Is it wrong to type 2 spaces?

Recently, I was speaking with my Father, who is truly one of the smartest, most well-read people I know. That said, he is, well… less-than-proficient in his knowledge and skill of computer use in general. I know many people who relate to this situation (that a similar statement can be said of their well-educated, successful, professional parents). He and I were discussing his habit of sticking to what I deem outdated writing practices, such as two spaces after a period.

A couple of days later, I had a student email and ask me if it is wrong to type two spaces after a period and if she could do so in my class.

She also mentioned that everyone at her place of employment uses two spaces and that she has always done it that way. [It should be noted that in a previous Discussion Board conversation with the class that week on the topic of effective writing techniques, I stated that the students should avoid using the double-space after end punctuation.] Fueled by the conversation with my father and by the synchronicity of the topic arising more than twice in one week, I wrote the following response to her:

Is it wrong? Mnnnn, Yes; it is. “Wrong” might be a stronger word than some would use, siding more with something like, “unnecessary,” but it is incorrect. As I noted in the conversation in the Effective Writing DB, it is based on an old, and outdated, need. Here it is in detail:

In the nineteenth century, typesetters (those who actually set type – the tiny individual letters onto frames, etc.) were encouraged to stuff multiple spaces between sentences. This is because the type was monospaced, that is a lowercase “i” took up the same amount of space as an uppercase “M.” Therefore, it was difficult to detect, visually, when one sentence ended and the next began. Generations of twentieth-century typists were then taught to do the same (since typewriters type in monospaced font – courier), by hitting the spacebar twice after each period.

The fact that it is the way you’ve always done it and that you do it at work is not a particularly good reason to not change the practice (unless your employment is on the line), considering it is still incorrect. Your typing and your typesetting will both benefit from unlearning this quaint Victorian practice

As a general rule, no more than a single space is required after a period or any other mark of punctuation. Here is a point to consider: larger spaces are themselves punctuation. That is a single space is different than an en-space, which is different from an em-space. Each of these is its own unique punctuation mark that has specific places in which it is correct and incorrect to apply it.

So it is wrong? – Yes. It is.
Can you change the way you (and everyone) does it at work? – Probably not, although you should try for the sake of bringing your company typographically into the current century.

Would it be okay for you to type two space after end punctuation in this class? I would strongly prefer that you not do so. It is like asking if you can use a typewriter, or submit your paper on fireball fuchsia perfumed paper that is 24”X36”, or use a script font for your final paper.

OK, I’ll stop, but the point is there are reasons why we do not generally apply such decisions to professional documents and academic papers. It is about being aware of your layout, design, typography, knowing what is appropriate in regard to the document design of that item, and knowing how to make the best, most appropriate, fitting, and accurate document possible for your given purpose and your given audience.

Without chastising the student and mentioning her name, I posted this response in its entirety to the class. While it felt a little like a rant and, admittedly, still does, the students responded favorably and were genuinely appreciative for me bringing up this point, so that they can update their practices.

2 Responses to “Is it wrong to type 2 spaces?”

  1. Comment From Sophia Tesch on March 20th, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    It is really interesting to learn the actual history behind the decision to double-space or not to double-space. It becomes much easier to make the change when there is an understanding behind the practice.

    I remember being instructed by my typing teacher to double-space after a period, and I also know that at some point I stopped doing it. Though I honestly cannot remember when that happened. There is a significant difference between what is desired on a digital versus a printed page. The spacing between words and sentences is one of those differences. I think desired white space on the page would be another.

    Thank you for your post.

  2. Comment From Tim Bowman on August 30th, 2017 at 6:10 pm

    I remember doing this back in the 80’s in the one class I flunked: Typing. That class was right after my often used “key punch” class (NOT). Thankfully I quit right after that class and it was something I never truly practiced. Good thing too. It was one less thing I have had to unlearn when computers came along years later.

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