Ooooooh. Mention this issue on a Facebook digital business forum and watch it light up.

“Noooooooo!” cry the learned-on-a-typewriter folk, “do NOT tell me I have to change this too!”

Yep, that’s right. We’re tackling the age-old question:

Do you put two spaces between sentences, or just one?

This global controversy is right up there with the great Canvas Versus Plastic debate (canvas, please!) and whether the chicken or the egg came first. (Both delicious!)

Here’s the question. From time to time, you’ll see people add two spaces between sentences. So, like this:

“Here’s one sentence.  Here’s the other sentence”.

And the double-space camp is saying that’s the right way to do it. Because it was, historically. Then you see lines with only one space:

“Here’s one sentence. Here’s the other sentence”.

It may seem like a minor difference, but if you’re typing 1000 words of copy, you’re going to notice the extra spaces.

And some believe if you’re READING 1000 words of copy (so, on a Sales page, for example) you’re really going to notice.

So which way is right?

To understand why people add two spaces, we’re going to jump into our Copywriter’s Time Machine and zip back to the late 1800s, when typewriters were all the rage (if you don’t know what a typewriter is: it’s basically a computer with no screen that writes emails on dead trees. Also, I am jealous of your youth).

Typewriters used something called ‘monospace’.

Monospace referred to the amount of space each letter took up on the page. Technically it existed before typewriters, but it found practical application there. Basically, every letter took up the same amount of space regardless of how wide that letter was. So a narrow letter (like a capital ‘I’) took up the same amount of space as a wide character (like a capital ‘E’).

This lead to some weird spacing, which made it more difficult to tell where sentences ended and began. And everything looked a bit sloppy. It was hard to differentiate between two sentences, and sometimes even words looked to have an extra gap where one shouldn’t be.

Double space

In short, type was harder to read with monospacing, so typographers implemented the whole double-spacing system.

So, fast forward a few years (and add a few wrinkles).

Early computers used monospacing due to graphical limitations, but as word processors became more advanced, monospacing went the way of the Dodo. Narrow letters were given less space than wider letters.

Copy became ten times easier to read.

…except for the copy that still clings to the ‘double space’ method, which – because non-monospaced writing is easier to read – actually makes writing harder to read, rather than easier

So, should double-spacing be banned?

No, not necessarily.

Technically it’s correct.

But you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage.

Spaces between pauses represent pauses.

A pause on the page prompts the reader to pause.

That’s brilliant, because we want our readers to feel a natural, conversational flow when they’re ‘listening’ in their heads to our words, we want our voice to take a breath in their minds, but we don’t want them to trip over a large gap between sentences – a trip big enough to stop them in their tracks.

I know I’ve harped on about this a bit, but we know that website readers don’t really read.

They scan

When we’re writing for a reader who is scanning information to find the relevant parts, the last thing we want to do is make that reader work harder.

You won’t be surprised there are books written about how to space out your copy. David Jury is the author of About Face: Reviving the Rules of Typography. “It’s so bloody ugly.” (He said lots of other clever things too, you can find the book here).

Because we might just create them a gap large enough for them to fall in, then bounce away.

And bouncing is bad

Even then, nowadays a common perception is that double-spacing is a relic left over from the days of the typewriter, and that those who still do it are making a mistake. Sure, there are some die-hard double-spacers out there who will agree, but there are a bunch of single-spacers who see double-spacing and think of it as a mistake.

Remember – because much of modern typography is single-spaced, your double-space demographic probably won’t notice the single spacing.

And that’s good.

Because when it comes down to it, you want your reader to notice your message, feel something tingly and good about your service or product, love your voice, and be in alignment with your values.

Not spend a single moment considering your spacing.

So weigh up your options

-You can double-space.

Of course you can! Just like you can use multiple exclamation marks after a sentence if you want, or wallow in ellipses.

  • Part of your email list will may think you’re making a mistake, which undermines your credibility.
  • Some may stop and ponder for a second and lose their flow.
  • A couple of folk might think your formatting is dodgy, or check their screen for wobbles.
  • Your double-spacers won’t notice because that’s the way they were taught.

Or

-You can single-space.

  • None of your email list will think you’re making a mistake.
  • Your double-spacers still won’t notice because single-spacing is so prevalent.
  • You’ll nail the almighty flow.

Which is the smarter option?

Now, I’ve tried to be impartial. It’s my job to deliver a concept to you and for you to decide whether it suits your communication style. I am certainly not passing judgement (unlike that time I had a go at the ellipsis over users).

Actually, that’s fibs. I want your copy to be better. I don’t want to see you undermine your credibility because of an outdated belief.

I want you to get rid of that extra space and appeal to a broader audience and be easier to read

I think you know the right thing to do.

Want more rants about funny copy things in your inbox? You can get my irregular over-email-chatter by blood oath here.

 

Did you just get super excited about the history of double spacing? You might like this article by CreativePro that digs right in (images too!)

Licence free image courtesy Wikipedia. 

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