Are you still using two spaces after a period?

Are you still using two spaces after a period?

Artwork by the talented  Nathan Wright  of Nathan T. Wright Illustration.  Check out his masterpieces here .

Artwork by the talented Nathan Wright of Nathan T. Wright Illustration. Check out his masterpieces here.

The first person to inform me about the best practice of one space versus two spaces after a period was my internship copy director. I was 21 years old . Somehow I had managed to write and submit papers all throughout college without a single professor saying, “Hey, by the way. Don’t do this space anymore. It’s too extra. Your elementary teachers are so outdated.”

Like with many things, I was mortified of my ignorance and certain no one else suffered it. Everyone else in the whole dang world knew about this style update, surely. They were writing away with single spaces between their sentences and never bothered to invite me to the party. Well fine. I was ashamed but I could still hold my head high because I knew the secret now.

And then I joined a writer’s group and met people outside of journalism and copy fields. I read moving prose by talented writers, and soon one became my friends and a critique partner.

She sent me a short story, and I opened her document, ready to dive in, and I couldn’t believe what befell my eyes. Two spaces! Two! There were gaping holes, which should have meant an abundance of breath but it was one that left me gasping. This friend of mine writes beautiful, emotional stories. She is highly educated and shares my love for literature. How did she not know this new style best practice? I had to tell her the secret. instantly. In my kindest, non-judgmental manner, I gave her feedback to her story and oh by the way we put one space after a period instead of two now. I don’t know why; it just happened I guess. I think it’s for saving space, though I’m not sure why that matters for online content.

Much as I operate in all other aspects of my life, I like to have reasons and principals that guide my actions. I had to know why the one space versus two spaces after a period, especially with this affecting more late-to-the-party-goers than me.

When two spaces become one

Back in the day when typewriters were king, the monospaced fonts (letters with the same width) needed two spaces after a period for easy readability. As word processors and the computer took hold of society and only enthusiasts like Tom Hanks kept their typewriters, proportional fonts allowed for easy readability with just one space after a period.

While there has been scientific research that has contested the current one-space preference, this is a standard you can bet is not going away. One space between sentences is recommended by organizations such as the Chicago Manual of Style, the US Government Printing Office Style Manual and AP Stylebook. Believe it or not, HTML and most blog platforms will automatically transform all document spacing into one spaces after periods, unless you use hard code to override it.

Does it really matter how many spaces we use between sentences, as long as we’re consistent?

Theoretically, if you use two spaces between a sentence, your content messaging will still live, your prose won’t disappear into white space and no one will start throwing rocks at you.

But, the majority of industries (save a few publications’ house style guides) prefer one space after a period. As such, there is an overall perception that one space is the right way. What happens when you are caught doing something everyone else thinks is wrong?

  1. You may lose credibility, whether or not your career is in writing. I was so embarrassed when I first heard about this style standard because I thought it lessened my body of work and my skill level.

  2. Your reader may be so focused on the “error” that they are unable to even connect with the content.

  3. If you are a writer or a thought leader who is submitting or contributing content to another outlet/literary publication/magazine and this is the style they follow, you are creating more work for someone else. Typesetters and editors will have to fix your spacing, and it may make them less keen to work with you in the future.

Break your two-space habit

The first couple days of implementing one space after a period instead of two can feel reminiscent of your elementary days of typing class. Something you haven’t had to think about for decades, that your thumb automatically took care of for you, has now become a chore. But it gets easier with time.

As you’re getting the hang of it, try to rely on Control-F to point out any double spaces you may have missed in your document, to be replaced with one space. Even today, as I edit my own writing and other professional writers’ pieces, I use this trick, because even those of us who are privy to the one-space “secret” can have an eager thumb that hits the space bar one times too many now and again.

And another thing, just take your time with it. Open a practice document and write slowly, feeling the cadence of that one space after a period. Once you do it enough, the one space will become muscle memory and your content will be all the more readable.


Have a grammar topic you'd like covered? See an error these unicorn eyes missed (hey, even unicorns can be human sometimes)? Write me.

Editing With Kindness

Editing With Kindness

Most editors grow accustomed to the look of the nervous, sensitive writer: The half-hearted smile, shaking hands and lack of eye contact as they submit a draft. It mostly cannot be helped; this is the natural state of many writers.

I had been one of those writers at an advertising agency years ago, wondering what errors the high-esteemed editrix would uncover, and what shortcomings in my writing abilities and grammatical knowledge she would expose for all to point at and laugh.

“This sucks,” I imagined in her comments. “Make this better, or else...” I knew I would read in red pen.

Yet when she returned my work, marked up in green (more on that below), she didn’t berate me for screwing up a sentence. She didn’t scoff at my missed commas. She didn’t run to my creative director to tattle that I wasn’t a real writer.

