Tuesday, 17 February 2009

One space or two after a full stop?

Many years ago, while I was studying A levels, I did an evening class in typing (I did another in shorthand, but that didn't stick at all). We had a good teacher, and by the end of the year I could touch type, and even had a certificate for the lowliest possible level of proficiency.

I was taught to put two spaces after a full stop, and I've done it ever since. Until last week, when the subject came up on the Authonomy forum. What changed my mind was this comment from Cameron Chapman:

I'm a copyeditor and I would beg everyone to use ONE space after a period. If you check newer style manuals, particularly the Chicago Manual of Style (for the U.S.), they specify one. The primary reason that two spaces used to be standard was because of monospace fonts (courier) on typewriters. It supposedly made it easier to read if there were two spaces between sentences since everything else was spaced exactly the same. It created a sort of "mental break".

Since copyeditors have to take out all those double-spaces before manuscripts go to the printer and we generally have to turn on the "track changes" feature in Word, even auto-replacing all those double-spaces with single-spaces creates a ton of extra work on both the copyeditor's end and the author's/editor's end. All those tracked changes come up with a comment and are marked in red in the manuscript. You can see how that would just create a practically unmanageable amount of clutter on the page.

She convinced me. I've changed the spacing in my three novels' typescripts, and am training myself to use one space as I type henceforth.

(The way to do it in Word is to click Edit, Find, Replace, and put two spaces on Find, one on Replace. Easy.)


  1. Standard ms formatting would say one - two's a throwback to the days of typewriters (though I doubt it'd make the difference between a story/novel being accepted or not).

  2. Funny how one clings to old ways.

    It's fortunate that with Find and Replace it's so simple to change.

    I just had to remember to alter it after inverted commas and ellipses as well as full stops.

  3. Took me a while to get used to one space after so many years using the old Royal typewriter. You would think I might have noticed your double spacing in the work of yours I have been privileged to read. It's a good thing I'm not a copy editor!

  4. Maybe, Alan, but you'd make a jolly good book editor.

  5. I had meant to locate the subject on the authonomy forum when I first saw this post, Lexi, but I have the world to conquer - you know how it is.

    I've noticed that in books where there is only one space, I sometimes have trouble seeing the full stop. It seems my eyes have previously seen the two spaces rather more easily than they have seen the tiny dot.

    It then causes me to stumble over the sentence which appears not to make sense. Annoying and, ultimately, it spoils the joy of reading.

  6. I do one space, but still sometimes forget and do two.

    But like Nik says, I don't think one would get bounced for it!

  7. I have heard of that as well--it's a hard habit to break, but one that seems to be professional norm now.

  8. I'm just pleased to have made up my mind at last!

  9. Oh, me too.

    I passed elementary Pitmans at high school by typing with two spaces and have had to train myself since to settle for one.

    I sometimes still slip. Find and replace at the end of writing fixes this annoying habit no problems - I don't understand why it takes a copy editor so long to fix them up... I can do a novel-length document in seconds with control F.

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  11. Ooh, thank you, Anon!

    It's funny, this post about one full stop or two is the most popular I've ever written. I do hope it helps the people who find it.

  12. Personally, I just can't do it. Two spaces till I go the the grave for me! Paragraphs without two spaces behind full stops look heavy and daunting. Inject some 'air' into your text with two spaces, whether using a type writer or a word processor.

    Besides, what are the disadvantages of using two spaces after a full stop?

  13. Gordon Bennett, dot, didn't you read the post?

  14. Yes, I did read the post.

    Why bother removing the double spaces at all, is what I am getting at with my last post. What I would like to know is why the Chicago Manual of Style decides we don't need the "mental breaks" anymore, whether an 'i' is narrower than an 'e' or not and monospace fonts are no longer an issue.

    Also, I don't understand how "auto-replacing all those double spaces with single-spaces creates a ton of extra work [for everyone]". You said it yourself, Find [..]/Replace[.]. Easy.

    This is a copyeditor who should look for another job.

  15. A copyedited novel goes back to the author for him to decide whether to keep or reject the changes marked using Track Changes by the copyeditor. If every sentence is marked because of the spacing issue, you can see that would make it more difficult to pick out the other corrections.

    The text being justified, as it is in a printed book, must have a bearing on the issue, too.