Shootout at the Double Spacebar Corral

Two spaces or not two spaces? That is the question…

Right, time to get something straight. This whole two-spaces-after-a-full-stop thing needs a proper airing. After the comments that developed on this post by the lovely K. S. Brooks, I have to admit that I lost the plot (and not for the first time, as I’m sure my readers would agree). Fortunately, the Evil Mastermind had the good sense to chain my legs properly to the dungeon floor, and was kind enough to let me snack on a few of his beloved, prized piranhas while I calmed down enough to write this.

Some say that putting two spaces after a full stop is old-fashioned; that in this groovy, sexy, digital age, there can be no place for such “anachronisms”. Some may even look down their noses at those of us who publish our work with two spaces after a full stop. Oh, really? Let me just rip the head off another piranha. There, that’s better.

When I read, one part of my vision scans ahead to detect the next pause in the text – the end of the sentence. I read a lot of history, which can be very dry, academic text with page after page of solid paragraphs. Scanning ahead allows me to adjust my expectation of the volume of incoming information in a sentence: one simple clause, for impact; or many clauses conveying a complex event or idea. If the text is punctuated with only one space after a full stop, it’s harder to do that. So it’s harder for me to read the text and extract the information – as conveniently as possible – which the writer is attempting to convey from his/her head to mine.

In my own writing, anything that helps me to convey the story imagery and events that are in my head over to my reader’s head as conveniently as possible is going to be used. Primarily I try to slot together sequences of the most appropriate English words as effectively as I can (doh!), but regarding formatting, any little trick to somehow improve the reader’s reading experience is going to go in the book. And that’s exactly what having two spaces after a full stop does.

Formatting is not writing; it has nothing to do with language use. So, when it comes to formatting one’s own writing, one does not care for everything the “experts” say. Writing and publishing the best fiction novels I can write is my hobby, which I love like a hobby. And there’s the rub: it’s a hobby, not a professional occupation. Maybe – and it’s a very big ‘maybe’ – if my novels were ever to gain any kind of traction, I might consider conforming them to what the “market” wants, but seeing as hell has yet to freeze over, I shall demur.

There, that’s better. Anyone fancy a piranha?

Author: Chris James

Chris James is an English author who lives in Warsaw, Poland, with his wife and three children. He has published three full-length science fiction novels and is currently writing a series of short story volumes inspired by characters in songs from the rock band Genesis. For more information, please visit his website or Amazon author page.

43 thoughts on “Shootout at the Double Spacebar Corral”

  1. The plot thickens. 🙂

    I would agree, as that is how I began … BUT … and you see it’s a big but (no not my butt, grr), it has been drawn to my attention that some sites (even wordpress, I believe) get messed up when we use two spaces after a period. So this non-conformist is learning to conform. Sigh. That must mean I’m getting old.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Yvonne. If we have to stick to one space on the internet, then there’s not much we can do. But(t) in our stories, which we create in Word doc, we call the shots – that’s what being “Indie” means! 🙂

  2. Well said, sir.
    You guys may already know this, but — when writing for publication out there in the Wild Wild Web, most web parsers will strip out the second space. But you can (usually) make the parser shut up, by using the HTML code for a non-breaking space instead of using the space bar. For two spaces, just type the code twice.
    The IU comments engine won’t let me actually type HTML into this box, but here’s one link to HTML codes (there are thousands)
    http://www.ascii.cl/htmlcodes.htm

  3. I must admit that I was once a two-spacer. However, I have reformed and decided to stop trying to beat city hall…I am now a one-spacer. A lot of this had to do with formatting for various sites. There is no way in…well, you know where…that I’m going to one-space for one site and two-space the same work for another site. Bah humbug! I gave up Oxford commas and it was much like giving up smoking in that I still get the urge occasionally. I indent first line for one site and box-with-6pt-lead for another. I’ll be darned if I’m going to fix spaces. OK, so call me a quitter, call me weak, call me anything you want (as long as you call me…oh, wait, that’s another topic), I don’t care. But, I am also a firm believer in letting those who choose to do differently do their own thing. I’m an equal opportunity spacer–bet you didn’t even know there was such a thing. And, so help me God, if anyone wants to complain about my use of em dashes, pass me the piranha.

