2 space or not 2 space

When you write, are you a double spacer or a single spacer? That is, do you leave two spaces after a full stop, or just one?

If any question is guaranteed to start an argument in a writing discussion, it’s this one. People who learned to type on typewriters (remember them?) tend to advocate strongly for two spaces. People who have actually been taught wordprocessing (and they’re few and far between) prefer to use one. And then of course, there are people who don’t know, don’t care, and don’t notice the difference.

The general rule of thumb is to use just one space after a full stop when wordprocessing.  This is because the proportional typefaces used by computers leave plenty of space between sentences.  A second space tends to make the sentences lose their spatial relationship.  In contrast, traditional typewriter fonts tend to need two spaces after a full stop because every element of the typeface takes up exactly the same space.  (I’ve used two spaces in this paragraph.  Notice how strange it looks.)

In her Wednesday 15 December 2010 calendar entry, Lynne Truss (author of ‘Eats, Shoots & Leaves’) wrote: ‘Until very recently, typists were taught to leave a two- or even three-space gap after a full stop, but now word-processing programs will automatically reduce the gap to a single word space’.

Maybe my understanding of wordprocessing macros is limited, but I’ve never seen an automatic change. When I edit documents for clients, the first thing that I do is search for two spaces and replace them with single spaces. Often the find and replace function will make several hundred changes.

Of course, like most things in writing, consistency is what matters most. So, if you prefer to use two spaces, at least be consistent about it.