Double Spacing After Periods

A friend asked me:

Are you a one- or two-space after the period kinda guy? I’ve always been a two-fer but only because that’s what habit they forced on me as a kid. Now I’m hearing and agreeing with arguments for the one-er, but its a tough habit to break. Thoughts?

Here’s a two part nerdy explanation, just because I love talking about this sort of thing.

Semantic Argument

Spacing between words or sentences or paragraphs or whatever is a presentational decision. It should be kept separate from content.

When you’re typing and you hit the spacebar, you’re adding in some content. A space counts as content. The size of that space, though, is a design decision. Just like the size of a letter is a design decision. By entering two spaces, you’re actually adding more content with the aim of changing the presentation.

Obviously, this single instance isn’t that big of a deal. But the issue of separation of content and style is a big one on the web (and digital communication) and it’s a good habit to foster.

Even in something like Word, it’s better to rely on its styling presets, rather than add content to your text to try to adjust the look.

For example, changing the setting to increase the size between lines is far more preferable than manually adding a hard return at the end of every line. Why? Because the hard return becomes part of the content. This makes it a bitch to change it in the future. If you want the presentation to be different, you end up having to go in and edit out a bunch of content. It makes the content less transferable too. Who knows how it’ll look when you paste it into an email?

The same goes for spacing between letters, words, and sentences. Leave the style decisions separate from the content. Let a designer make them, or choose from software presets, or rely on the spacing defaults included in digital fonts. Don’t muck up your beautifully written content.

Typographic Argument

From a typographic standpoint, extra space after a full stop is usually disruptive to the flow of text. A lot of the readability of text relies on consistent rhythm and flow, both vertically and horizontally.

Even if readers aren’t conscious of this, it makes text less enjoyable to read and causes more eye strain when things disrupt this flow.

When you set an optimal measure (typically a paragraph width of 45 to 75 characters) the text naturally fills it in with an appropriate rhythm. A well designed font will have the proper sizes and spaces so that the text will look beautiful and be easy to read. Extra spacing between words – especially if it isn’t consistent, like only adding in extra spacing after periods – disrupts this flow. It makes text more jarring and clunky and harder for a person’s eyes to follow.

Typographers like to gauge the “color” of a body of text. If you look at text block from far away, or while squinting, well set text will kind of blur into a solid gray block with even “color” throughout. Random extra spacing disrupts this nice even color, causing ugly gaps that reader’s eyes will stumble over.

So there you have it. Hope this helps explain things.

Published on December 20, 2011