Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt
How many spaces should go after a period: one or two? To answer that question, we have to talk about typewriters.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, people learned to type on manual typewriters. If this describes you, you likely learned to add two spaces after a period. That’s because manual typewriters used monospaced type, in which each character takes up the same amount of horizontal space. Adding two spaces after a period while typing on a manual typewriter allowed for better readability.
Most fonts on computers utilize what’s called proportional type. This means skinny letters like “i” and “l” are closer to each other, as opposed to wider letters like “w” and “m”. So, unless you’re a hipster who is ironically using a typewriter in a public place, use only one space after the end of a sentence.
Does it matter? Great question. If the argument for double spacing is readability, then in the case of our modern computer fonts, which use proportional spacing, you do not need two spaces. Proportional fonts don’t have unnecessary space, so two spaces are redundant. If you use two spaces, you might be giving the impression that technology warped off into hyperspeed while you missed the ship because you stayed to hear the end of the cantina band’s interstellar set.
Back in high school I chose Courier New (a monospaced font) to type papers in my English class. This took a 3 ½-page paper (on a book I skimmed, at best) in Times New Roman or Arial (which are proportional fonts) and stretched into a 5-pager. I’m sure my English teacher rolled her eyes when she saw all the extra space. However, it did allow her extra room to write things like “next time, try harder” and “disappointing!” in the margins.
If you instinctively tap the space bar twice after the end of a sentence, you have two options: Either employ the find-and-replace feature in your word processing software to replace all instances of two spaces with one space (Google it–it’s pretty easy). Option 2 is to train yourself to slice your spaces in half with your glowing laser sword like the galaxy depends on it. May the space be with you.