One Space After a Period, Please.

Why do you have two spaces after your periods?

When I was a freshman in high school my forward-thinking mom made me take a typewriting class. There I’d sit, fingers on the home keys, listening to my typing teacher — some expert brought in because only experts on typing knew how to type back in the 1990s — instructing a room of teenagers to press the spacebar twice after a period.

If you ask someone why they put two spaces after a period, that person will tell you it’s because a typing teacher said so. That’s it. That’s the only answer you’ll get. That’s not really a bulletproof reason for doing anything. Why did you steal Tabasco sauce from Chipotle? “Because my typing teacher told me to.” You see, your typing teacher needs to give you a reason for stealing the sauce.

What I’m saying is this: Don’t double-space after a period. Just press the spacebar once. You don’t need two. There’s a hypothesis which states that in the age of typewriters and mono-spaced type, you needed that extra space to sufficiently designate the end of one thought and the beginning of another. Who knows if that has any truth to it, and who cares? We use computers now and competent typesetting is as easy as not double-spacing after a period.

Single  

I think we can all agree that as far as web typography goes, this Medium site does an A+ job. And it does one big thing that is wired into the DNA of HTML and web markup: It doesn’t allow you to double-space after a period. If you want that, you literally have to type in extra code. The web is telling you to cut it out and has been doing so since before you had a Hotmail account.

One of my favorite design books is The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst. You should read it if you haven’t already. It goes a little overboard on the dogma but, hey, you gotta know the rules to break ’em. I don’t even remember if Bringhurst mentions single-spacing after periods (I can’t imagine it not coming up), but he does discuss a bi-product of the gaping holes double-spacing creates. They are called rivers, and you see them flowing wide in crummily type-set paragraphs.

Will you look at that massive river? This is caused more by full-justification textblocks, but double-spacing ain’t helping.

Your typing teacher, not being a typographer and all, probably wasn’t concerned about rivers as much as s/he was concerned about A) you not spilling soda on the typewriter, and B) you making an earnest attempt at not looking at the keyboard while typing numbers. But I assume my audience is mostly designers and therefore folk-typography is a no-no; an affront to our craft.

Experiment Time

Go find a book. It doesn’t matter what kind of book, except if it’s self-published from a Microsoft Word document. That doesn’t count. Open the book to page whatever. Doesn’t matter. For fun let’s go with page 273, just to make sure it’s not self-published (no self-published book would ever have 273 pages). Pick a sentence from page 273. Make it one that has a sentence after it. Don’t read the sentence, just skip to the end of it. Check out that period, then look real close at the gap to the right of the period. Then look to the right of that and locate the capital letter that indicates the start of the next sentence. Do you know what you’re looking at?

You’re looking at a single-space after the period.

Every.
Single.
Time.

That’s right. Every book you’ve ever read has used a single space after every period. Same thing goes for magazines. Even the awful ones with nineteen fonts and thirteen colors on the cover. Even those magazines get it right. Your typing teacher? Somehow s/he’s still stuck on some monospaced-type conspiracy theory.

I remember when I had my single-space-after-a-period epiphany. I was in the design lab in college typing out a poster when my teacher approached and stared deep into my monitor from four inches away. He had thick glasses so this was kind of a thing he did. Anyway, he was like, “Why do you have two spaces after your periods?” I was like, “My typing teacher told me to do that.” Then he was like, “But why do you have two spaces after your periods?” This time, the emphasis was on the existential. I understood. It was swift and immediate. I nodded, turned to my keyboard, and eliminated those superfluous gaps.

And here we are, fellow typographer. At the end. Do me a favor and Find/Replace all the double-spaces in InDesign and swap them for single spaces. Thanks.

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