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How Many Spaces After a Period?

Categories: Brian Klems' The Writer's Dig Tags: Brian Klems, online editor blog.

Q: My writing course instructor insists that I should go back through my novel manuscript and use only one space after periods instead of two spaces. I was taught that it was always a double space after period. Is she wrong or am I just a dinosaur?—Anonymous

The “two spaces after period” rule was established during the days of typesetters, when additional space was needed to show the difference between the spacing between words (which was smaller) and the spacing between sentences (which was larger). When typewriters came around, they had only one font and all the letters were monospaced, or took up the same amount of space. That means that the skinny “l” and wider “w” occupied the same amount of space on paper. People mimicked what they believed to be the format they’d grown used to by adopting two spaces after a period—and that’s how the so-called two-space rule was born.

With the dawn of computers, word processing programs not only began offering an absurd number of fonts, but each font was programmed to space characters proportionally (“l” takes up about a third of the space “w” does). In turn, most computer fonts will automatically give you enough room between sentences with one space. And, according to nearly all stylebooks, including The Associated Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style, you always use a single space after a period.

The point is, it’s not only widely accepted, it’s expected that you use only one space after a period. Sorry two-spaces, it’s time to make the switch.

QUICK TIP FOR THOSE WHO USE TWO SPACES: If you are someone who can’t break your two spaces after a period habit, have no fear! Simply write as you always would (with two spaces) and, when you are finished, got to the toolbar of your word processing program, click EDIT > FIND > REPLACE and then choose to replace all double spaces with single spaces. Problem solved!
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brian-klems-2013Brian A. Klems is the online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
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51 Responses to How Many Spaces After a Period?

  1. pjdxxxwa says:

    Brian, I have a Mac but use Word to write with. Any Mac fonts rules you want to contribute to since some publishers allow Calibri or Cambria I have read? Or does it matter since I use Word to keep me from missing errors (hopefully)?

  2. Domino says:

    I’m a legal secretary and when my boss and I found out the rules had changed to one space, we learned to type with only one space between sentences. As difficult as it was to learn that, I managed to do so. A good cheat while you’re learning is to do your best, then when done with the document to go to the find and replace feature in your word processor and cut two spaces, and replace with one space. That fixes the problem throughout the manuscript. (It only took me a week or two of constant practice to relearn my spacing.) But the revised Chicago Manual of Style rules in our office.

  3. Ronnie Darby says:

    I am a writer and I’ve used two spaces all my life, as I was taught in High School typing class. I’ve sense changed to one space (even have my word processor change two spaces to one space after a period. Check out the following link: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2011/01/space_invaders.1.html

  4. Co9Mom says:

    I too learned the 2-space rule in an old Typing class on an old typewriter; but times change, rules change. Some for the better; some, well, maybe not so. Everyone in publishing hasn’t changed from 2 to 1; so I agree – it is best to ask your editor before you submit.

    BUT, I do not agree that you should change your font to accommodate the typeface size issue. I love the choice of typefaces that computers give you, so I want to use the one that fits the piece I am writing.

    Finally, have you noticed that in some pieces that, because of that typeface size issue, lines do not always start off exactly justified? If the piece you are working on is in a program that says every character fills the same space, but a capital “I” is actually less space filling than a capital “M”, the M will be flush left, the I will not be. Now how do you fix that?

  5. ess says:

    I know that web formatting rules don’t apply everywhere, but it tickles me to read the comments from folks advocating the double-space; you know they submitted their reader comments with the double-space rule applied, but since HTML ignores extra whitespace, all their comments show only one space after the periods.

    Despite their protests about the importance of the double-space, I doubt they’d even noticed this occurring.

  6. cslakin says:

    It’s not a matter of what you feel like doing. Chicago Manual of Style newest 16th edition has reverted back to one space after a period. If you are writing for the US book industry/market, you need to follow CMOS rules. So one space it is.

  7. ricereadr says:

    I learned to type in the 50’s. My main problem now comes as a reader, not being able to determine when a sentence ends, especially with small or light print where it is difficult to see the period. Many readers are older and have vision problems. It would be nice if editors would consider them a little.

  8. jevon says:

    I guess I’m too young to know about that rule so I’m safe. But interesting stuff.

