By Brett Battles

Pari’s post on Monday and a question I was asked by a friend last week got me thinking about writing rules. Not the ones that Pari talked about, but the more mundane rules, the technical rules.

The question I was asked (and Steve was on the email, too, as it was from an old college friend of ours) was to settle a bet our friend had with her daughter. Her daughter had come home from school after getting a report back with a note from her teacher that said it was unnecessary for her to put two spaces after periods. My friend found this odd. She clearly remembered learning back when she was in school that you always put two spaces after the period. So she wanted to know who was right, and hence the question to Steve and I.

I remember that rule, too. Probably the most important – and impactful – class I took during my junior high experience (though I didn’t know it at the time) was a summer school typing class.  I went from a hunt and peck typist to a touch typist, and have never looked back. As someone who writes everyday, that’s been HUGE in my life. It has allowed me to write tons faster than I would have the old way. Along with learning to type without looking, I also learned the two spaces after a period rule.

For well after I got out of college I would dutifully double tap the space bar before I’d start a new sentence. That is until one day a co-worker said to me, “You don’t have to do that anymore.” At first I didn’t believe her, but she then explained to me why, and from that point forward, only a single tap for me.

You see, in today’s modern computerized world, you don’t have to double space after a period. Why? Well, in the typewriter/typesetting days (think everything pre-late 80s) type was pretty exclusively what is called mono-type. That is each letter takes up the same amount of space as the others. In other words a W would occupy a similar sized area as an I. In the monotype world, putting two spaces after a period helps readers know when a new sentence starts. There are still a few monotypes used on computers. The most common being Courier.

In the computer world, most typefaces are what’s called proportional type or fonts. In these the W and I do NOT take up the same space. They take the proportional space they need. Times and Helvetica and any number of others are examples of these.

With proportional type you do not, and should not, double space after the period. In addition, even in this computer age, it’s basically unnecessary to double space even when using Courier. Of course, if you’re still using a typewriter, tap-tap.

Most of you probably already knew this, but perhaps didn’t know the reason. Or perhaps you did. Either way, it was on my mind and I though would be a good idea to throw out there.

A few other manuscript guidelines…I won’t say rules because I’m sure there are variations…that may or may not be helpful:

• Make your margins one inch all the way around

• Double space your manuscript. (There are exceptions I allow myself, such as when I’m mimicking a newspaper article or emails or the like.)

• Start each chapter at least a quarter of the way down on the page. Nothing in stone on this one.

• Number your pages either in the footer or header. I use the upper right of the header, but I know others who use the middle of the footer…no hard/fast rule here.

• Don’t put THE END at the end. You’re reader will know.

There are exceptions to everything


So what do you think? Got any guidelines you’d like to share?


A little PR: I was interviewed on BlogTalkRadio earlier this week. It was a lot of fun, and if you’re interested in listening to it, click here. Let me know what you think!

26 thoughts on “SPACE OUT

  1. Barbie

    II think I’m too young to know anything about the double space type writer thingie. 🙂

    Thanks for the tips!!

  2. PK the Bookeemonster

    I do remember the double space rule. That was back when typing class happened in junior high. Now four-year-olds know how to type and are comfortable using PowerPoint. Sometimes, I feel like a dinosaur.

  3. Alafair Burke

    I noticed law review editors deleting my double-space after the periods. Now I know why. And I feel super old.

  4. Robin McCormack

    Ditto, what Karen said. Double spacing after the end of a sentence is a habit after 35 years. Yes, I learned to type on manual typewriter eons again. Clunk clunk clunk, mash your finger down hard, old typewriter.

  5. Judy Wirzberger

    I am so old I remember addressograph machines that pounded out metal plates. I have difficulty with the one tap so I just do a search and replace. But

    "…hence the question to Steve and I."

    I shuddered. Like saying "hence the question to we."

  6. Gayle Carline

    My favorite guideline is to never squat on my spurs. Oh, wait – WRITING guidelines. The single-space thing is good. I figure it will save my thumb a gazillion extra key presses over time. Another reason they wanted to get away from double spaces, I’ve heard, is that when you look at a page of typing that has double spacing, it looks like there is a big white river meandering down the page. Don’t know if that’s true.

  7. Karen in Ohio

    Yes, please do not use the form "Steve and I". Remember this rule of thumb:

    If it makes sense without the other person, then use "me". In other words, "Hence, the question to me." You would never say, "Hence, the question to I." I sincerely hope, anyway.

  8. pari noskin taichert

    I usually go through my manuscripts or stories at the end and do a global search for those double spaces after the periods.

    Me and I . . . that one still gets me. I usually translate the sentence into French when I’m in doubt because, for some reason, it sounds so much more stupid when I make a mistake in that language.

    Can’t do it in Chinese though because me/I just as he/she — him/her are pretty much the same character.

  9. Barbara_NY

    At 51, dropping the second space after a period feels like cheating on a lover who has been loyal and true, with another who is young and hip. Oh… the guilt! The pleasure! The guilt!

    What I’d genuinely like to know is the evolution behind this change; i.e., when did this phenomenon first surface, become custom, and finally integrate into the stylistic lexicon of modern typography.

    ps: Enjoyed the BlogTalkRadio interview. Thanks for sharing the link.

