Down With The Double Tap! (Why You Shouldn't Space Twice After Sentences)

31 comments

Do you hit the space bar twice after you type a sentence? 

If you do, you should give some thought to stopping. 

The post-sentence double-space is the appendix of typography. It doesn't serve any real purpose. It doesn't even need to be there. We would probably be better off if it wasn't there in the first place. Some people do it because that's how they learned to type and it's a force of habit. And some people don't even notice it (although after reading this, you'll never not notice it--it's one of those things). 

Ultimately though, it's worth cutting out. 

THE ROAD TO ADDICTION

Let's start with a little history lesson. Where did this typing quirk come from?

There are two types of fonts. Monospaced and proportional. In a monospaced font, like Courier, each letter takes up the same amount of space. So the letters O and I would take up the same amount of real estate on a line of text. A proportional font is the opposite of that (and it's also the kind of font in which this article is typed); each letter takes up a different amount of space.

See, here:

Got it? Good. Because it's helpful to know going forward.

This is from Wikipedia:

Until the 20th century, publishing houses and printers in many countries used single, but enlarged, spaces between sentences. There were exceptions to this traditional spacing method—printers in some countries preferred single spacing. This was French spacing—a term synonymous with single space sentence spacing until the late 20th century. Double spacing, or placing two spaces between sentences (sometimes referred to as English spacing), came into widespread use with the introduction of the typewriter in the late 19th century. It was felt that with the monospaced font used by a typewriter, "a single word space ... was not wide enough to create a sufficient space between sentences" and that extra space might help signal the end of a sentence. This caused a widespread change in practice. From the late 19th century, printers were told to ignore their typesetting manuals in favor of typewriter spacing; Monotype and Linotype operators used double sentence spacing and this was widely taught in typing classes.

So double spacing after a sentence was an aesthetic quirk, and not even a widely accepted one. The entry goes on to state that "with the introduction of proportional fonts in computers, double sentence spacing became obsolete, according to many experts."

That's the origin, and it's not even a very interesting one. Just one of those things that someone thought up which caught on.

And it's important to know that nobody is going to die if you double space after a sentence. There are much worse things you could do in this life. Still, it's a habit very much worth breaking. 

SIDE-EFFECTS

Publishing is a game of inches. Say you write a novel and you query it out to agents. That agent is getting hundreds of other queries. Some will be better than yours, some will be worse, and some will be just about the same. And that's why you need to make sure that everything you can control is perfect. So no typos. Spell the agent's name right. And take out that damned double space.

It seems silly, right? That something like this might work against you. It's not even technically wrong.

I'm not saying that if you space twice after a sentence that an agent is going to toss your work in the trash. What I am saying is this: Even on a subconscious level, it could work against you. Some people see it and bristle. And it will never work against you if you don't double space. So why not stop doing it? 

Eliminate that double space and your writing will be much tighter, and you'll avoid troublesome mistakes like sentences that don't line up right with the left edge of a paragraph. 

On top of that, your novel? The one that was accepted by an agent who overlooked your weird spacing habits? It's not going to stay that way when it lands a publishing deal and heads off to the press. All those extra spaces are coming out. And will someone please think of the typesetters?!

RECOVERY

I have a confession to make. I used to be a double-spacer. Then one day I decided I wanted to change. I thought it would be a tough road. When I'm in the zone I type around 100 words per minute (an average typist clocks in at 50-80). I type from instinct and figured the double-tap was so ingrained I would never get around it (which is the same reason I've flirted with, but never committed to, switching from a QWERTY to DVORAK keyboard layout).

But you know what? After three sentences I broke the habit and I've never looked back.

At the time it felt like a small victory. I was sitting on a 90,000 word manuscript riddled with those extra spaces. I hate keying in copy edits (like, hate hate it), and I wasn't looking forward to sitting there and clicking the damn backspace key a million times.

Then I discovered a fix. And it is dead simple. Follow these simple steps:

  • Go to Find/Replace
  • In the Find box, hit the spacebar twice
  • In the Replace box, hit the spacebar once
  • Hit Enter

And that's it. You're done. Watch as your manuscript goes on a crash diet, shedding pages and white space.

IN CLOSING

Like I said, there are more egregious mistakes you could make in life.  And it's not like double spacing is on the same level as using their or you're incorrectly.  But any opportunity you can take to make your work better or stronger is an opportunity worth taking.  And some people are going to look at that extra white space after your sentences and they're going to roll their eyes.  This is something you can control.  And be honest with me for a second.  I double-tapped on this paragraph.  And now that it's in your head, doesn't this just look wrong?