  9. MEPF says:

    A second reason for the single space after a period dates back to “pre computer days.” During a paper shortage [during the 70's or early 80's] newspapers began using the single space to save newsprint. Once instituted, they never turned back — and then the computer font thing gave them a more arguable reason . . .

    As a reading specialist who spent a lifetime working with people with reading and vision problems, I prefer more space rather than less. But, alas, I can’t win the battle alone. :)
    I set my preferences to flag 2 spaces as an error or do a find/replace to change period space space to period space.

    • jrpohle says:

      I don’t buy the “single space to save newsprint” argument.
      Most newspapers fully justified the text into the 4,5, or 6 columns printed on the page. Which meant inserting additional spaces to eliminate the whitespace that would occur at the end of the line.

      How eliminating a space from a double spaced new sentence doesn’t make any sense when spaces are added between words to fully justify the column.

      Ultimately, it boils down to what rule someone learned vs. societal preferences and conforming to them. Much like the debate over whether to use the comma at the end of a list: “this, this, and that.”

  10. Laurel says:

    The biggest argument I heard in favor of changing (which I did) was that so many agents (and editors) use e-readers to read manuscripts and the extra spaces can cause formatting changes that make the ms hard to read. I don’t want anything to make my work hard to read for any perspective agent or editor, so I made the switch. It really only took a few weeks. The other big format issue has to do with using the “tab” to indent. With all the great information about formatting available, I don’t want to allow my own habits to keep me from being published.

  11. Ardent Muse says:

    I’m glad you wrote an article about this. I too learned to type on a typewriter in the 70s and was taught the double-space rule, then adjusted accordingly once informed about the 1-space rule for computers. I had to get used to it visually too, and retrain myself to break the habit of it, but anything that prevents you from having to type extra keystrokes can’t be all that bad. I just thank GOD we don’t have to fuss with Typewriters anymore! What a PAIN they were with the correction tape and ribbons running out of ink! Computers for word processing are a Breeze on the Beach and I LOVE them for the fact that I can get my thoughts out quickly before they leave my head (physically writing them down can inhibit that for one like myself who’s dyslexic), so to make a 1-space adjustment on a Computer?! HECK Ya! (lol)

    I find it interesting that so many people mentioned Editors’ preference for double-spacing though, and will keep that in mind once I start submitting work… a SPECIAL THANKS to BOTH “writtenwyrdd” and “Gene Jennings” for the Tip: Ctrl H Feature in Word, and another Thanks to ” tonyguntrip” for the Q10 Tip. D/L-ing right now. Wonder if there’s anything like that for a MAC though? (I’m intending to get a MAC for my next computer).

    Thanks again for this article!!

    • Ardent Muse says:

      (Funny though.. even as I typed the above, I found myself double-spacing! — and correcting as I went along! Hard to break a habit once you’ve been taught something, huh?!) :D

  12. JWLaviguer says:

    I’ve been doing two spaces for so long that if I tried to do only one space, I’d be concentrating on that instead of allowing the words to flow freely from my mind. Trying to change something like that at my age would be like learning a new way to breathe or eat.

  13. Cheryl Jackson says:

    It’s interesting to see so many opinions and points of view on this subject. As a web and print advertising editor, I can tell you that we’ve been using the one-space rule for ages due to space constraints. So when I’m reading something that has two spaces after the period, it brings me to a dead stop and I have to start my brain again to finish the passage. It has become an automatic response to see it as a mistake.

  14. Bobbeach says:

    As a professional typesetter from before the PC had been invented and typefaces came on glass disks I can tell you that pros use one space, amateurs use two. I suppose it’s a question of whether you can be bothered to do the job properly ;-)

    By the way, bold and italics aren’t different fonts, they’re different weights. If you want to get really picky, It’s actually not a font, it’s a typeface (or just “face”). The font is the physical object which enables you to reproduces the face – so I suppose these days that’s the computer file. Pedantic – youbetcha!

