Wednesday, May 2, 2018

One space, two spaces

Matthew Butterick of Practical Typography looks at a research study’s claim that the use of two spaces after a period makes text more readable: Are two spaces better than one? Butterick’s answer: no.


May 6: The Washington Post has noticed the study and pretty much endorses its claim: “One space between each sentence, they said. Science just proved them wrong.” No mention of Matthew Butterick’s analysis.

comments: 11

The Crow said...

My answer is a resounding 'Yes'! Otherwise, my train of thought is derailed by my observation that someone's punctuation skills need refreshing, or he/she was typing too fast.

I cringe every time I see an error I didn't catch before posting an email or comment. I used to send a follow-up apologizing for the error, but I make too many to keep up. I just let it go now. (Hard copy stuff is another story.)

Sean said...

James Felici's "The Complete Manual of Typography" is a favorite of mine, and in it he suggests proportional typefaces simply do not require two spaces. However if you're using a typewriter, or a monospace typeface, then two spaces remains the proper choice.

I tend to agree with him; when I see two spaces after a period in text set with proportional type, it usually comes across as an interruption.

Michael Leddy said...

Adding two spaces after a period is a convention familiar to anyone who began on a typewriter. (That’d be me.) That the iPhone turns two spaces into a space and a period is a pretty strong sign that one space is now the prevailing norm. Butterick has an interesting sidebar comment: “Ten years ago, I is­sued a stand­ing chal­lenge to the skep­tics: show me a book, news­pa­per, or mag­a­zine that uses two spaces be­tween sentences. No one ever has.”

Elaine said...

I took typing at age 15......two spaces is so ingrained in my keyboard usage that I will never change. You?

Michael Leddy said...

I always type one now. I’m not sure when I broke myself of the older habit. Blogging might have done it for me, as HTML turns two spaces into one.

I notice that you use two spaces after periods in your posts — you must be adding non-breaking spaces, no?

shallnot said...

From 2004 the late Bill Hill (formerly with Microsoft’s typography and other departments) on the <a href="”>typographer’s point-of-view</a> re: two spaces and emphasizing text. (2 and a half minute video)

I think I would have liked to have had a conversation with Bill.


Michael Leddy said...

He sounds like a wise and humane fellow.

I just found this, from a 2006 handout that I gave to my students: “It’s now considered preferable to put one space after a period. If you’re interested, you can look online and find passionate and fascinating arguments about the issue from people involved in document- and web-design. Me, I don’t care either way, but using one space is a good way to show that you’re at home in print and HTML culture.”

shallnot said...

If you can stomach Robert Scoble as interviewer and have around 1.5 hours this hike around Microsoft campus video is informative:

The good bits start at 22:27 with the discussion of animal tracking and its relationship to our developments of reading and writing.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for the link and description — I’ll watch soon.

Sean said...

I haven't read the recent study, mentioned in the article, so this observation might have already been addressed: There doesn't seem to be much discussion regarding the difference between the application of typing practices (i.e. the conventions one was taught) versus the perception of printed type. From the Post article:

"First, they put the students in front of computers and dictated a short paragraph, to see how many spaces they naturally used."

I would think that what one "naturally uses" could be as much a result of what they were taught in terms of "how to type" rather than what their psycho-perceptual preference is for the distance after periods.

Michael Leddy said...

I haven’t read the study either. (It costs $39.95.) I agree that “natural” is an odd choice, esp. when I think of all the habits of writing that students bring with them from high school.