there should be only one

January 15, 2010 at 5:28 pm (editing, writing) (, , )

There should be only one space after a period in just about anything you send out to magazines these days. Unless you are a lawyer, I think. But for creative writers and, in many cases, non-lawyer academics (though the rules for those magazines tend to be more quirky), when you submit a story or an article anywhere, you should probably have one lone space after the periods.

“Kicking and screaming” would not be too hyperbolic a phrase to describe my reaction to, years ago, a friend informing me that these days you should only put one space after a period.

I had read this wisdom already, probably over a decade before, in 8th grade. I was reading a manual on how to use Macintosh computers for a graphic design class and the writer of said tome remarked that it was standard to only put one space after a period. I remember this, so disturbing a sentiment it was to young Molly: Look at the type in this book, exhorted the author. There’s only one space after the periods.

I believe my reaction to this statement was: fuck you. Mavis Beacon had taught me to put two spaces after a period when I typed and by God, I was a believer in Mavis Beacon. Through high school, through college, Christ, through my first year of grad school, every damn period had two spaces after it. My reasoning was that you pause longer at the end of sentences than you do at comas, and thus it was intuitive punctuation. Also, that’s how “they used to do it.” Holla!

Then I began working on a creative project with a cohort, and said cohort was all wtf? when I sent him a draft of something or other, ragging on me for putting two spaces after a period. I told him two spaces was standard. He told me I was full of shit, and showed me so. Here, and also here. Christ, even the folks over at The Chicago Manual of Style agree, if you can catch them between fits of weeping over the knowledge that they’re just not as cool as MLA. I kid, I kid. Sort of.

I don’t care if they used to do it back in the day when you learned from Mavis Beacon or a typing class on typewriters instead of computers or if you’re just used to it. Guess what? Printers used to put the first word of the following page at the bottom of each and every page, and we don’t do that anymore. Because it’s pointless. They also used monospace fonts back in the day. Now, with proportionately-spaced fonts, type just looks better in general, and it is unnecessary to have two spaces after a period.

I changed. It took a lot, believe me. Every person who types a lot has typing quirks, and disrupting one’s usual use of spaces is a huge fucking pain. But I changed. You should change too, for a number of reasons.

One, it’s correct.

Two, it’s correct.

And three, other than the fact that it’s correct, it’s also a nice gesture.

Why? Because everything you do on your end, as a writer, to make your manuscript perfect– or at least conform to publishing standards– makes less work for editors and publishers of your work, and thus is really awesome. Now, if you refuse to change your typing habits, and believe you me I understand this, then just, at the end of working on a project, do a find/replace, substituting one space for two. It can be done in one fell swoop, just replace all. This way, if some poor soul is formatting and inputting work for publication in one of the many, many online venues, they won’t do all the work that is associated with that, only to catch anachronistic spacing at the last minute and then be faced with the prospect of either combing through the story to manually excise the improper spaces, or exporting the story to MS Word (possibly losing a lot of the formatting they’ve done already) and re-importing it with the spacing corrected.

I now view using single spaces after periods as just part of the proofreading process, an author-end activity the same as correcting comma splices or poor grammar. It’s professional, it’s courteous, it’s (in general, but always always check your target magazine’s rules) correct. Unlike having your work in Standard Manuscript Format, which generally corrects into Online Publishing Format (explained by the kind folks at Cabinet des Fées here), having two spaces after your period is an annoyance for editors, especially nit-picky neurotic editors, like–well, like me. And others, trust me on this.

It’s not really a stylistic decision any longer, like, say, the Oxford comma (which you’ll have pry out of my writing with a silver crowbar, heretics!). It’s just not in general considered standard. And it will likely be edited out of your work anyways, without any sort of remorse on the part of the editor.

The times, they aren’t a’changin’ in regards to this. They’ve changed.

20 Comments

  1. euphrosyne said,

    I was taught, 20 years ago in my middle school typing class (when computers were still newfangled), to put two spaces after periods. I never did, except when the teacher caught me and made me ‘fix’ my writing. Then when he walked away I would continue single spacing.

    I always resisted the double space, and hadn’t thought about it in years, until just recently I came across an online(!) magazine which specified two spaces after periods in its submission guidelines. I thought that was tremendously odd. Sadly, I can’t remember which magazine it was.

    And yes, Oxford commas are the true way.

    • molly said,

      I wonder what mag it was? Augh! It just looks wrong to me now.

      I downloaded a bunch of 18th century novels a while ago (out of print ones) that are just scans of old editions, and they all have about a million spaces after the period, and it just makes me want to die.