  15. pmzim2 says:

    I was an editor for many years who hired many freelancers. I also grew up and began writing during the era of typewriters. I am also a writer and I had to unlearn the two-space rule. I can tell you this: I was annoyed as heck at the writers who refused to use the one-space rule because they cost me countless hours of going into their manuscripts and deleting the extra space. I repeatedly asked them to stop. I hired the writers who not only wrote well but who made my editing life easier when it came to style. So, you can be stubborn and not adopt the one-space rule or you can get with today’s writing styles and make life much easier for your editors and gain more income for yourself. Of course, as one writer pointed out, she has a disability that makes it difficult for her to use just one space–I would accommodate her and others like her. But, otherwise, one space, please…just saying with all due respect…

    • Jaya says:

      Countless hours?

      Find –> Replace All. Done.

      I won’t adopt the one-space rule; the huge swaths of academia that use the APA manual are mandated to use two, that’s what I used in graduate school, and that is what I continue to use (making a living as a full time writer).

      The tripe about double spaces being an artifact of the typewriter era is factually incorrect, as even a quick Google search will tell you. We lost the second space, along with wide margins and standards for leading, when publishing companies decided to save money by cramming more words onto a page. I’m not going to reward cost-cutting, particularly not when people are revising history to justify it.

  16. Dean Kutzler says:

    I learned in school that you do 2 spaces after a period, 2 after an exclamation point and one after a question mark.

    I ALSO heard from one editor that we do 2 spaces after a period here in the US and 1 in the UK..

    Go figure. I, for one, cannot reprogram! LOL!

  17. I learned to type in the late 80’s, and while I’m sure I was taught the two-space rule, it didn’t last long. I’ve been using one space for at least 15 years in various contexts. Personally, I think two-space is ugly and distracting, but that—as well as your dislike of one-space, most of you—is simply a matter of personal preference. These days, using a simply Find/Replace, like Gene suggested, means you can keep your double-tap habit while at the same time presenting a document with single spaces when it comes time to submit.

  18. wendygoerl says:

    This article is actually a bit confusing, and I KNOW the difference between typewriters and printers. Having only a single “font” (and a lot of electric typewriters could change fonts without too much difficulty, you just swapped out the daisy wheel or type ball with the one you wanted, though you probably wouldn’t want to do that mid-document) has nothing to do with spacing. “Font” is the overall design of the letters; it’s unusual to use more than one font in a document (yes, you might argue that bold and italic versions of a given font are techincally different fonts, but computers can often bold and italicize fonts that DON’T have bold and italic versions). The fact that the typewriter moved the carriage a fixed distance for every keystroke, WHATEVER THAT KEY (OR FONT) WAS, is the reason type was, as Brian said, “monospaced” (Typographers say “non-proportional”). Modern word processing software and non-impact printers are typographically savvy enough to give an m-space instead of an n-space to the space between a period and a capital letter (and can actually be a little confused about what you want if you hit the space bar twice), so proportional fonts have become the rule. Most computers still keep a Courier or other non-proportional font around, just in case you need to pretend you’re writing on an Underwood.

    • tonyguntrip says:

      In order to maximise the “I’m a real writer, using a real typewriter” experience try the free Q10 editor. Not only is it both focused and capable, it also allows you to download a typewriter sound track (from ‘Ameilie’) so that keys and CR, for example, make the right sound.

      Great fun.

  19. Dave9000 says:

    I’ve worked as an editor at several major New York-based magazines and book publishers. I’ve also freelanced for dozens of national magazines as well as a few major newspaper. This “rule” varies widely with the house. Some insist on one space; others insist on two. The latter group tends to be those that use large “em” spaces in their typography so they need the space for their specialized graphics program. This is why one should always check with writers’ guidelines for the buyer no matter how experienced the writer.

  20. writtenwyrdd says:

    Funny, I had an editor tell me to put 2 spaces, even after a colon, regardless. So the moral of this story is there is no one, true answer! (Besides, search and replace using Cntl-H with Word is simple.)

  21. Sean G. says:

    My question is about typesetting. Can you recommend a good, easy-to-use typesetting software program? I am self-publishing and would like to utilize something that would allow me to cut & paste into the program & typeset my manuscript in mins. Thanks in advance for your time & attention.

  22. Elona Bridge says:

    I wish editors and publishers would reconsider the new monospace preference. I have uncorrectable visual disturbances(blurring and doubling)and that second space makes reading so much easier and less fatiguing in any font.

