One Space or Two?

In November of 2017, I got a new job and it led to what felt to me like a major change in my writing. The new job has a one space after a period standard. Up until I took the job, I was a two space after a period kind of guy. Prior to November 2017, all of my posts had two spaces after every period. Since, they only have one. It was a difficult change to make, but I seriously doubt that anybody noticed.

Now a new study, which seems to be the first study done on the topic, says that two spaces after a period is better and people are flipping out. I had no idea the number of spaces after a period mattered so much to people. I used to be a two space guy because that’s the way I was taught to type. It became automatic, hit the period, then hit the space bar twice. I didn’t think about it, it just happened. And I certainly didn’t care about it.

In fact, I never really bothered to question why people used to be taught to use two spaces, but now they are taught to use one. I guess if I had thought about it, I would have guessed that people used two spaces as a way of setting off their sentences from each other. And I would have guessed that the change was about efficiency. With fewer spaces, we can fit a few extra words on each page and hopefully save paper by having a few fewer pages per document. From what I read, I apparently would have been right about the two spaces, but wrong about the one space.

From what I read, the argument for one space has to do with modern fonts. Typewriters had the same width for each character, but modern fonts don’t. On a typewriter, an I and a W take up the same amount of space, but that’s no longer true with new fonts. Each character only takes the space that it needs. So, according to the argument, two spaces are no longer necessary. This honestly makes no sense to me. A period is about as small as a character can get. On a typewriter, it must have had extra space built in, so one would think that the second space would be superfluous since there would already be extra space after a period. With the new fonts, there is no extra space, so the second space seems necessary. But since no one had every really studied it, I guess both arguments were just appeals to tradition and rationalizations anyway.

The new study says that people can read faster with the second space after a period. It’s not a huge difference, but it is measurable. An extra, albeit subtle, signal that one sentence is ending and another beginning is helpful. I think that’s kind of neat. But I still can’t get myself too worked up about it. Two spaces after a period was a surprisingly hard habit to break. It took me a couple of months to get it consistently. Now that I’m comfortable with one space, I’m not going back. That is, unless my boss tells me we are changing our standards at the job. I’m comfortable with whatever.

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