Image of New Yorked (Ash McKenna)
Author: Rob Hart
Price: $12.13
Publisher: Polis Books (2015)
Binding: Paperback, 304 pages
Rob Hart

Column by Rob Hart

Rob Hart is the class director at LitReactor, as well as the publisher at MysteriousPress.com. He's the author of New Yorked, nominated for the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, as well as City of Rose and South Village. Short stories have appeared in publications like Shotgun Honey, Thuglit, Needle, Joyland, All Due Respect, and Helix Literary Magazine. Non-fiction has appeared at Salon, The Daily Beast, Birth.Movies.Death, The Literary Hub, Electric Literature, and Nailed. He lives in New York City. Find him online at www.robwhart.com

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Comments

Tim's picture
Tim from Philadelphia is reading approximately eight different books. Most unsuccessfully. January 5, 2012 - 9:47am

I can't believe their are some who still add the double space to they're sentences. Don't they know there just plain wrong! I would never commit such a faux pas. 

alisia's picture
alisia from Byron, NY is reading The Goldfinch by: Donna Tartt January 5, 2012 - 9:51am

I am a notorious double spacer. I have a number of manuscripts that are double spaced between sentences. I never tried to quit, because I was already so far gone. I just hoped that no one would notice. It never occured to me that find & replace could actually fix this. Thanks for pointing that out! Now I'm opening all my documents and switching to single spaces between sentences. I'm also an instinctual and fast typist, but I don't think I'm going to get off that easy. I've already accidentally double spaced in this comment a number of times. But, dilligence will pay off I'm sure. Informative post.  Thanks! Also, to the commenter above me - I see what you did THERE.

Brandon's picture
Brandon from KCMO is reading Made to Break January 5, 2012 - 10:04am

I can't believe their are some who still add the double space to they're sentences. Don't they know there just plain wrong! I would never commit such a faux pas.

 

I see what you did there ;)

David Service's picture
David Service January 5, 2012 - 10:14am

LOL Nice way to end the article; now it does look wrong, dammit! : )

wickedvoodoo's picture
wickedvoodoo from Mansfield, England is reading stuff. January 5, 2012 - 10:24am

Have to say, I have never once had a teacher (of any subject) suggest I type with double spacing. Before I started reading workshop manuscripts I don't think I'd ever seen it used.

@ Brandon. Lol.

Rachel Harris's picture
Rachel Harris from Cumberland Basin is reading mindless fluff (god, its so hard to get through, ugh) January 5, 2012 - 10:16am

 in my opinion, spacing isn't so much about a grammatical fallacy as it is the unique creation of cadence that a writer develops.  But i threw out subscribing to the punctation game a long time ago :)

Ryan Hartman's picture
Ryan Hartman from Philadelphia is reading The Neverending Story by Michael Ende January 5, 2012 - 10:27am

I double space PROUDLY.  

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. January 5, 2012 - 11:16am

I didn't notice the double spacing in the last paragraph.  I'm a double spacer.  I need a Doublespacer anonymous support group.  Except I just said it, so I'm no longer anonymous.  NOOOO.

I doublespaced that whole paragraph. I. can't. do. it.  

 

 

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading A lot of Brian Evenson January 5, 2012 - 11:18am

When I proofread this article, I got to the last paragraph and started correcting the double spaces. I didn't want Rob to get crucified. Then I got to the penultimate sentence and had to go and add them all back in again. Bastard.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this January 5, 2012 - 11:21am

Rob: 1

Josh: 0

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like January 5, 2012 - 11:25am

I switched without any problems. I also now use single quote marks. Who wants to press the shift key a million times? Some writers don't even use quotation marks, so am I ok or just 'half-assing it?'

Ryan Hartman's picture
Ryan Hartman from Philadelphia is reading The Neverending Story by Michael Ende January 5, 2012 - 11:45am

Rcntly stppd typng vwls.  Thy jst slwd m dwn.  Dng mch bttr nw.

Liana's picture
Liana from Romania and Texas is reading Naked Lunch January 5, 2012 - 11:53am

Forget about double spacing. What's with the spacing between lines and paragraphs, like a whole paragraph between paragraphs? Can people pls stop doing that?
(Yes I have a pet peeve).

And you may be able to tell from the sentences above that I'm a single spacer.

Deets999's picture
Deets999 from Connecticut is reading Gravitys Rainbow January 5, 2012 - 12:34pm

Double-spacer 4 life!!  No, not really - this is a good tip I wasn't aware of - will incorporate into future writing and will use the 'replace all' trick on current works.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like January 5, 2012 - 1:20pm

@Ryan - LL

avery of the dead's picture
avery of the dead from Kentucky is reading Cipher Sisters January 5, 2012 - 1:41pm

I've always double spaced.  I had no idea anyone anywhere didn't double space.  My whole world is a bit different now.  But it is still double spaced. 

Bryanhowie - I'll see you at the meetings...

derekberry's picture
derekberry from South Carolina is reading Eating Animals January 5, 2012 - 1:46pm

A friend of mine, whose mother was an english teacher, read my manuscript and berated me on not following the double-space rule. I became very angry with her and tried to explain my reasoning, but some people don't look past the idea of "rules."

