One or Two Spaces after a Period?

Which is correct: One or two spaces after a period?

I encountered this question for the first time one summer back in the 1960s when I took a high-school typing course. Those were the days: In addition to typing “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dogs” innumerable times, I learned about carbon paper, typewriter ribbons, Ko-Rec-Type (a coated strip used to correct errors) and…typing two spaces after a period.

Times have changed, folks. We no longer use carbon paper, typewriter ribbons, and Ko-Rec-Type, and we no longer space twice after a period. One space will do.

Typewriters, though wonderful, had limitations. One was a problem called monospacing. Typewriters were designed so that every letter occupied the same amount of space. The “two spaces after a period” practice helped make typewritten pages look more even and consistent.

Many of us think of computers as glorified typewriters, but that isn’t really true. Computers are typography machines, far more sophisticated than the typewriter I pounded on in high school.

Typographers work with letters of different sizes when they set type for publication. (Compare a capital M to a capital I.) Spacing twice after a period ruins the even and consistent look that typographers aim for.

Why is this such a big deal? Truth to tell, it isn’t always a problem. You can type emails with two spaces after each period, and many readers won’t notice. But if you’re typing for publication, or typing something that will be printed in another form (such as a brochure, bookmark, book, magazine article, booklet, newsletter…you get the idea), that extra space after each sentence will have to be removed. The person assigned to do that job is not going to be happy with you.

Every week I type two newspaper columns for my husband, and I often write for publication myself. It makes simple good sense to adopt the “one space after a period” rule for everything I write. No confusion. No problems. And no one has to clean up after me.

(You can read an excellent explanation about this “one space” rule by Farhad Manjoo, technology columnist for the online magazine Slate. For more information about formatting for publication, click here.)

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