To Double Space, or Not to Double Space… That Is the Question

Everyone loves to argue: do you or do you not double space after the period. You would think that this is a simple question and wouldn’t elicit any big emotional responses. You would be wrong. People get really emotional over this question.

The answer? Well… it depends. In your Word Processing Program of choice, for most fonts there is no need to double space after your period. Your spacing between words is set up to allow for only one space. This is good, because you’re going to remember to space once after a period. You may forget to space a second time. By the fonts requiring you to only use one space, it guarantees consistency.

The old double-space rule is a hold-over from a time when we typed manuscripts on typewriters. The spacing between letters was so large that you had to have a double space, otherwise the paragraphs looked odd. The picture below illustrates this.

one or two spaces

Now, you may notice something here. In Georgia, the paragraphs actually look good whether you use one space or two. This is the advantage of serif fonts. Because serif fonts carry your eyes from word to word, double spacing after a period still looks smooth and uniform, though not as uniform as single spacing, due to the extra white space. It’s really a preference, but if you are looking at publication, the second Georgia paragraph would likely prompt an editor to ask you to remove the extra spacing.

The Arial paragraph, however, is horrible. While it isn’t so bad as to have rivers in the text, the extra space almost creates them. There are definitely some streams there, though they don’t run the full paragraph.

Speaking of rivers… there is another problem with the first Courier paragraph that I didn’t bring up in it. Because there is no extra spacing, the way the paragraph formatted, there is a huge river in the paragraph that splits it right down the page.

Here, I’ll show you.

river

It is right there. It starts in the top paragraph between “that” and “there” and continues all the way down to the last full line-sentence between “paragraph” and “and”. This is a huge document design no-no because it artificially breaks up the paragraph.

Double-spacing after the period fixes this somewhat. There are still rivers, but they either zig-zag or go diagonal. You have to look for them, though after you see them, they will not go away.  While it is still bad, it doesn’t split up the paragraph as drastically as it does above.

no river

Those rivers are why you should avoid Courier font in a word processor. But that is a discussion for another day. Fonts actually do matter in publishing, and you have a lot of them to choose from. Today, however, is all about the double-space vs. single-space.

Ultimately, provided your font supports the double-space, you don’t have an editor who requires the single-space, and you remember to do it consistently, it’s up to you.

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