One or Two Spaces After a Period?

I am currently away on an Internet Vacation. I’ll be back online on March 31. I have written one new post for each day of my Vacation so that folks don’t miss me too much while I am gone. But keep in mind, these posts have been scheduled ahead of time. Feel free to comment, as always, but note that since I am not checking email, I will likely not be replying to comments until I am back from my Vacation on March 31. With that said, enjoy!

Not long ago, I saw a post on Facebook from my friend, Ryane, in which she described her frustration at the inconsistency in various manuals of style as to whether there should be one or two spaces after a period. If ever there was a first world problem, it seems to me that this is it. When I did a little poking around, I found, much to my surprise, that this is a hot topic, witness’s “Space Invaders” article that still seems popular.

If you ask me, it is not only a first world problem, it is a non-problem. My definition of non-problem is a problem that is essentially imagined because there are solutions to it. The most obvious solution to me is the practice of splitting the content from the presentation. Folks familiar with HTML and CSS have some notion of this. HTML contains the content you want to present. CSS define the presentation itself, what fonts to use, what type of spacing, etc. It seems to me there is no difference between this and manuscripts.

Indeed, I have written before how I think that one of the biggest drags on a writer’s time is fretting over formatting. Intuition tells me that writers who use plain text editors for the bulk of their writing are probably measurably more productive when it comes to actual writing than writers using Microsoft Word.

How does this apply to one or two spaces after a period?

If you separate the content from the presentation layer, it becomes a moot point. When you are writing the content, uses as many spaces after a period as you like. Uses to using two spaces? Use two. Insist that only one is the way to go, use one.

When you compile the final document, that is where the ultimate style should be applied. If I am writing for a publication that wants to see only one space after a period, I’ll compile my manuscript to have just one space after a period. If I am writing for a publication that wants two spaces, I’ll compile it for two spaces. When I say “compile” a manuscript, I am referring to the process that takes the content and puts it into some kind of standard format. For me, this process is entirely automated.

For fiction, I use Scrivener for compiling my manuscripts. Scrivener takes my content, no matter how I’ve formatted it, and then compiles it to pre-defined standards. Some of these standards come out of the box, some of them can be customized to your needs. Another way to look at this is through line-spacing. Many fiction markets want their manuscripts double-spaced. What if it is your preference to write single-spaced. Rather than wasting time futzing with setting to get the content to look the way the publisher wants it, write it how you are comfortable writing it. Then, when you compile it through a tool like Scrivener, let the tool double-space the content for you.

Compiling my manuscript is the last thing I do before sending it to a publisher. These days, all but my final, compiled draft go through Google Docs. It’s that final compiled draft that goes through Scrivener and it is within Scrivener that I have the various “templates” for the publisher to whom I sell stories and articles. And I ‘ve written some scripts for Google Docs that allow me to, say, take my Period. Space. Space and convert it to a Period. Space. What it amounts to is a rather simply search and replace. All I’ve done is automate it.

With this kind of obvious solution available to just about anyone who wants it, I really don’t see what the fuss is about whether there should be one or two spaces after a period. Do it however you like, find out the preference of your editor, and compile the manuscript to that preference.

Oh, and for the record, I’m a period space space guy. It’s just what I’m used to. But with a single mouse-click, I can produce a manuscript with n spaces after a period where n >= 0. Just tell me how you like it and that’s what I’ll deliver. You’re happy, I’m happy and the world rolls on.

4 thoughts on “One or Two Spaces After a Period?

  1. As someone who has had reformatting manuscripts in my job description, I want to just say that I loved people who used only one space. Because that signaled that they read our submission guidelines. People who used two spaces usually had other problems in their manuscript. Problems that could sometimes delay publication. So feel free to use as many spaces when you’re writing. But when you submit, show your editors some love and don’t forget to search and replace the extra spaces.

  2. Well laid out Jamie. I was taught back in the dark ages of typewriters the 2-space rule due to the spacing of the characters on said typewriter. With the advent of the word processor and options attached the need to separate sentences with two space became a non-issue. And, for the sake of file size, was able to reduces the number of characters in said document.

  3. One space versus two space is similar to the indent for a paragraph start question. In the days without proportional spacing, we used two space to make the end of a sentence visually distinct to improve readability. With today’s proportionally spaced fonts, we only need one space to clearly show a new space and two spaces ends up looking awkward. Of course, if you use an old font like courier without proportional spacing, you would go back to two spaces. So, it isn’t so much as one or the other, but what font system are you using. Similarly, a paragraph used to be five spaces, now, that simply looks awkward and clunky wi proportional spacing and two spaces is adequate. As for line spacing, I remember my highschool and uni profs wanting double spaced but I couldn’t stand reading and writing with that much space so I cheated and went with 1.5. With automation like you describe, that wouldn’t be an issue and I would be able to easily comply without turning my head inside out!

  4. “Intuition tells me that writers who use plain text editors for the bulk of their writing are probably measurably more productive when it comes to actual writing than writers using Microsoft Word.”

    Exactly. I don’t know about productivity but starting in a simple text editor certainly makes me happier. I’m not a writer but unless I’m in a hurry or need to get something small done, I prefer to first vomit the text out on a some editor (Notepad but trying to switch to Vim), edit for content and then format it for consumption in MS Word. If I start in Word I can get distracted, spending too much time messing with style before finishing the writing.

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