Last month, I wrote about the Oxford Comma. This month, I’m covering something that can cause just as much friction: double-spacing.
Double-spacing is about how much space is left after a ‘full stop’ or ‘period’. Traditionally, after a ‘full stop’ one would leave two spaces. Like that. A more modern approach is a single space. Like that.
So, why did we double-space?
Many believe this comes from typewriting days, but in fact it dates back to typesetting days. Printing would have consisted of painstakingly putting together letters (types) which would then be inked for printing. Letters tended to be of different widths, such as ‘n’ and ‘m’, and so a double space after a ‘full stop’ helped with clarity of text.
When typewriters took over, this practice was continued even though the need for it had disappeared, and it carried over into the word processing age. Indeed, I remember in my IT classes (early 1990s) being taught to double-space after a ‘full stop’.
However, since then, the practice has started to die out. Younger writers know not of double-spacing. Modern word processing means letters are of equal size and the need for a double space is gone. It is simply a habit of people of a certain age to double-space. Yet, they insist it should be done.
Who’s correct? Both or neither really. If we work on the basis that the need is no longer there, then it’s pointless to carry on. However, to some people’s eyes, a single space looks wrong. To my eye, it looks fine. Perhaps I am not of a ‘certain age’?
Ultimately, it’s consistency. It’s more common to single-space, but if your style is to double-space, you want to make sure you do it throughout the document. Consistency is the thing proofreaders pick up that spellcheckers won’t.
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