One space versus two

Since I mentioned the whole spacing issue in an earlier post, I felt compelled to write this one since that one might have created a wrong impression for anyone who wants to be a writer/author.

There seems to be a fairly strong consensus in the writing world that you just need one space after a period, not two.  I base this conclusion on comments by Miss Snark, Query Quagmire, the Chicago Manual of Style, that William Shunn manuscript formatting piece I linked to before, and other random mentions.

If that’s all you care about, you can stop here.  I’m just going to blather for a bit about the whole issue.

I was raised a two-spacer.  I have no idea when I learned to add two spaces after a period.  It was just the way it was.  Two spaces provided a sentence break, one provided an in-sentence pause.  Most of the discussions I’ve seen seem to agree that the two spaces are linked back to the days of typewriters when you needed that extra space, but that with the advent of computers it was no longer needed.  However, almost all of the writing I did for school was either hand-written or on computer.  So, I’d say from about 1988 onward, I was using a computer for anything I printed.

And I went to schools that would care about these kinds of things both in high school and college.  And this issue never came up.  Ever.  (Now, I wasn’t an English major, so maybe it was a raging debate in the English department that never made it to any of my departments.)  It didn’t even come up in those dedicated writing classes they make you take in college.

I also worked professionally in legal and finance-type environments for ten years and this issue didn’t raise its pretty little head until 2008 or so when we had a newly minted Yale graduate correcting my highly experienced boss’s spacing from two spaces to one.  This was the first time I, as a non-writer, non-academic, even knew that this issue existed.  And, at the time, when I researched it online it seemed to be pretty evenly split over what was the right answer.  (Which translates to the person writing your paycheck is correct, so we stuck with two spaces.)

As I’ve mentioned more than once, these things change.  Technology evolves, usage evolves.  It’s life.  The issue I have with this issue is the people who get all foaming at the mouth adamant that one space is the only acceptable answer and that anyone who doesn’t use one space is either a vile, horrible, human being who is lacking in education and class or someone who was born and raised in the Dark Ages.  Especially for an argument that probably reared its head in the late 90’s or early 00’s?  (I tried to find a date on it, but no dice.  Wikipedia seems to cite to academic research from 2003 or so, which means the issue had to have arisen before then.)  (And none of the sources I mention above are that over the top, although the CMS does mention it three times.)

Personally, I will happily follow whatever instructions someone gives in their submission guidelines.  (I hate Courier, but I use it because it seems to be an accepted standard that won’t get me in trouble anywhere.  Same with underlining for italics and using a double dash for an em dash.  If I’m going to earn money for this, then I’ll treat it like a job and format it the way the boss wants it.)

In my pay-the-bills profession I will continue to use two spaces, because that’s the way the people who write the checks do it.  And it scans better to my old-school, out-of-touch self.  (Per a recent article, I am at my peak this year and it’s all downhill from here…)

If I ever end up working for a boss who likes one space, I will use one space.  (More likely, I will use two and then search and replace all uses of two spaces with one space, because that’ll be more time efficient than an inconsistent application of the one space rule.)

So, chalk this up to one of those you don’t know what you don’t know moments.  And a life lesson on the fact that someone out there is constantly changing the rules of the game.  If you wanta play, you have to keep up.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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