A recent email from an aspiring author had two spaces at the end of each sentence. Among the suggestions I gave her about publishing was to change the double spaces to single spaces throughout her manuscript. (Microsoft Word makes this easy with the FIND and REPLACE function under the toolbar’s Edit choice.)
Seeing two spaces after a period or other closing punctuation can hint at a writer’s age. If you learned keyboarding on a computer, you most likely learned that one space at the end of a sentence is the rule. If you learned keystrokes on a typewriter, you might be dating yourself by continuing the double-space habit.
Keyboard order myth
As the story goes, inventor Christopher Latham Sholes’ original typewriter keys were arranged alphabetically. Users soon found that as they honed their skills and typed faster, the keys they struck often were next to each other, causing frequent jams.
We since have learned that telegraph operators, with their need to quickly transcribe messages from Morse code, were more influential in providing input about what might work better than the original alphabetical key arrangement.
Sholes rearranged the keys in 1873 to what became known as the QWERTY keyboard, named for the order of the top row of keyboard letters when reading left to right.
Today’s computer keyboards and their tablet and smartphone counterparts still mimic their forerunner, the typewriter, but font selections have grown exponentially.
Monospaced vs. Proportional Fonts
Today’s Courier harkens back to typewriter days and monospaced fonts; each letter, whether a lowercase i or a lowercase m, has a fixed width and takes up equal space when it makes an impression on paper or on a screen.
Today’s digital devices use proportional fonts; space between letters is automatically adjusted.
If you learned on a typewriter, you might be among those who create two spaces after a period, which was necessary to clearly mark the end of a sentence created with monospaced fonts.
But if you still press your spacebar twice at the end of a sentence, whether on a laptop, tablet or smartphone, you risk appearing out-of-date, resistant to change — or maybe even unprofessional.
Compare Courier with Palatino
Consider these two fonts. Courier is a monotype font. Palatino is a proportional font. Your device automatically creates appropriate between-letter spacing with proportional fonts for ease of reading and to conserve space.
Pick up any magazine, book or newspaper. Is there significant space after each period? Or is there minimal white space, just enough to let you know one sentence is ending and the next is beginning?
And, yes, this single-space guideline also applies to spacing after colons and semicolons, and to sentences that end with question marks and exclamation points.
Just as word use often is based on grammatical convention — what is considered acceptable by a majority of educated people in a population — so, too, is punctuation.
Whether you’re an author, a blogger, a job seeker, or someone who writes a lot of emails and reports, pay attention to your keystroke habits. If you’re still a double-spacer, don’t be an old dog who can’t learn new tricks; become a contemporary keyboarder.
Worth pondering: How long might it be before someone designs a new keyboard for efficient two-thumb keyboarding?
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