If you love writing, you know there’s a quintessential argument that takes place in every internal communications team, in marketing departments, and among communication professionals: one space or two spaces between a period and the next sentence. Sometimes, those opinions even vary for print versus online writing; sometimes, they don’t.
Come on, you have a favorite. You can’t deny it. Every person I’ve met has a strong preference.
It may be influenced by typewriting classes you took, a style guide you picked up and loved, current writing guidelines, personal opinions, that college teacher that was hard to please, or an editor who insists on one.
One space was once cutting edge
I entered the workplace in 1993 as a junior editor for NASA. The standard there was two spaces as many of the pieces were typewritten — only then being converted to desktop publishing. From there, I started writing software documentation that went online on intranets. We still used two spaces, because it was a style convention.
But that convention changed.
In the late 1990s, I picked up a Wired style guide that challenged the one-space convention. The publication made a point of saying how in print it was important to have two spaces to clearly communicate a new idea, but online, you didn’t need to worry about type settings.
The guide even based advice on research — testing readers to see which one was easier to read — finding virtually no difference between one and two spaces. The Wired people were the same savvy people who suggested sans-serif fonts were easier to read online.
This new style was bold! Challenging. It dove into the convention to understand it, but then tossed it on its ear, upsetting my journalist colleagues. (Yes, at the time that gave me some satisfaction.)
In fact, it was so bold, I began to reviewing all conventions. Should web be capitalized? Should webpage be one word? Wired got me thinking it was time to go big on online writing as it was the future of communications.
One space is now a common convention
Online, one space is widely accepted as the way to write. Many — if not most — now have moved to one space in writing. They’ve moved to one space for a variety of reasons, but mostly because as an editing friend says, “There’s no need for two on a modern device that already has variable-width fonts.”
A lawyer friend was uncharacteristically less diplomatic. “Rote adherence to an archaic standard adopted to overcome the shortfalls of a device you aren’t working on, while using technology that already automatically incorporates the efforts of designers to eliminate legibility concerns, strikes me as silly at best. At worst, it’s a triumph of axiomatic style over functional substance.” (Oddly enough, his wife — a communications professional and writer — disagrees!)
In fact, no longer do publications distinguish between writing online and in print — it’s generally accepted that it’s one space to rule them all.
And yet, there are still online publications that use two spaces. These publications are written by smart, savvy people who would know better. Friends in communications still use two. Friends in communications I admire still use two.
It got me to wondering — is two spaces now cutting edge? What did my writing, internal communications, and marketing pals think? What about people outside the communications world?
Opinions on one space versus two
I wanted to see what people thought, trying to approach it with an open mind. Maybe there’s room for two spaces in this world, just as some people like vanilla ice cream (which I think is just lazy) and those who enjoy baseball (which is about as exciting to me as watching paint dry).
I also wondered about the backgrounds of people who liked two spaces. Did friends who’d learned typing first use two spaces, while those that didn’t preferred one? Did having a background in science necessitate two spaces, even today? Did communications professionals demand one?
What I learned surprised me.
There are advantages for two spaces
Among friends, there were those who learned through typing to use two spaces and never gave it up. They liked the tradition. Technology had moved on, but they’d continued the convention.
But there were also people who never learned typing who also liked two spaces. Two spaces, they said universally, gave sentences room — time to digest information. It provided a rest for eyes before moving on. One even said it helped the eye skim information better. These are professional writers, designers, editors, and journalists, too.
A friend who recently left a successful career as a pediatric oncologist even provided a style guide for a scientific journal, where it suggested two spaces.
It’s not that crazy. Neil Patel, an SEO expert and marketing trendsetter, recommends bloggers use a new paragraph for every sentence. He recommends this for the same reasons — time to digest and understand the information. He’s gone one step past two spaces and gone to a whole new paradigm. I have to admit, I’ve noticed I’m adopting more of his suggestion without completely embracing it.
Revisiting writing standards
Languages evolve, so do standards. It’s why it’s worth revisiting.
In college, as an English and history double major, I was trained to the use Oxford comma — a serial comma following the penultimate word. (Example: I like chocolate ice cream, political debates, science fiction, and BBC productions.) But in my career other style guides (such as the AP stylebook) required me to remove that comma. Soon, it became habit and I was — in my mind — eliminating a tired convention based on arcane standards.
It wasn’t until a recent court case made me rethink the importance of an Oxford comma. After all, it adds clarity. Clarity is important. In fact, apparently clarity is worth about $5 million.
Even fonts used online have changed with technology. Where sans-serif once reigned supreme, serif fonts are once again accepted online … and not just with the New York Times.
Maybe it’s time to rethink other standards. After all, AP now accepts that web and internet can be lowercase. (Shocking!) I even know grammarians who’ve come to accept that ending with a preposition isn’t doom itself. I blew the mind of one person who insisted on using the word “may,” that language evolves. Former president Teddy Roosevelt brought a group together to Americanize language. He was met with such resistance, he didn’t finish his desired changes. (But, you can thank him for organize and color.)
If we’re on a list of what changes, I already have a few in mind:
- Include the entire name of the city and state in a press release. If you’re from Paris, Texas when you see the word, “Paris,” you may think of your small Texas town. AP still uses bizarre standards for cities and states that are confusing to anyone who doesn’t have a stylebook handy. Sorry, AP!
- Avoid using whether its Daylight Savings Time or Standard Time (example: 9 a.m. PST). No one is really thinking about which one is it … not even farmers. I’m thinking it’s 9 a.m., and when given qualifiers (PST or PDT), I’m either looking to prove you wrong or wondering about my own existence — which one am I in?! Besides, Indiana and Arizona refuse to adapt — or perhaps they’re smarter than the rest of us — making that determination a form a torture. I used to work with people from those states — the pain is real!
- Use the first name for what time zone you’re talking about. I live in MT, and even I have trouble remembering that’s Mountain. It should be Pacific, Mountain, Central, or Eastern here in the U.S. CT — to me — looks like Connecticut.
I’m sure another blog post will be debating some of the above. I have more controversial thoughts, and I’m not afraid to embrace or explain them.
Space for one and two spaces
After reading comments and thinking, I believe there’s room in our world for Two Spacers — people who prefer and use two spaces instead of one. They have reasons for two spaces. I may not agree, but I understand their logic. They want clarity and to ensure people rest while reading. Sometimes, they’re following a publication guide that insists two words, maybe especially for complicated scientific information.
Of course I’ll stick with my fellow One Spacers, using that convention. For this blog and our materials, I’ll continue editing out two spaces. But when looking at other people’s writing, I won’t judge them as being behind the times. After all, it’s all about clarity and consistency.
But those people who don’t add a comma after the penultimate word … they’re just wrong. Oxford comma forever!
Your writing conventions
Are you a one space or two spacer? Why? And are there any conventions you think are ready to be tossed out or embraced? Comment here and join the conversation.