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 Your elementary teachers are so outdated.”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