    1. Thank you for commenting. I agree with you that it should be live and let live, for sure. I don’t think one space is bad or wrong in any way, just that two spaces look better and help the reader. Em dashes – blimey, there’s a subject to get our teeth into! 🙂

  4. I’m a confirmed single-spacer. Maybe it’s from seeing how odd screen text looks with two spaces. Or years of editing with the Chicago Manual of Style at my side. It’s also a holdover from my graphic design years: extra spaces after the period make for unlovely “rivers” of white space running down the column. To each his or her own, however. Chris, enjoy that extra tap on the space bar. Although if you’re using an iPad, it will strip it out for you as you write.

    1. He Laurie – thanks for clearing that up about the ipad. I always suspected Apple were a bit control-freaky – I’m soooooo glad I never bought that ipad! Btw, I’m trying with the piranhas, but I think they’re scared of me now 🙁

  5. I am slowly coming around to using one space in my writing/formatting. When I edit, I fix them to one space. I learned about the change to one space usage a few years ago at my job when a co-worker pointed out to me students are being taught in school here to use only one space. I was like, What, no way, why and I was indignant to say the least because we were taught long ago two spaces. Now I’d have to learn another way. But in my job at the time as a technical editor/writer of commercial real estate appraisal reports they stayed two spaces. I did, though, where it was convenient and if space was needed, did put a single space in the residential reports because they were on pre-printed forms.

    I see here I have used two spaces. Let’s see if they stay that way once I hit submit.

    Great post, James and I feel your pain, but please, I like fish–big, big fish like you’d get in Alaska (niece caught a 200lb halibut last month and it’s in the freezer)….I’ll pass on the piranha, thanks.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Jacquline. I have a similar situation: in my job one of our house style rules is two spaces, and (obviously) I really like it, but some of my colleagues go bananas about it even though it’s not their job! A 200lb halibut, you say? Wow, that would be a whole mouthful for me! 🙂

  6. I prefer the single space if only because my books are long enough as it is. Double spacing can add as much as a page a chapter. For an e-book that is less of a concern than for a hard copy, but still, it is a consideration.

    1. That’s a fair comment, Robert, but white space on the page is also a factor: the more white space, the more the reader will think that the story is fast-moving.

  7. Oh how I enjoy a good controversy, or at least a very well stated argument, with my morning coffee!

    I rarely disagree with Mr. James and I shan’t start now. Double spaces do make it easier for me to read text; luckily this is aligned with the fact that my typing fingers (of which I use 8 very well and 2 remarkably badly) naturally put two spaces after full stops.

    That said, onscreen (rather than on the printed page) is a different matter. I have joked that Twitter has broken me of my two space habit because every time I tweet, with the limited spaces, I have to make a decision on which grammatical and punctuation rules I will break. A space on the Twitter is too darn valuable to leave blank. (if truth be known sometimes I don’t leave any spaces at all!)

    But also, on a computer screen the lettering appears differently…for example, on a webpage, it’s common to use a ‘footless font’ aka a non-serif font. Who among us would use a non-serif font for the text of a printed novel? No one! It would be unreadable.

    So, just as a serif font assists our eyes in moving across a page, two spaces after a period assists our eyes in knowing when the end of the sentence has appeared.

    No piranhas for me, Chris – thank you – but a nice grilled scallop would be just the ticket.

