One space or two?

A debate has been raging on our local community page: someone asked if you should put one space or two after a full-stop.

Who knew a small space would create so much heated discussion?

There were people literally stamping their feet (or more likely, their keyboard keys) insisting that they were taught two spaces in their typing school (and therein lies the clue).

Some were under 40 and/or taught on a word processor, so it had nothing to do with age…but maybe their teachers had passed it on!

My own husband and many of my clients put two spaces in their written documents. I understand it’s a hard habit to break – it’s in the muscle memory.

It’s no big deal when receiving client copy with double spaces – before professionally typesetting anything, most designers will just ‘find and replace’ any double spaces for single ones…

The reason we no longer need two spaces is that modern computer programmes automatically adjust for the ‘correct’ spacing between letters, words and punctuation marks in a way you couldn’t with a manual typewriter.

So letter spacing is automatically kerned (the act of moving letters further together or wider apart to aid legibility and flow) in any computer typeface or font.

It’s a subtle thing and hard to ‘measure’ – in fact, you won’t even realise it’s happening when done properly. You only notice bad kerning – as any design elements when they are done incorrectly.

Some people were incorrectly claiming that the two-space-after-a-sentence convention came from the old days of letterpress, but it was actually from the days of the typewriter.

Old-fashioned typewriters were ‘mono-spaced’ i.e. the same amount of space taken up by a small ‘i’ as a capital ‘W’, as a full stop, because all the keys on a typewriter are exactly the same width regardless of what letter or punctuation mark was used.

Therefore, it’s not that the space after a full-stop is bigger in modern typesetting, but the gaps between all the other letters are smaller, so visually, you no longer need the extra gap to clearly mark out the start of a new sentence in the way you needed to in the past.

As my explanation seemed to help members of my local community understand why we only need one space now (whether they – or you – continue to double-space is entirely their/your prerogative – I will just correct it for typesetting purposes!) I thought I’d share it with you…

What do you do…one space or two?