She explained her marks to me clearly, patient and willing to answer any of my questions. And when I insecurely said I couldn’t believe I put two spaces between a sentence instead of one, she answered along the lines of, “Seeing our own errors is nearly impossible. That’s why editors exist!”

It was to my luck I ended up with this editor as my mentor and, eventually, as my team leader when I joined her as a copyeditor. The editing philosophy I practice today is 100 percent the product of her generosity.

I believe every writer deserves the kindness and respect my editing mentor practiced — and that I have learned to practice. Below are the key approaches she has gifted me to best serve the nervous writer, and others, through editing with kindness.

Illustration by Nathan T. Wright. See more of his work at  https://www.nathantwright.com/ .

Illustration by Nathan T. Wright. See more of his work at https://www.nathantwright.com/.

Editors Beware The Red Pen Effect

The red pen mark is a sign of failure, missed points, a bad grade. These piercing marks are irredeemable errors — we goofed and now it will forever impact our work, at the very least our reputations. The negative association with red pens extends well beyond academia. Some research studies have suggested that making edits in red pen has a negative effect on how the writer feels about the editor as well as his or her edits. Red pen seems to come in the same flavor as “Grammar Nazi” (which is awful for so many reasons), “Grammar Police,” et cetera — all of which I would love to see disappear from tchotchkes aimed toward word lovers.  

My editing mentor marked up content with a green pen for this very reason. And when I joined the team, I was able to choose my own color editing pen (purple, in case you were wondering). This simple yet effective editing strategy can even be applied electronically by modifying the color of tracked changes in your Word processor.  

Editors Should Respect Their Writers and Make Their Work Shine

Writers feed the editor, with words and sometimes with cookies to push through a rush project. A writer keeps an editor in a job. And it is for this fact that we editors must do all we can with our magic resources to make a writer’s work sparkle as brightly as a unicorn horn. How can one respect a writer?

  • Make edits based in rules, client-preferred style, industry best practices and readability. Writers have reasons for their word and sentence choices. Just because it would not be the editor’s choice does not mean it should be changed. All edits should be justified with a legitimate reason. Unless you are a creative director or client.

  • Avoid “you” statements in comments and focus on the content instead. This also applies to marriage and relationships.

  • Give the writer their edited piece before you give it to the publishing powers, so they have their final say and don’t have mini heart attacks and “I will kill my editor to avenge my work” moments when they see the final product.

Editors Should Educate Their Writers

Editors often see the same error crop up again and again, and these errors start to seem like cruel jokes repeated with each writing project — but upon requesting your writer give up the joke, you learn they don’t entirely know how to use things like em dashes. Don’t start a gossip campaign behind your writer’s back. Explain the edit.

And consider taking these grammar lessons to the public at a monthly midday presentation or a weekly email blast tip. Our written language is full of strange and sometimes arbitrary-seeming rules. But most make sense when you start explaining how they come about and why they are still in practice today (hint, hint: to make communication clearer!).  

Editors Should Always Be Learning Too

An editor’s job is difficult: To achieve perfection. Yet, as humans, we err as often as we get purple pen on our hands. We editors must stay sharp and updated on changing rules and style guides, and past rules we learned incorrectly or never learned at all.

When writers come up to us with their hands full of the things we had missed in their pieces, we thank them for showing us and pledge to do better next time (despite how smug said writers can be). In the end, no matter how much we do know, we should never become a know-it-all, unapproachable smarty-pants who is immune to our own errors. Rather we should try to be the best at our jobs — so we can help our writers be the best at theirs. And that means being open to our own mistakes and taking the time to seek out new information and opportunities to learn (for any editors reading, check out ACES).

While some of these editing steps may seem extra or unnecessary in a business environment, they are not. Kindness is a sign of respect and a currency more of us should make a point to spread. And let’s face it: Writing is hard. It’s almost akin to tracking down a unicorn and tearing off its horn to wield for magic prose and copy. But for those of us compelled to chase our unicorns, we have to keep learning and growing — and supporting others with grace and respect.


Have a grammar topic you'd like covered? See an error these unicorn eyes missed (hey, even unicorns can be human sometimes)? Write me.

Writer's Horizontal Lines: Hyphen, En Dash and Em Dash

Art by the talented  Terry Followell . Find him at  17creates.com.

Art by the talented Terry Followell. Find him at 17creates.com.

There are these magical lines writers have at their fingertips. No, not the lowercase L or the uppercase I but rather the horizontal lines of the hyphens and dashes. And — get out your note-taking device now, because you're going to learn something few to no grade-school teachers have tried to teach you: There are three different dashes, with three different use cases. 

Perhaps you're familiar with one or two or (yay!) all three. But if you're biting your lower lip as you think back to that interjecting line you chose for your last piece of content, keep on reading and remember: Mistakes happen and we're all just learning and growing everyday. (I.e., don't fear the dash!) 