  23. I’ve never heard of this before. it’s difficult for me to imagine trying to change the tap tap of the thumb as one previous commenter noted. Upon reading this, I immediately asked my editor what he thought. He said he does the ‘find’ and ‘replace’ thing that Gene mentioned.

    thanks for posting this one.

    Robin

  24. Thanks for commenting on my blog! I just read through a little bit of Q&Q, and it’s really helpful! I am currently putting the finishing touches on my senior thesis at college (also my first feature-length screenplay), and your site looks like it’s going to be a helpful tool to make sure I don’t fall into any silly mistakes in the most important product of my academic career. Take care!

  25. Brian, Brian, Brian,

    Helvetica. Never Arial.

  26. Dennis Hill says:

    Prior to having my manuscript typed, I checked to see if the two space rule was still the standard, and the answer by an editor was "yes". That is how I had my manuscript typed and that is how it is going to stay. It is tedious trying to keep up with the trivial demands made by editors, especially when they cannot agree with each other. If editors are going to make such petty demands, they should make the changes themselves. Any publisher that is going to turn down my story because of these petty demands is not a publisher with whom I want to work.

    Furthermore, programs such as Quark should be made to automatically make such changes if they those programs are incompatible with standard word processing.

    • wendygoerl says:

      Oh, yeah. “Automatically” make changes. And what happens when you have a reason to NOT do that way. I know most spreadsheets will ignore zeroes on the left end of a number (or the right, if there’s a decimal in it) unless you set a specific number of digits to any numbers entered in the cell (like telling it it’s currency). VERY annoying if you’re have a list a list with, say, part number 002524 and part number 02524, and they’re COMPLETELY different parts. I’ve been frustrated by things “someone” thought “everyone” would want a certain way too many times to ever want the machine to make that decision for me.

      Come to think of it, I used to use a shareware word processor (MindReader, to be exact) that automatically double-spaced when you hit the period. Always had to backspace after an abbreviation. And in the mid-90’s I took a computer-skills test for a temp agency that was “old-school” programmed: it flagged all my single-spacing on the typing test as “wrong”

  27. Great tip, Gene. Thanks for sharing.

    Brian

  28. When I discovered this I had recently completed a 300 page novel. I struggled with how to edit the entire book from 2 spaces between sentences to 1. If you have that quandry, here’s how to fix it: Go to the Find/Replace feature of your word processor. Enter two spaces in the Find box. Then enter one space in the Replace box. In a matter of seconds, your entire manuscript will be fixed. I love computers!

    PS – Since then I’ve been trying to break the old habit. You can also set MS Word to notify you with one of those squiggly lines if you have more than one space between sentences.

  29. I heard about this new rule just a couple of months ago and have been working to correct my old habit of 2 spaces (I learned to type in the early 70s). A word of encouragement — it IS possible to break this habit. It didn’t take me as long as I thought it would. Amazing really how quickly the new habit has taken over.

  30. Thank you for this interesting piece! I edit James Hubbard’s My Family Doctor, and we use one space. I would love it if my freelancers would use one space rather than two, but they rarely do. Funny though … the two-space thing is so hard-wired in me that I’m using two in this post. I still prefer the way it looks in everyday e-mailing and such.

  31. While it’s not a complete breaking point, it is a pet peeve of many editors. Two spaces looks awkward in most design programs, such as Quark and InDesign, so editors have to change it. Most editors will take a freelancer who causes them less work over a freelancer who creates more.

    Great questions, though. I know it’s a hard habit to break and editors are understanding of this, but it’s helpful if you can make the adjustment.

    Brian

  32. Kim Blossom says:

    The world of academia still tends to want two spaces, so if you’re in school you’d better ask your professor.

    Do editors out in the real world really care? Two spaces are easier on the eyes even with computer word-processing.

  33. John Towler says:

    Blah. That’s the first time I’ve heard the new "one space rule." So what are all of us old typists supposed to do who have a condition spacebar "tap tap" hardwired into our typing skills already?
    –John

    • Lee says:

      Me too. My thumb will not reprogram. Just ain’t gonna happen. Editors, learn to live with it.

      • Ishmael says:

        Same here. I refuse to use only one space between sentences. Refuse. It’s become automatic, and besides, the eyes still could use that “extra” break between sentences. The double space between these sentences that I’m writing are perfect. Are we also going to start misspelling all of our words now, to accommodate those who text?

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