One Space or Two?

How many spaces should be included after end punctuation such as a period (full stop), exclamation point, and question mark?

One.

It’s true. Believe me. Despite what your teachers taught and typewriters required in decades past, the number of spaces after end punctuation–and after a colon–is one.

Wanting to be certain I was not conveying bad advice, I just checked five current style guides on my bookshelf:

  • Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications
  • The Chicago Manual of Style
  • The Associated Press Stylebook
  • Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association
  • The Gregg Reference Manual

All five dictate the use of just one space.

A sixth reference, The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, waffles. Although it renders all its examples with just one space, and it states that most publishers’ guidelines advise one space, it adds that "there is nothing wrong with using two spaces after concluding punctuation marks unless an instructor asks you to do otherwise." 

But there is something wrong with using two spaces: it’s dated and out of step. We spaced twice because of the uniform size of the type on our typewriters. But with computers and word processing software, we have had proportional type (with m and w rendered bigger than i and f) for decades. Why choose to be old-fashioned in business writing?

If you’ve been fighting this change, stop. Some life changes are difficult, but breaking the two-space habit is simple. Get your computer to help you. If you’re worrying about how to remove those redundant spaces in reports you have published for years, just use your software to "Find and Replace All" the two-space occurrences with single spaces. Also, set your grammar and spelling checker to correct you when you fall back into old ways. It’s much easier than taking off excess pounds or exercising every day.

Do you need an inspiring reason to make the change? Think of it as a simple way to improve the world. If we just eliminate all those billions of unnecessary spaces, imagine how much shorter our business documents will be.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Just a quick comment on this as it has been discussed around my office from time to time lately: for those writers/editors who can touch-type (i.e. without looking at the keyboard), it is not fun to have to change long ingrained habits. Since this one-space thing is really meant for publications, we leave the deletion of the extra space to the printing process, to be considered whenever something we produce actually gets printed (most of our work does not get printed). Seems to work for those of us “typists”.

  2. Hi, Luna. I am a touch-typist who changed my one-space/two-space behavior about five years ago. It took just a couple of weeks. But for those who find the change difficult, remember: you can do a global replace or a grammar-check to slim down those two-space gaps.

    Thanks for commenting.

  3. Thanks for the great article and references. The five style guides alone should be enough to convince anyone … but it won’t. I’ve watched–and been part of–this debate for a very long time. Still hurts to see those vertical ‘rivers’ of white space in double-spaced copy. I’m always amazed that this continues to be an issue.

    Keep up the good work!

  4. Clarity and readability of text win over the prettiness of a paragraph in most cases (paragraphs are meant to be read, not admired for being pretty to look at). I’ll stick with two spaces, thanks, and appreciate those who resist the “in” thing and don’t subject their readers to the potential confusion of meaning and increased difficulty of reading the style guides have foolishly opened our language up to.

  5. Personally I find double white space after a period is more eye pleasing. And it is hardly a bad habit that needs to be cured of. If one prefers to read my submitted article with single white space, one could perform a global search and replace.

    Ironically, what makes a piece of business writing seems long to read is rarely due to double white space. Double white space, like double line space or 1.5 line space helps readibility. What makes it seems long to read is the content, or just bad writing skill. My humble thought to share!

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