Edward W.'s picture
Edward W. from Michigan is reading For Whom the Bell Tolls January 5, 2012 - 2:44pm

Definitely linking to this on my blog. I got into an argument with some friends on Google+ about this about a month ago.

I write mostly scientific manuscripts and the APA style manual suggests single spaces for finished work. Most of the papers I write have multiple authors and I can usually tell which parts of the MS are not mine because of the egregious double spacing.

I'm not usually one of those people who thinks that you always have to follow the rules rules, but in this case, I think that the single space is more aesthetically appealing.

Xander Davis's picture
Xander Davis from Downtown Tycho, The Moon is reading Casino Royale / Tomorrow Now January 5, 2012 - 2:57pm

I started single-spacing naturally as a kid, was taught to double-space in school, rebelliously thought "what shit is this?", and now, changed through the experience of age like a fine wine, am a believer in double-space.

It does serve a purpose.  You said it yourself, typography.  It encapsulates sentences more visually, enabling a cleaner organization of thoughts and ideas.  It personally allows me to feel like there is more command over a paragraph with these -3.75 black-framed coke bottled dyslexic eyes.

But, despite double-spacing in forms like this that preserve them, HTML innately collapses them down to single-spaces.  Thanks Internet for enabling everyone to do it WRONG, like the single-space pusher you are.  Don't be a failboat to clean typography, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise, no matter who they are or what kind of non-existent advance they might offer.

Stand up.

Fight for what's right.

For a cleaner literary tomorrow.

Your double-spaces need you.

—Revolution the Revolution!

Taylor's picture
Taylor from Portland, Oregon is reading 'Alexander Hamilton' by Ron Chernow January 5, 2012 - 4:45pm

I have never double-spaced between sentences. Had a stodgy, old English teacher once tell me I should. I ignored him because I figured, hey, we have computers now, that double-space BS went out with the typewriter. I can't even imagine doing it. When I see double-spaces after a sentence I just assume the person has a heavy thumb and needs to take them out. As far as creating encapsulated sentences, I let the words themselves do that work for me. It makes for better writing all around.

This old English teacher also thought em dashes should be three lines. Again, thank you modern word- processors for automatically lengthening the em dash into a solid, long line if I just type two hyphens, then the word, and hit space bar. Magic. And if for some reason the word processor doesn't do this, two lines is quite enough. "---" is overkill. I haven't checked, but I think most modern style guides would agree. I know Chicago usually opts for the simplest, most straight-forward option.

However, not all autoformatting is good. I hate how MS Word automatically adds a space after a paragraph. Who decided that? This is especially annoying when writing dialogue. Can you imagine if your reading a novel and there's a big blank line after every paragraph?  The book would be twice as long. Correct me if I'm wrong, but printed media doesn't seem to subscribe to this practice. Maybe it's because of the formatting trends for web content. Just look at this comment...I didn't add those spaces between the paragraphs. What happened to the good ol' indent?

 

yesjessica's picture
yesjessica from Chicago January 5, 2012 - 6:49pm

I think the double space looks better.  Maybe I won't do it when sending in a manuscript now that I know it makes some people "bristle," but it makes sense to me and reads easier. 

As far as the history goes, the alphabet is positioned the way it is on a keyboard in order to slow down typing so all of the hammers don't get stuck together and mess up the machine.  But wait!  There are no hammers on my laptop!  All of typing is weird typing, if you're wanting to think logically.  The US should switch to metric and a lot of our word spelling makes no sense.  When keyboards aren't qwerty, I'll stop double spacing. 

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like January 5, 2012 - 7:08pm

I'm beginning to think that everyone actually double-spaces, that Litreactor is a hub for pranksters and Sub-Genii and if I pay for membership I'll wind up interrogated and possibly indicted in an impending post-SOPA lawsuit.

Say it ain't so...

Daniel Donche's picture
Daniel Donche from Seattle is reading Transubstantiate, by Richard Thomas January 5, 2012 - 7:18pm

Oh thank Whoever for your find and replace trick! I have been working on switching to single-spacing and I find that I'll remember in one place and then I'll find a whole chapter I forgot to do it and it takes me forever to go back and unify everything.

aliensoul77's picture
aliensoul77 from a cold distant star is reading the writing on the wall. January 5, 2012 - 7:26pm

I was taught in school to double space. I am not quite used to this single spaced thing but I am trying now. It's a hard habit to break especially when you were raised to double space for over 15 years! This must be an American thing. I still say that Europeans drive on the wrong side of the street though!

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like January 5, 2012 - 8:08pm

The main benefit to single quote marks is, once you've fully made the adjustments, not only in your writing but also your outlook, your mind, when you do 'quote-fingers' at people, instead of thinking you're lame and cliched, they think you're creepy, Shining-style.

