An editorial pedant: one or two spaces after a full stop?

I took a seminar yesterday with my current crop of dissertation students working hard to submit their undergraduate dissertations next week.  You can imagine the eye-roll when in response to a formatting query I had a minor rant about the number of spaces after a full stop, or if we are being American after a period.  This devolved into banter between myself, an ardent two spaces type of guy, and one of my doctoral students present to assist with the seminar who is very much a one space girl.

I learnt to touch type back in the 1980’s on an upright typewriter the summer before leaving for university.  This was one of the best things my parents ever encouraged me to do.  Ever since those days I have stuck rigidly to the two space rule, despite quickly transitioning to a word processor.  The argument goes that modern fonts are designed with variable widths to aid reading and to make the two spaces redundant.  But like an editorial pedant I have stuck, to them although I have stopped correcting the error (at least in my opinion) in other people’s work.

So this morning while displacing from a real task (or conducting an exercise in strategic procrastination if you prefer) I had a quick Google and was pleased find this piece in The Independent from earlier in the year that suggested that scientists had answered this age old debate using eye tracking software.  The original research published in Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics showed some marginal improvement in reading speeds with the use of two spaces.  The gain was small and the results have been disputed, but it is good enough for this dinosaur to continue to claim that the world is better with two spaces!

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If you are a student, there is this little tool on Microsoft Word which shows the hidden formatting which I have turned on all the time so I can see the number of spaces and the hard paragraph returns.  It can be useful and this sort of pedantry should not concern you overly, just pick a side and be consistent.

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