When should you even use dashes? 

You have your commas and periods and parentheses and quotation marks — who the heck needs dashes? Just kidding. You do. Dashes are useful lines that pack a punch of rhythm and flow. Dashes can be telling. They can be clearer than, say, commas . They can be edgy and dramatic and so much fun to use that once you start, you'll find yourself hard-pressed to pick some other punctuation joker in its stead. 

There is a time and place to use a dash, though. If you want to be appropriate, or even if you don't, you should follow some guidelines on when to pull one of the horizontal lines out of your magician's hat — and which to nab. 

  • Hyphens (aka your basic dash) join words to help writers avoid ambiguity or to create one idea from two or more words (i.e., compound modifiers). While you usually do not have to use hyphens, they can be vital for reader comprehension. If you are writing about small business owners, your readers could interpret those three words in a number of ways. "Small business owners" could mean people who own small businesses or it could mean business owners who are small (you go, lemonade stand moguls). If you intend for the former, a hyphen could clear it up real quick: "Small-business owners." See how easy that is?

    One small rule before we move on: Hyphens should never attach themselves to the word "very" or "-ly" words. Adjectives and adverbs are already modifying nouns and verbs — you don't need a hyphen to avoid confusion.

    There is more to the hyphen of course, because nothing in our written language can be simple. From the compound proper nouns and adjectives (Indian-American) to the suspensive hyphenation (10- to 30-year subscription), this little mark can clock a lot of use on the white page. But don't overuse it. You'll slow your readers down and muck up otherwise fine copy or prose.

  • En dashes connect items related to one another by distance and range. Time duration, monetary units, what have you, an en dash can be found nestled between the units. You want examples? Fine. Here are examples: June – December, pages 155 – 400, 1 – 3 miles. You'll note there is a space at each a side of the en dash and that is entirely a stylistic option; you may use spaces at either side or no spaces whatsoever — your choice as long as you maintain consistency (and unless you write for a brand with an editorial style guide that calls for one over the other).

    Extra credit option: You can (and since you're reading this and obtained the knowledge, should) use en dashes in place of hyphens to connect a prefix to an open compound. Let's slow that down and repeat: An open compound, which is a noun that includes more than one word, can be connected to a prefix with an en dash. E.g., post–World War I, pre–banana split. Spaces are never used in this instance around the en dash.

  • Em dashes are the mages, the magicians, the dramatic witches of your dash repertoire. You can use them in place of commas and parentheses to add an additional thought — which have been scattered throughout this blog post. There are no hard and fast rules but rather taste and preference at work here. Em dashes pack a different punch than your everyday comma. They are your dramatic pause, a longer pause. They also can help break up lengthy sentences that would otherwise be difficult for your readers to trek through.

How do you make the different dashes? 

A dash by any other length is a different dash. Hyphens are smaller than en dashes, which are half the length of em dashes. And em dashes are the length of, most mot juste, an M. But how can you finagle these creatures in-between the words on your computer screen? 

Hyphens can be found on your keyboard to the left of the plus/equal key and to the right of the zero key. You could call it the minus sign, but if you're a writer, you'll think of this key as a hyphen. Click it, and you've made a hyphen! Wow, that was easy-as-pie. 

En dashes come with a bit more work. Nicely enough, processors like Microsoft Word have programmed specific scenarios in place to create an en dash without you having to dig into the symbol menu (which is another place you can find it). With autoformat, you can type a word, hit space, type a single hyphen, hit another space, type another word, hit space, and your en dash will magically appear. Word, space, hyphen, space, word, space — en dash! 

Em dashes can also be discovered in the mystical and remote symbol menu. But it's easier yet to learn the autoformat function, which differs slightly from the en dash: Type a word or numeral (do not press the space bar yet), type two hyphens (keep those thumbs off the space bar yet), type another word or numeral, and now press that black bar at your thumbs and insert a space. 


Are dashes still vexing you? That's why unicorns exist. Book a project now for feedback on the horizontal lines elbowing their way between your copy or for a unicorn to write them in for you. 


Have a grammar topic you'd like covered? See an error these unicorn eyes missed (hey, even unicorns can be human sometimes)? Email Kelsey Grammar

An infamous use of the word

On my last departure from my parents' country home near Quasqueton, Iowa, I read a sign that had me doing 40 in a 25. 

If I blinked, I would have missed it, along with the small town. But my eyes remained wide open, and they read something more or less: "THANK YOU TO OUR INFAMOUS WAR VETERANS." Cue a big ole American flag and a cardboard cutout of a soldier. 

My poor husband and child had to listen to me for the next 20 minutes --- at which point the radio magically roared to life to shut me up --- about how ridiculous and detrimental the sign-master's error was to his or her message. I spent about five minutes more berating public schools and emoji FML text-speak for causing this error to go unnoticed by most ladies and gents. Because let's face it, people probably read that sign every day and didn't see a word amiss. 

