The phrase “one and done” typically isn’t associated with good writing except in one instance: the amount of space between a period and the first word of the next sentence. If you’re still putting two spaces after a period, I’ve got some bad news for you: you’re doing it wrong.
Disagree? You’re not alone. Those who persist in perpetuating the two-space mindset are passionate about its use and accuracy. Often we agree to disagree.
I once read an article that declared, “Nothing says ‘over 40’ like two spaces after a period.” And it’s true (although I know a lot of people approaching 40 with their feet firmly planted in the two-space camp as well). Why? Because of the typewriter.
Way back in the day, typewriters used monospaced type. This means that every character occupied the same amount of horizontal space, regardless of its width. As you can see, the result was significant, often uneven, white space between characters and words, making it difficult to tell where one sentence ended and a new one began. Thus, the two-space rule was born.
In the late 1970s, however, that all changed. Electric typewriters and computers were outfitted with proportional typesetting (in which thinner characters like “1” or “!” were given less space than more portly ones), negating the need for that extra space. Two spaces no longer enhanced readability but rather diminished it.
Today, virtually every font (with the notable exception of Courier) is proportional. But old habits die hard. When you’ve been adding that extra space after every sentence for 30 years or so, change doesn’t come easy. But know this—it’s not a matter of preference, nor is it open for debate. Every modern typographer and every major style guide (Chicago, MLA, etc.) agree on the one-space rule, “rule” being the operative word. And while some rules are meant to be broken, this isn’t one of them.
Word of the Week: Canonical
Song of the Week: “The Space Between,” by Dave Mathews Band
Annette Leptinsky says
I would like to point out that The Gregg Reference Manual provides the following guidance: “As a general rule, use one space after the period at the end of a sentence, but switch to two spaces whenever you feel a stronger visual break between sentences is needed. In all cases, the deciding factor should be the appearance of the breaks between sentences in a given document.”
The manual goes on to state that some proportional fonts, such as Calibri 11 pt., might benefit from two spaces between periods. Also, consider using two spaces when ending one sentence and beginning the next with abbreviations, e.g., “Let’s plan to gather at 8 a.m. Mr. Smith will be presenting.”
Besides one’s age, I think which end of the business world you are working in comes into play. For example, my daughter is a journalist. Space in publications is expensive; therefore, she lives the “one space.” I produce business communications that go to clients and prospects. In my situation, my concern is what will be pleasing to our recipient. To this day, I think that two spaces between sentences looks much nicer. And, yes, I remember clunky manual typewriters.
Any way you slice it – old habits are hard to break! (I used the two-space no-no throughout my reply.)