'redrum'

Xander Davis's picture
Xander Davis from Downtown Tycho, The Moon is reading Casino Royale / Tomorrow Now January 6, 2012 - 5:17pm

Most computer fonts are proportionally spaced, which is uneven in a grid structure.  So it's actually worse, not better.  If every font was monospace, it would look more acceptable to have a single monospace space after a sentence.  That actually follows the exact logic behind the idea of a space after a sentence.  It has an equal weight with all other letters and thus speaks by saying nothing as powerfully as a letter does.  However, it (like in proportional) also has equal weight with a space between words within a sentence.  The popular notion was to include two spaces for monospace to emphasize the end of a sentence.  Seems just as important in Proportional, which is chaos.  Pure chaos.  The humanity.

Mark's picture
Admin
Mark from Lexington, Kentucky is reading The Chronology of Water January 7, 2012 - 8:16am

I think my deal is I learned to type when it was called "typing," not "keyboarding."  In the mid 80s, my high school typing class was stocked with electric typewriters.  Offices still used them and secretaries still had little bottles of White-Out, an oozing liquid substance with a tiny brush built into the cap, so you could fix a typing mistake on a document even if the spool of correction tape in your fancy typewriter was on fail mode, as they usually were.  

In the same era, I was learning the logic of Basic computer programming on a Commadore 64.  Peoples phones are now smarter than the consumer favorite computers of that age.  My geometry teacher, who was a kind of wizard, owned an IBM.  It was a Business Machine back then, as per the initials.  And it was weird and exceptional that he had one at home.  Most people--even serious writers and academicians--didn't own anything close to a high-powered computer.  The Personal Computer, as we know it today, didn't exist in 1986.

As disgusting as White-Out and correction tape and as intense my joy that certain messy relics of the typewriter age are well and truly gone, I still count typing as the best practical skill I learned in high school.  Maybe the best practical skill I learned ever.  My life and career are so much enabled by my fingers knowing exactly what to do on QWERTY keyboard, while my eyes never need to look away from the screen... honestly, if I could go back to those years and have a miraculous ability for Calculus and chemistry as long as I agreed never to take a typing class, I probably wouldn't make the trade.

I'm not really troubled that my typing habits are bound up in archaisms.  As one commentator noted, so is the QWERTY keyboard itself.  It's designed to slow us down, so that multiple rapid keystrokes in adjacent areas don't cause the hammers to lock up.  As the developed world is now almost universally beyond the typewriter age, how is it the QWERTY keyboard isn't universally overthrown?  It's because we're creatures of habit and creatures of comfort.  I'm still quite comfortable with that double tap after a sentence.  It looks right, feels right, and happens automatically.  It also feeds into a rhythm of sentence-making that has audible punctuation when I tap at the keys.  I find it satisfying.

It's also the case that if you have classic typing skills, you double space after a colon while single spacing after a semi-colon.  The extra space wasn't intended to encapsulate sentences as occupying their own defined space, it was intended to help the reader's or typesetter's eyes to mark the differences between visually similar types of punctuation.  The extra space was intended, in the first place, as an aid to copyeditors and typesetters.  So, there's some reasoning behind it, even though it's archaic and purely conventional.  

Mark's picture
Admin
Mark from Lexington, Kentucky is reading The Chronology of Water January 7, 2012 - 8:22am

And yes, I realize that in what I typed above, there is at least one case of my neat, block-style paragraphs getting horribly disrupted by the second space I use at the end of a sentence, which sometimes gets transmuted to offend the left margin justitication of the next line.  I consider this a fault of programmers who write forum software with insufficient sensitivity to human typists.  It should be possible to have justified left and ragged right margins without additional measures and without retraining classically trained habits. 

Jaq Tkd's picture
Jaq Tkd from UK February 13, 2012 - 12:49pm

I had no idea.  I just do what I was taught at school.  Hubby taught himself to touch type and he does what his 1950s book told him to do as well.  I wonderered why they seemed to disappear when I uploaded to various on-line sites.

Bekanator's picture
Bekanator from Kamloops, British Columbia is reading Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter June 9, 2012 - 1:22pm

I'm a double spacer. It's how I learned to type, although now that I've started submitting work around seriously I basically have no choice but to switch. That all said, I really wouldn't switch if it were up to me. To some degree I feel like I'll lose that little girl in nineties who first learned to type. What of her, huh?!

Chris Carson's picture
Chris Carson May 12, 2014 - 3:25pm

I have always done the double-tap, and frankly, that so-called extra space has never caused my left margin to be "off."  To me, a single space at the end of a sentence still looks wrong, and using merely one space seems lazy and informal, like using text-speak on a resume.  Next, you'll be telling us that we shouldn't double-space after colons, too.