Just as there is a movement to place citations of authority in briefs in footnotes to make the narrative text more easily readable, from the world of typographers comes the decree that there should be only one space after the period at the end of a sentence before a new sentence begins, instead of the two spaces most of us have used for decades. So why is that? What’s the reason for one space instead of two? Apparently, the use of two spaces is a habit left over from the manual typewriter age, which was itself a departure from that settled rule of one space found in earlier typeset printed text.

Typebars in a 1920s typewriter

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was discussed in an article by Farhad Manjoo in the online magazine Slate:

 Most ordinary people would know the one-space rule, too, if it weren’t for a quirk of history. In the middle of the last century, a now-outmoded technology—the manual typewriter—invaded the American workplace. To accommodate that machine’s shortcomings, everyone began to type wrong. And even though we no longer use typewriters, we all still type like we do. (Also see the persistence of the dreaded Caps Lock key.)

The problem with typewriters was that they used monospaced type—that is, every character occupied an equal amount of horizontal space. This bucked a long tradition of proportional typesetting, in which skinny characters (like I or 1) were given less space than fat ones (like W or M). Monospaced type gives you text that looks “loose” and uneven; there’s a lot of white space between characters and words, so it’s more difficult to spot the spaces between sentences immediately. Hence the adoption of the two-space rule—on a typewriter, an extra space after a sentence makes text easier to read. Here’s the thing, though: Monospaced fonts went out in the 1970s. First electric typewriters and then computers began to offer people ways to create text using proportional fonts. Today nearly every font on your PC is proportional. (Courier is the one major exception.) Because we’ve all switched to modern fonts, adding two spaces after a period no longer enhances readability, typographers say. It diminishes it.

(Emphasis added).

Given that I grew up in the typewriter age and graduated from college before personal computers became commonplace, I was taught the two space rule and have always used it without any thought to the matter. So what to do now? Change is hard. Yet, shouldn’t we adapt to changing times?

Alissa Walker, a writer for Good Design, would shove writers kicking and screaming to fit in with our modern age:

Using a single space means that you understand that technology has changed since the decades ago when you first used to type. A single space means you realize not everything your teachers taught you in high school still holds true. A single space means you have respect for the journalists and designers who are working hard to take those extra spaces out of the drafts you’re sending us.

And honestly, wouldn’t you take this advice from us professionals? Look at any print publication. Single-spaced. Now look at this post. Even if I had typed it with double spaces, many HTML browsers will simply collapse a double space into one, because they know.

(Emphasis added).

It’s hard to argue with this reasoning, and legal brief writers have to keep in mind that court are slowly moving to electronic only briefs, reading them on a computer screen rather than a printed page. Shouldn’t we all try to adapt to changing times and adopt the one space rule. I’ve used it in this post. Have you managed to see a difference?

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