Home » » Two Space or not two space, that is the question

Two Space or not two space, that is the question

First of all, a little history about printing and when it was first done and who printing presses were invented for.

Round cylinders were used to roll an impression onto clay tablets during the early Mesopotamian civilization before 3000 BC. This was ultimately their printing press.

The Chinese did a form of printing using wood blocks as early as 220 AD. They were so advanced that they even printed things in up to 3 colors! They also hold the privilege of having printed the first book ever and it was published 600 years prior to when the first book would be printed in Europe.

Now most people think that Gutenberg actually created the printing press itself but in fact he actually invented the printing press that allowed type to be moved around; hence movable type. The printing press he invented is now the basis for our current publishing system. At this time in history the only people who used printing presses and worked with type in design were print companies, artists and publishers — not usually the general public.  

The monospaced typewriter was introduced in 1941 and were used mainly by authors, writers and secretaries. These individuals were not and still are not typographers or designers. In order to make the type more pleasing, two spaces were added after a period and because of the font spacing it made perfect sense at the time.

During the late 19th century, printers were told to ignore typesetting instructional booklets and instead do as typists did — add two spaces after a period. It was during this time that this was taught in typing classes as well.

As improvements were made in the publishing world with typesetting and such, people were encouraged to only use one space after a period. And even though people in general were encouraged to do this fairly early on, it doesn’t appear that there was an effective marketing push to get the average person in other kinds of jobs to do it. 

Regardless of who decided that typing one space after a sentence was the rule, it wasn’t and still isn’t. It’s simply an aesthetic suggestion that was given at the time by a profession that wanted nothing more than type to look “pretty”. This is what we call typography. 

Fast-forward to today. The professions now using some form of typing as part of their jobs include court clerks, administrative individuals, writers, publishers, layout artists, professors, teachers, screenwriters, and the list just goes on and on. But even court clerks used a different typing machine called a Stenotype up until recently. Their computer keyboard has since merged with the stenotype in a custom format. 

Where correspondence, official letters, research papers, reports, personal email and such are concerned, it’s always been an important issue for the reader to comprehend what they are reading to the fullest. So even though two spaces has been a norm since the introduction of the monospaced typewriter, Europe has had one standard and the U.S. has always had another. 

But how we treat space in typing doesn’t end with two countries separated by a body of water. Not even the most highly respected published works on grammar agree whether it should be one or two spaces and that’s probably because everyone uses different spacing based on necessity in their jobs as well as plain habit. 

Most die-hard scholars will say that there is no hard evidence that supports easier reading by including an additional space. Scientists on the other hand say there is no hard evidence claiming that reading is easier with only one space. 

Throughout the years, these scholars and scientists have been at odds with each other and still go back and forth between what is cleaner in print and how something is easier to read. Is it one space or two spaces? Until one of them can prove one way or the other, I’ll continue to type as many spaces as my profession tells me I should. For now it is one space. But I have to remember as a designer, while clients can be educated in what I do, if a client feels a need to put two spaces or even more (which I see quite frequently) after a sentence, they are not a designer. And that folks is why they hired me.

I hire a mechanic to fix my car, I hire a beautician to do my hair & nails and I hire a caterer to make food for my events. So why can’t we accept that these individuals are not typographers and could probably care less about what you think of their spacing habits?

According to Wikipedia, the military went to using one space in 2000 and again in 2008 but they didn’t mention that according to Air Force Manual 51-203 that the Air Force was using 2 spaces in 2009. By the way, if one branch is doing it that way, chances are the others are too. And while I don’t doubt about Wikis info for those 2 years, I wasn’t able to locate the military publications that designated 1 space for either year. But here’s a link for the most recent Air Force publication. view here

Now I spent over 10 years in the Air Force and while attending formal technical school, I was taught not only to use 2 spaces after each sentence, but we were required to measure and start all correspondence at a specific space from the top of the paper.

To make things more fun in the military, there were and still are in some instances, punch cards, intel messages, operating instructions as well as good old publications. Having worked in the publications distribution office for over 7 years of my time in the military, I got to write and type all of these various kinds of correspondence at one time or another.

Intel messages were required to be typed in a specific OCR font with exact spacing for the entire message. Operating Instructions and publications had to be written in the active voice or they wouldn’t be approved to publish, and punch cards, well, they had their own specialized machine just to create and type or punch them and everything had to be done in an exact way or the information was bad in the end result.

So now you know that the military has it’s own set of style guides for it’s employees. There are several style guides available for anyone and everyone on how to write for the publishing world properly to include newspapers, magazines, and literary works. As extensive as these guides get in writing, they do not provide information on sentence spacing. 

Therefore, overall the differences between each job shows why certain spacing works for them. It’s not up to the design and publishing worlds to set other vocations straight on the topic of using one or two spaces after a sentence.

We don’t like it when a job comes open looking for someone who is an office assistant but the job requires that person to know graphic design too. So the moment we stop treating secretaries and administrative staff as graphic designers, maybe the world will stop treating designers as secretaries and administrative individuals.

I am a full-time designer and have been for over 25 years. And while many designers have nothing better to do than argue about extra space, I hope it soon becomes a dead topic like it should be. And as a designer, the software we own allows us to create ‘stylesheets’. So not only do we have the ability to change the fonts and how text visually appears, but we also have a feature called ‘find and replace’. I don’t know about you, but as a designer if you don’t know how to use this simple process, maybe you shouldn’t be a designer. Unfortunately I use it quite frequently.

Clients, let your designer tell you all they want about appropriateness of one space and what this or that style guide says. Your response should simply be that they are the designer, not you. Otherwise the next thing you know, designers are going to dictate that clients learn how to kern too. 

And designers, the next time you get that nice letter from the IRS or a friendly email from your auntie or grandmother and they’re double-spaced, remember they are just correspondence and not something professionally published. Doing this should add a new calm in your life as a graphic designer.

Besides, with all those emails, letters and posts online in all CAPS and SMS abbreviations floating around, why all the concern about spaces?

Did you know?
In publishing, using only one space in the running text makes it easier to minimize the ‘rivers’ throughout a publication and save space which in-turn saves printing costs. For those of you who don’t know what ‘rivers’ are, they have nothing to do with water.

Get a magazine with an article that’s text heavy. Hold the page open with that article open horizontally to the ground. Bring the page up to your eye level and adjust so you can see the odd spacing throughout the article. These are called ‘rivers’.

When two spaces were the norm, rivers were much more obvious and all those extra spaces meant publishing and paying for more pages. In publishing, it’s been industry standard for some time to put one space after a sentence.

Article By Christina Wilkinson


About cw