    1. Hey Jo, thanks for the comment, and for not disagreeing with me. Quite a lot of people do, so I do appreciate an ally 🙂 As I mention above, there is difference between writing for the internet and creating a book in Word, where we can do what we want. Btw, are scallops the same as barnacles? 🙂

      1. Scallops are NOT barnacles! Why they are lovely sweet seafood in great huge shells that attach themselves to…oh, wait a minute…well, anyway they ain’t barnacles! 😉

        As for the other: ally? always 😉 alliteration? almost 😉

  8. I live with one space but I would prefer two, just for ease of readability. However this whole question of formatting brings me to something I’ve noticed on the Kindle – long paragraphs are horrible to read. So perhaps we have to think about visual formatting for ebooks rather than just for print. Anyone else think the two should be different?

    1. My friend the graphic artist once told me there are some things you can do to make an e-book look better. Being of the Meatgrinder persuasion, I didn’t understand what she was talking about. Anybody?

    2. That’s a very good extension of the question: two spaces on a printed page but maybe just one on an e-page? But, actually, I know what my readers are going to get 😉

  9. You, good sir, are the Voice of Reason. Thank you!

    Although I will admit that after Kat’s post, I went into my WIP (the one that’s going live on the 18th — mark your calendars! 🙂 ) and did a find/replace for all the double spaces. I grumbled about it, but I did it. Any piranhas left?

    1. Yikes! My blood pressure did indeed go through the roof! I almost left a comment, till I saw that there were 4,000 comments already there. Amazing that so many people can be so wrong! But I think it IS important to be inclusive and accept minority views with open arms *sniggers in thoroughly childish manner*

  10. I have always thought that two spaces were for business letters and, well, anything other than for publication. I don’t find a problem differentiating and quite naturally double tap on one and not on the other.

  11. Two spaces. Even in academic work. Always two spaces after a full stop. Especially in academic work. (Words spoken by a recovering English teacher.)

  12. Dudes and dudettes – chill. It only takes a few seconds to change an entire manuscript from two spaces to one, or vice versa. I learned to type on a manual typewriter mumbledy-mumble years ago, so there’s no way I’m retraining my thumbs to one-space. But if I’m submitting to a publisher that insists on it, I just do a quick find-and-replace on the document before submitting.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Tracie. And that’s really my only point: as Indie writers we are FREE to decide what we think works best, and that’s very nice. Of course, I am also right, but that’s really besides the point 😉

  13. Thank you, LYnne! Why don’t you just go an pop those double spaces back in, eh? Your readers will thank you because, at a subconcious level, you will be giving them a more pleasurable reading experience. Remember: we’re Indies, and part of that is being free to bring the best, most gorgeous-est products to market, written and designed by us!

  14. Chris, I agree with everything you said. When I learned to type in eighth grade, Mrs. Lightner insisted on two spaces after a period. She was a feisty red head, and hot. Of course I did what I was told.

    All of my academic papers in college used two spaces, as that was, and I believe, still is, the proper APA format. After a hundred + papers, it’s a hard habit to break.

    Outside of academia, it seems that the majority opinion favors the single space, even though I find two make the text more readable.

  15. I am a full supporter of the double space. I have spent the last several months retraining myself because of freelance work. I prefer two spaces, but a lot of people don’t and it is too hard to switch back and forth.

  16. Two definitely make the text more readable! Maybe in 50 years, when we’ve all croaked and today’s kids are middle-aged, they’ll look back in amazement at how anyone could put two spaces on a new sentence, but till then – write on!

  17. JD, don’t give up the fight, brother. You tell them, use key words like “quality”, “style”, “professionalism”, and “don’t be a bloody muppet, of course two spaces look better.” Or maybe not that last one…

  18. Thanks for the article. I never understood the value in two spaces (nor did I bother to look into it, to be honest) but now I see your point. Of course it won’t change me into a two-spacer, but it’s good to know. =)

  19. Krista,
    Look deeply into my eyes… You’re feeling sleepy… You can see the words on the page – but wait! There isn’t enough space between the sentences! The words are upset. You want to make the words happy, don’t you, Krista? Just one extra space will make them happy… 🙂

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