Just like fashion, writing and grammar have their own trends. Various rules come and go and we want to keep you abreast of these changes so we are always submitting the best RFI responses possible. The first trend we’re going to tackle: Spacing After Periods.
If you learned to type before the 21st century, it’s likely you were taught the double-space rule – that is you were instructed to put two spaces after a period when completing a sentence.
Double-spacing was ingrained in me circa 1986 (ish) and I found out 15+ years later that I had been doing it wrong. That’s right, the double-space rule has gone the way of powder blue leisure suits… donated to goodwill or relegated to the back of closets and only dusted off for costume parties and hipsters.
Why has double-spacing become a relic of times past? The short answer is a change in technology from the typewriter to the personal computer. If this is enough justification for you, please go forth and single-space after periods. But if you’re like me and need more convincing or justification, prepare to wade into the minutia….
The spacing of letters (kerning) in a word impacts the legibility and comprehension of a word. If a word has a lot of space in between letters, it can slow down your reading pace (think of sounding out a word). A similar effect happens if a word is tightly compacted, requiring more focus to distinguish letters. Whether expanded or condensed, letter spacing impacts the legibility of a document.
The Typewriter vs. The Personal Computer
When the typewriter became THE popular correspondence and composition tool, the letters on the typewriter generally had the same amount of space between them and the same amount of space allocated to each letter. This locked in the size of letters and required them to take up as much space as the largest letter (the “W”). So an “i” was allocated the same space as a “W” which caused words to be spread out. You can see this in action on a computer by using the font “Courier New” which perfectly illustrates the result (or see graphic below). Because words were spread out so much more, two spaces after a period helped to better distinguish the end (or beginning, depending on your perspective) of a sentence.
When word processors and personal computers (PCs) entered the scene a world of fonts opened up to the masses and were programmed for optimal legibility. Computers allowed programmers to build spacing around each letter according to the size of the letter so an “i” would have a proportionally appropriate (or comfortable) amount of space assigned to it instead of the same amount of space a “W” would require. This change condensed words and made it easier to distinguish a single space between sentences.
As the world adopted PCs and the number of fonts expanded, the significance of the change that had taken place in letter spacing was really only known to programmers and graphic designers. The message was slow to get out and this is why the majority of us learned to double-space after a period.
Why Does This Matter?
- Professionalism: Single-spacing is the standard in media and business communication these days.
- Reading Comprehension: I’m currently reading a self-published book from an author who has not adopted the single-space and I’m struggling to focus on the message of the book because that extra gap is affecting my concentration.
When you switch from double-spacing to single-spacing and then see a document that is double-spaced, it is distracting. Don’t believe it? Print out a page of text with double-spacing and turn it upside down. You’ll notice rivers of white space running through your document. Now try to ignore that gap going forward.
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