Why We Started Double Spacing after Each Sentence, and Why Typography Says “STOP!”

 

"One day, we will not have to separate sentences with two spaces."

 

The first thing I was told years ago on my very first day of work in prepress was to forget the old rule from high school typing class about using two spaces between sentences. When you learned to type on a typewriter, that became second nature and it was a hard habit to break in the beginning. But I only recently learned the reason WHY two spaces are no longer used, thanks to an excellent history of the phenomenon by Farhad Manjoo over at Slate. He makes a convincing case for why today you should “never, ever do it.” Knowing the reason always beats the the standard justification of “because that’s how it’s done today.”

First, rules in typography really are rules! Of course there are exceptions where rules are broken for good reason, but “that’s how I was taught” is not one of them! The rules of typography were agreed upon over years and years of professional development of “best practices.” In the early days of typesetting – so they tell us – the rules had not been developed yet. Printed material might have one space between sentences, it might have four. What was a “space” anyway? The size certainly varied. But as time rolled on, typesetters standardized their work and one space became the rule. Enter the typewriter.

Monospace type examplesTypewriters revolutionized business communications, and also created the need for the now outdated 2-space rule. Typewriters before the 1970s were monospaced – each letter the same width as any of the other letters or characters, unlike the type you are reading right now. Typewriters had no kerning or tracking capabilities and the result was difficulty in distinguishing sentences from each other because of all the “loose” spacing between letters. Two spaces between sentences proved to be generally more pleasing to the eye and easier to read.

So that’s the reason. But we aren’t using typewriters anymore! Even the later typewriters employed proportional type, ending the need for any extra spaces. Two spaces make an unpleasant gap in blocks of type. In the prepress department, the first step to placing and laying out a customer’s text is to do a “Find – Replace” for two spaces.

If you are still dropping in those extra spaces between sentences, you are not only saying that you are most likely over 40 and learned to type on a typewriter, but that you don’t like change very much! It really isn’t that hard a habit to break. Some specific workplaces or disciplines still cling to the two-space rule… I’ve heard the legal world is one of those. If you earn your living in one of those fields, you have an excuse. Otherwise, if you choose to hang onto the old 2-space rule, just be aware that the visual text you are creating in your emails and documents is saying things about you which you may not intend!

…and one more unbreakable rule: no indenting paragraphs with FIVE SPACES! Still see that typewriter holdover from time to time as well.

 

 

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