I don’t remember who it was for certain, but some person of authority in my life, during my adolescence told me that 2-spaces was the correct spacing to put at the end of a sentence, right after the period. I felt that was wrong, but they must be right because they had credibility in the area of proofreading and technical writing. Thus for almost 20 years I believed that two-spacing was the correct way and the one-spacers were wrong, or just plain weird. But, alas to my dismay I recently found out that all these years I have been the one who was wrong. However, according to Farhad Manjoo of Slate.com I’m in good company; many doctors, lawyers, and other successful professionals who rely on frequent written communication have also mostly been doing it wrong.
What is the reason for this pervasive technical composition error? Blame the typewriter, and more specifically monospace fonts. Manjoo explains that because each character on typewriters originally took up the same amount of space, the double-space sentence termination was developed as what we in the tech industry call a “workaround”–“a method for overcoming a problem or limitation in a program or system” (Google define: workaround)–which usually is just a band-aid, rather than a real fix. Such was the case with the typewriter.
“In the middle of the last century, a now-outmoded technology—the manual typewriter—invaded the American workplace. To accommodate that machine’s shortcomings, everyone began to type wrong. And even though we no longer use typewriters, we all still type like we do.” – Farhad Manjoo, Space Invaders
According to Manjoo the single-space termination became the typography standard in the early 1900’s. But when the typewriter became prevalent as a communication tool in the 40’s and 50’s the two-space workaround became the new standard to overcome the limitations of monospace. With the advent of proportional fonts the double-space solution was no longer needed, but old habits die-hard!
The kicker of it is, this habit is so ingrained in those of us who were taught this way, that it is a hard one to break. Personally, I believe, after reading Manjoo’s excellent article that one-space is the correct method. The MLA doesn’t currently take a stance one way or the other except to say that “there is nothing wrong with using two spaces after concluding punctuation marks unless an instructor or editor requests that you do otherwise.” Double-spacing makes the composition longer and really serves no practical purpose with today’s technology. Therefore, I will be doing my best to develop the habit of ending my sentences with one-space, not two.