replace"?!

Also, have you ever noticed that no websites have double spaces? Try it. Google something, anything, and use two spaces after each word. As soon as you hit enter, your double spaces will be corrected to single spaces. And we all know the internet is always right.

Of course, you could easily Google anything about double spacing and find several articles that vehemently defend its use. But when it comes down to tradition over innovation, we’re inclined to side with innovation. Or we can go back to double spaces and bathing in a river once a month. That’s ok, too.

Sentence Spacing - Office Space