Should We Use a Single or a Double Space at the End of a Thought?
My son is taking college classes in lieu of high school and I have been editing his work. I later realized that he had also been re-editing my edits and restoring single spacing at the ends of his sentences. This was the first I had heard of the single spacing rule, despite evidently reading single spaced publications for decades. I told him to ask his English Professor for his opinion and he came home and pronounced double spacing to be the correct form to end a sentence. In the meantime I found that it is no longer the industry standard, yet still I am not certain it is “incorrect” either. I understand certain publications declaring their own parameters based on production, economic and aesthetic standards.
Like the majority of my generation, I learned to double-space automatically in high school. Back in the mid to late seventies, when manual typewriters were still in use, I would have blessed the one space rule, as my manual space bar was always such a bear to press that I would at times need to re-type a whole page for having missed a space!
Despite the insistent viewpoint that typographers should determine the standards, I do not believe them to carry the sole voice in this subject. Somewhere in this realm of aesthetics and practicality the voice of the author must be communicated with clarity to the reader, and the reader must be able to extract with as much ease as possible the information presented. Decisions are made balancing the content and its natural order, spacing and progression with the symmetry and beauty of its shape and presentation on the page. I never considered these elements until called upon to present my lectures as power point presentations. For this format I discovered a whole new world of font and spacing variations and quite literally spent hundreds of hours focused on the aesthetic presentation of my content. The relevancy here lies in the value judgments I was forced to make when the arrangement of ideas did not fit into the visual aesthetics of the frame I was creating. As a professor when I needed to compromise it was the aesthetics rather than the content which would be sacrificed. Now, years later I am one of those latent writers finally putting action to rumination and attempting my first novel. I am aware that most editors require single spacing, but I am oh so resistant to this change.
I can train myself physically to type single space, but not to think in that manner. As a writer, hitting that second space is my internal punctuation point. ‘Tap tap’ with both thumbs resets my thought processes in the middle of a paragraph, and provides a satisfying sense of completion at the end of a paragraph or point of view. Single spacing denies me these small victories and my writing process is less enjoyable, more tedious. When writing single space sentences I feel driven to continue to a natural spacial pause, which brings me to the end of a paragraph so I may at least type period, space and RETURN.
Intellectually I understand there is quite simply less physical work with single spacing, but often my best writing is more instinct than intellect. When I double space I am communicating this pause. When I write a longer sentence divided by a comma and a single space I am communicating a lesser pause. As a reader, a double space at the end of a sentence draws my gaze to that extra space, maintaining my reading position as I absorb the content, relationships and import of the completed sentence. I then move fluently onto the next sentence without re-reading for the purpose of finding my place. Intrinsically I believe that single spacing encourages the reader to digest complete paragraphs rather than stand alone sentences. It is the exception, rather than the rule, that the quickly scanned word combinations actually trigger the arduous process of re reading and fully assimilating content.
I postulate that “instinctual double spacing” actually changes the way we read single space type. That those who type with the extra space/pause will re read more frequently or more carefully due to habits ingrained with reading spaced out sentences. Conversely, single spacing would lead to different reading techniques. Now that children are taught early to use a keyboard I am wondering if the single spaced reading pattern will in some way form a different level of thought processes. Symbolically, it may be likened to hiking through a forest trail for exercise. Sights, sounds and smells form a fast moving medley and a generalized impression. Allowing for the extra space between sentences allows one to meander slowly along a path while stooping silently here and again for a closer look at the miraculous beauty within arm’s length.
For all of our scientific advancements, we are light years away from producing a controlled study that can contain these many variables. Suffice it to say that instinct and common sense leads me to conclude that sentence spacing affects the impact of what we read on our creative and deductive minds. I do believe that we may lose something precious if we entirely eradicate this writing standard. Traditional does NOT mean out-dated. In these times when we are racing to keep up with our own technologies at the expense of much we have taken for granted, any process which supports our intuitive knowledge is crucial.
All told, I will continue to add a second space at the end of my sentences, either typographically or internally. If a publishing format requires single spacing I will reluctantly edit with find and replace, and submit a single spaced translation of a work composed in double space. For the fleetingly short time that my children still prioritize my opinions, I will encourage them to do the same. In this way I hope that they too will find the instinctive pauses in our ever more hectic lives in order to absorb the world around them and to savor their small victories.
Link for more information: http://www.heracliteanriver.com/?p=324%E2%80%8E.
The preceding essay is written in reaction to an informative and well researched post on the history of typesetting and the timeline for the change from double to single space conventions following the period at the end of a sentence. It is well worth reading and can be found at the following address: