Re: Spaces after periods 'n such

Subject: Re: Spaces after periods 'n such
From: David Neeley <dbneeley -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Thu, 28 Oct 2010 10:17:15 +0300

It always astounds me that there are still questions among
professional writers regarding spaces following periods and other

Originally, two spaces after periods were put in to very roughly
approximate the look of spacing in proportional text as it was
typeset. Over centuries, the convention was to use wide character
width (space equivalent to the "m dash") after a period (full stop).
Over a hundred years or so of monospaced typewriters being prevalent
in business, that became a somewhat ingrained habit.

Today, with typewriters mostly confined to museums, most type is
proportional. The width designed into the fonts used makes a double
space after a period far too open.

The only place where you should consider using a double space after a
period is in the rare instance in which you might be actually writing
text in a monospaced font--for the same reason it was used in
typewritten text for all those years.

If you look at proportional text with double spaces at an angle, you
can easily notice "rivers" of white space running through it from the
extra spacing. When you do this, it becomes a bit jarring to the eye,
in fact.

While many of us originally learned to type on a monospace typewriter,
the automatic double spacing after a period is simply something we
should endeavor to unlearn if we want the best looking text. Also,
should you write a book, you will earn no "brownie points" from the
typesetters for this particular habit.

A somewhat related issue is that many fonts whose spacing is quite
nice at text sizes look far too widely spaced when increased to
headline sizes. This is why typographers and layout artists often
adjust tracking and kerning manually for headlines in highly-styled
pieces like display ads, brochures, and the like...and, indeed, why
ligatures still survive in "expert sets" of font faces.

However, the single take-away here is a simple rule for the most
effective appearance of your work: when using a proportional font,
single space after periods.

(When editing someone else's work, one of my first activities is to do
a search and replace for all double spaces after periods, replacing
them with single spaces. It's surprising, too, how many people
actually mix the two up in the same piece.)

As for "looking funny"--that is usually, if not universally, a problem
with the eye of the beholder.


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