      Also: ALL HAIL THE OXFORD COMMA AND ITS POWER TO DIFFERENTIATE THREE OR MORE ITEMS IN A GROUP AS SEPARATE AGENTS!

  2. Lisa said,

    Interesting! Thanks for the heads up… and I now want to finish reading, ” Eats, Shoots and Leaves.”

    Thanks.

    • molly said,

      Lynne Truss is my hero! At least about being a stickler about grammar and punctuation.

  3. S. C. Green said,

    Alas the double space. As the world gets smaller, so does the after-period spacing. I was just as reluctant to believe this to be true as you were. I thought it was laziness on the part of writers on par with Text Speech.

    I have now conformed and do my best not to look back. I wish you luck in the same.

    • molly said,

      Ha. In some ways I remain firmly on the side of retaining anachronisms, but on this point I must look forward.

  4. Selena said,

    Well, for my own personal defense…I agree with what you say but I’ve gone through four style manual in my short lifetime and it all sort of congeals

    But now that you’ve yelled at me, I think its thoroughly ingrained now. : )

    • molly said,

      I am just fine channeling my inner crazy cat lady about this, so get the hell offa my lawn and only use one space!

  5. John said,

    Oh. Hell. No. I will never give up my two spaces at the end of a sentence. It just looks better. You get to stop for a moment, to take a breath, to think about what you just read, even if it’s only for a split second. When I read things with only one space after the period I read quickly, I lose my place more easily, and I don’t retain as much. The single space after the period is just another factor contributing to shrinking of the human attention span.

    Even more importantly, what comes next? No space? No period at all? All caps, for God’s sake? Think of the children, people. Think about the future:

    HEYDADBORROWEDTHECARWENTTOTHEGROCERYSTOREPICKINGUPORANGEJUICEANDBREADSENDMINDMESSAGEIFWANTANYTHINGELSE

    Wait until you find that stuck to your fridge one day. You can read it, can’t you? So what the hell, drop your spaces, lock your caps, and just write everything in text message speech. I’ll be in a cabin in the woods writing my manifesto. Which will have two spaces after every period. Punks.

    • molly said,

      Sure, grandstand all you want, but OH SHIT GUESS WHAT EVERY BOOK PUBLISHED AS OF THE LAST MILLION YEARS ONLY USES ONE SPACE.

      Though if the single space hurts your retention of information, that would explain why you just barely graduated from college. . .

      • John said,

        I did not “just barely” graduate. I toyed briefly with the idea of not earning a diploma. There’s a difference.

  6. Selena said,

    Dude, it’s not about attention spans, it’s about cramming that last letter in the line to save a pence.

    ECONOMY! ECONOMY man!

  7. Raechel said,

    Interestingly, some of the journals I have submitted to recently still prefer the double space! This whole thing is far more complex than it should be.

    • molly said,

      Ridiculous soap-box-shouting aside, MLA and APA both say you “may” use the double space. But I personally feel like I hear a either a “we did this as kids and we’re still doing it, by gum!” from said editors or an “OK old-timers, you can still do this, don’t be cranky, but we’re counting your years until retirement” in the “may” when they say something like “Two spaces may follow a period ending a sentence; however, if used the practice should be consistent throughout the paper.”

      • Raechel said,

        I’ve converted to single spaces except in situations where double-space is still the norm (I can only think of 2 or 3 journals that still require it, and yeah, they’re all pretty old school), but I tend to agree with John– double-space seems more natural. :(

        • molly said,

          I thought that for a while until I started actually noticing books that use it! Some of my older editions have it and it drives me craaaaaazy. It used to be the other way round, but after I decided to subvert my will to the Powers that Be I’m now firmly in their service.

  8. Shawn Grant said,

    What is this clap-trap. Two spaces is what dignified people use, and therefore I will use it forever. (Unless they make me change it to publish my dissertation.) Even then I will slip a few in to teach those Philistines a lesson. I believe one space after periods is why American students are falling behind their global counterparts. What’s next are you going to tell me students should calculate equations with Pi as 3.14 instead of 3.141592653589793238462643383. Poppycock!

  9. Blayne said,

    Not only do I use two spaces after a period, but I do so in text messages. The auto-capitalization feature does not like this whatsoever. I shall continue in my ways nonetheless. So there.

    • John said,

      Holy shit, now I know why my text messages don’t auto-caps after a period. Man, I don’t get many revelations these days, but that is one.

      • Raechel said,

        I didn’t know this either. Thanks, Blayne!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: