Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Writing 101: Double-Spacing...and Why It's Wrong

Double-spacing after a period.  Like this.  Is wrong.  But so many people have so many different opinions about double-spacing and single-spacing after punctuation, it's difficult to point to just one reason why it's wrong. I'm going to try anyway.

 Single and Fabulous?

The number of spaces that should be placed after a period is actually a hot point of contention among writers, editors and typographers. This is the kind of stuff that gets word nerds all kinds of hot and bothered, and I guess I'm no exception. I passionately believe that only one space should be used following any sentence, and the general school of typography agrees with me. 

Typesetters are the people who actually put the words on the page. They're responsible for making everything fit together and using all the space they've got in an economical fashion. Since the early 20th century, it's been an industry standard in Europe and the Americas to use a single space, not a double, between the period and the new sentence.

Standards were much looser before the 19th century, and in the early days of printing typesetters often used enlarged spaces following their periods. But a 19th-century invention would screw all the spacing up and confuse writers even 200 years later.

 Doubles, Anyone?

Ironically, it was the manual typewriter that changed spacing forevermore. The standard space on the manual typewriter was considered by many to be too small to properly separate sentences. Many writers began hitting the spacebar twice, not just once, after every period in order to provide the necessary separation. It became the norm to do this, and double-spaced typing was even taught in typing classes. No one uses manual typewriters anymore, but the error is still being repeated all the time. 

If it's an error. The debate continues to rage on to this day, with many hotly defending the usefulness of the double space. I hate it, and I advise against using it, and I'm going to tell you why. 

The Way It Is 

Typesetters and printers established the single-space standard for a pretty important reason: money. When words take up less space, fewer pages may be used to print out a whole book. Fewer pages equals less cost to make the books, and that means they can be priced more competitively.

It's something no indie author can ignore. CreateSpace is easy and affordable, but it ain't free. Self-published authors can't afford to be less cost-conscious than those huge publishing houses.

It's also important for indies to conform to all industry standards in matters of grammar, punctuation and spacing -- both to fit in with all the other books and to prove that they can. Indies have a bad reputation as being amateurs and hacks, so don't visually separate your books from the ones the big box publishers are churning out by the million.

And because it is a standard, you could get called on it if you do it incorrectly and use a double space. If you do any guest posts or freelance writing assignments, you could easily draw the ire of a blog owner or editor who has very strong opinions. Conform to the standard; they'll definitely let you know if they want you make changes. If they do, just use your search-and-replace function to fix your spacing.

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  1. Actually, it surprises me that this is still a problem. I used to double-space, when it was the norm, but one article in Writers News changed me forever.

  2. I used to do it, too. It just took one comment from an editor to break me of the habit.

  3. Isn't the standard to also not have any space in...:

    "spacing -- both to fit" [...]

    "spacing—both to fit" [...]

  4. Spacing around dashes is a whole different post. The standard depends on the style guide.

  5. My mom used to tell me all the time I should be double-spacing after periods, and all I could think was 'no, that's stupid.' But 'lo and behold, she grew up using type-writers. I could never get into the habit of double-spacing and wasn't about to if she was the only one who thought it was right. Glad it's not standard -- I cannot stand it!

  6. Some writers like the way it looks, but I'm with you. To me, the double spaces just add too many gaps and ruin the look of the page.

  7. I didn't even know this was a thing. I was taught to double space in typing class in high school in the 90's but 1) we were taught on electric typewriters and 2) my teacher had been teaching typing for 30 years. It's drilled into my brain and is part of my typing technique, I suppose. Twitter has helped me some with this as spaces are characters and I have a lot to say.

    Thanks for bringing this up.

  8. I also learned how to type initially on a typewriter, CR. I found an old one at my grandmother's, and for reasons unknown I thought it was so great. My grandmother dug up an old typing book, and that's how I learned. I didn't even realize I was double-spacing after my periods, because it was just second nature, until someone pointed it out to me quite harshly. We get used to doing things a certain way, and don't even realize we're doing them.

  9. It's a tough one, eh? I freelance as a paralegal and some judges will throw a brief out of court if it isn't double-tapped. Of course, a brief or a memorandum of law isn't read linearly. My state's(Illinois)Blue Book says to err on a single tap between spaces as does Writer's Digest - unless you are using a monotype font. Still a tightrope. I've read some books (indie and Big Media alike) that have double tapped, but in the latter's case, it was because of a small point type on a large page. Most commonly this happens with textbooks or an omnibus collection. Doesn't bother me personally as a reader but I'm sure there are a few customers out there that will return your book posthaste if this is transgressed.

  10. I think it's hilarious how people get worked up over this debate. As if it's a moral dilemma or an article of faith or something...

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  12. You mention typesetters. As a retired typesetter, I never had to use a double-space because I had the luxury of inserting an m-space. When regular typing, I still prefer the look of the double-space at the end of a sentence, and as long as I'm consistent, I guess that's my "look."

  13. Uhmm... I can't stand double spacing either and another thing I can't stand is indented headings (as per OP) or even worse still heading indents that are not consistent! AAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!!

    Single and Fabulous? ...
    Doubles, Anyone? ...
    The Way It Is ...