Oh, the shame.

(Full disclosure: Upon seeing this word misused so often, I found myself, at that moment, full of doubt. Am I the one who is wrong? Did I not get the memo on the word's alternative usage? Then thanks to my phone, I validated --- lo and behold --- I was right. Mahahahaha! *HEAD GROWS LARGER, NOT ENOUGH TO NOTICE ... YET*)

Now, I'm not a pedantic person nor a prescriptivist editor, but --- I do believe in proper word usage. Words have meaning for a reason. And while some words' meanings change with popular usage, other words' meanings, such as infamous, are best left alone. 

Let's set the definition straight, then, shall we? 

Infamous
[in-fuh-muh s] 
adjective

Having a bad reputation; causing or deserving of a bad reputation. 
Synonyms:  disreputable, ill-famed, notorious; disgraceful, scandalous, nefarious, odious, wicked, shocking, vile, heinous, villainous.

Well looky there: Infamous does not mean "not famous" or "incredibly famous" or "with fame." Infamous means famous for ill-doing.

Hitler has warranted infamy for decades. Mondays are infamous to most working adults and school-kids (and Garfield cats).

The etymology of infamous dates back to Middle English and combines two Latin roots. Medieval Latin "in-" means "not, opposite of," while Latin "famosus" translates to "celebrated." Therefore, together, infamous becomes "not celebrated." The word appears in usage sometime in the mid 1300s.  

According to Merriam-Webster, many people in the coming centuries since the 1300s misuse this word or lack confidence with using this word >> 

Perhaps you are one of those people who has looked up the word infamous because you can’t seem to quite remember whether it’s supposed to mean “very famous,” “not famous,” “famous (but in a bad way),” or some other thing. If this is the case, you are in excellent company: our records indicate that approximately 88,000 people searched for the word infamous on this site in a recent month.

If you are one of those 88,000 who looks for a synonym rather than using the word infamous, don't fear this word any longer --- remember to simply fear the person, place, or event to who this word refers.

And for all you InFamous video game fans, the creators at Sucker Punch did in fact use the word correctly. In the fictional Empire City, a mysterious explosion rocks the Historic District, and main character Cole MacGrath receives blame for the explosion and the viral epidemic that follows. I.e., he is famous around town for causing harm to the city.  

How do you peruse?

When I was a copy editor at an advertising agency, reviewing professional writers' work, I experienced a-many of moments of doubt. 

I must be wrong because this writer who is decades older than me surely didn't mess up, right? I can't be the only one to know about this rule, yet here is the twelfth error I see today. Is this a real grammar rule or is it my preference? 

I Googled my little heart out in constant search of validation for my edits (which in turn made me a better editor and a better writer).

This process of jumping over a rainbow of language research led me to learn I was wrong (and right) about a word's definition I had thought I understood for years. 

I had out my purple pen (me and my head editor were anit-red pen gals), and I was reading through some press release, some article, some advertisement. 

"Peruse the operation manual..." 

That cannot be right, I thought, coming upon this usage.

**EXAMPLE HAS BEEN CRAFTED IN LALA LAND. NO OPERATIONAL MANUAL WOULD USE THE WORD "PERUSE," I DON'T THINK. BUT THIS HELPS GET THE POINT ACROSS.**

I grew up thinking peruse meant "to read in a casual or leisurely way." Operational manuals will most likely be perused, but they shouldn't be. 

I perused my text books. I perused that New Yorker article. I perused the baby books that told me how to care for my foal. 

Well stamp my hoof if it wasn't opposite day up in the dictionary. 

I dug into my Merriam-Webster and read: 

Peruse
\perooz\ verb
1. To examine or consider with attention and in detail. To study. 

I could handle being wrong. I could deal with feeling a small bit of embarrassment, wondering how often I had used the word peruse incorrectly and who had thought of me as a word-lover-wannabe. I have learned my greatest lessons from being wrong. I would not forget this new definition, no Merlin. 

I continued reading the alternative definitions. Cue a mouth drop when I came upon entry No. 2: "To look over or through in a casual or cursory manner." 

There had to be an error. 

I chucked my physical dictionary to the ground and took to the magical internet. The internet corroborated what the book said (my how backwards that seems). 

Peruse had two different and opposite meanings. 

Whoa. 

I thought surely peruse must be a word in a category of its own. My friends, there are others. There are simple words we use every day to express opposite meanings that we don't even  think about (I'm speaking for myself; perhaps you are some deep word investigator who is chuckling at my language innocence). 

Editrix Grammar Girl spoke (and wrote) about Janus words. Check out her post if you want to see how some words can be both black and white. 

And with that, I wish you a very happy Wednesday. May you have enjoyed perusing this blog post, whatever that means to you.