  10. Susan Shea

    Lucky you, not to be a hunt-and-peck, stare-at-the-keys typist. My dad was a journalist and he counseled me, a high school journalist, not to learn to type. "If the guys find out you can type, they’ll treat you like a secretary." It was good advice for his generation, but he didn’t envision what happened when computers showed up on desktops and everyone started pecking away for themselves! To this day, my work is messy, even tho I may be the fastest three-finger typist around! (I had to stop and correct mistakes at least 5 times in this post.)

  11. Bobbi D

    Is that the most important feedback the teacher felt she could give her student? ("Content, structure, style, whatever…. But dear, let’s see if we can eliminate that extra space in future reports, okay?") Or was it mentioned as a side note?

    And I still don’t see why you "shouldn’t" double space.

  12. Barb Goffman

    Single-spacing at the end of a sentence, instead of double-spacing, also saves a surprising amount of space on the page. In my years working at newspapers we always single-spaced for that very reason. Once in college I worked at a magazine, and the editor was trying to figure out how to cut an article because of space constraints. I glanced at it and told him to cut the double-spacing. He looked at me askance, but he tried it, and not only did we not have to cut the article, we suddenly had enough white space to make the page look good. In the course of a whole book, who knows how many pages you could shorten your book by (and thus save a tree) simply by single-spacing after a period?

    In other news, the only guideline you printed that I’m on the fence on is typing "The End" at the end. I’ve seen strong reactions to leave it out and strong reactions that it has to be there. In the end (ha!), I guess the best a person can do is learn the style guide of the publisher you’re submitting to and try to conform.

  13. Anon E.

    I remember my professor telling us about this. She used to be a journalist. There are LOTS of things they had to do back in the day that they don’t now such as memorize font sizes for headlines! To this day she can read a newspaper headline and tell you what font size it is. One time the local paper tried to be sneaky and lowered the font slightly (like a half measurement smaller) and she caught it.

  14. Brett Battles

    me or I…ugh…my only defense is that I/me was kind of tired when i/me wrote it. 😉

    Barb, on THE END thing…I used to always put it down, but my editor would always remove it from the first draft I’d turn in. So I stopped. I’ve heard people do it both ways, so, ultimately as with most guidelines, it’s up to the user and the situation.

    Yes, the space saving from saving space(s) is considerable.

  15. Helen Ginger

    I didn’t have trouble converting to one space after a sentence, even though I’d learned to put two. There are still young people putting two spaces. I’m always surprised, when I’m editing for someone who surely was taught one space, that I have to tell them to delete the extra space – and half the time end up doing it for them.

  16. anonymous

    WOW.I never knew that cutting down to one space at the end of a sentence was so "green".Raising my hipness cred level seems fathomless right now.Sigh

  17. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Sorry I’m chiming in so late here – it’s been a bitch of a day, going into a bitch of a night.
    Well, just for the record, I had NO IDEA we could stop double-spacing after periods when our mutual friend send the e:mail. I would have told here, "of course! Always double-space! When in doubt, double-space!"
    In my current manuscript I continue to double-space after the period, but now it’s a superstitious thing. I started it this way, I’m gonna end it this way. What, I’m going to go back over the whole thing and delete a space after every period now? Ain’t gonna happen, my friend.
    The End.

  18. Allison Brennan

    Brett, I always type THE END at the end, and they always take it out. But for me, it’s a reminder that I FINISHED a book, and should be proud of that fact. It took me years of writing before I actually finished something, so getting to "THE END" still gives me the warm fuzzies and I’m a bit awestruck. I’d never leave it in the printed book!

    It took me only one book after Random House changed their guidelines to switch from two to one space after the period. THE KILL I did it both ways, then did find and replace to get rid of the second space. By the next book, I never doubled.

  19. CarlC

    I think I may be older than any of the rest of you here, but I, too, took my typing in junior high and of course learned the double-space rule, which I don’t think I can break after all these years. Really interesting to hear how the change evolved, though. (Note the double-spaces in this post.) Glad I don’t have editors correcting my terrible and wasteful errors.

  20. LaurieB

    I’m with Karen in Ohio. I learned to type forty years ago, and have been typing every day since then (in addition to writing, I’ve also worked as a secretary for the last twenty-nine years). I type roughly 100 words per minute, and I can’t imagine trying to relearn, at that speed, something that’s now hard-wired into my circuitry. At this point, such a change would be roughly comparable to suddenly having the brake pedal and the accelerator swapped around and having to learn all over again how to drive. I could probably do it, but it would take eons, and the results wouldn’t be pretty. So I will continue to leave two spaces at the end of each sentence, and if anybody gives me any grief over it, I can always go back and do the global "find and replace" thing.

  21. nymfaux

    I’m not even 30 yet (I’ve still got a couple months to go!)–I took typing in high school, we were kind of behind, they waited until the year after I graduated to replace our typewriter’s with computers, so of course I learned the old fashioned way. I also had a typing teacher for several other classes, the double space feels so ingrained, I don’t know if I can stop it. There have been a couple of times when I’ve tried to stop. Even now I do it without thinking–just like two hyphens equal a dash. There, I did it again–And every time I think of stopping, I see Miss Christophersen’s face looming over my shoulder. Not to mention you should always wear nylons and close-toed shoes to interviews and business meeting, and boys should always wear dark colored socks. I live in CA now and have had the most horrendous time trying to find close-toed shoes, I have no idea if the same rules still apply. I don’t know if I can ever stop the double-space. I don’t know if she’d understand.


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