I can’t remember exactly when I started typing. I do, however, remember sitting at a brand-new electronic typewriter for my very first keyboarding class. It must have been around 9th grade. I don’t know if I’ve picked up a pencil since then. (Ok, I do write now and then, but I seem to have been at the beginning of a generation that is much more comfortable with a keyboard than a pencil and paper. Have you seen our handwriting? I rest my case.)
According to my calculations, this fall I will be entering 41st grade. That means for 32 years I have been happily pecking away at either a typewriter or a computer. What you may not know is that for more than 20 of those years, I followed every complete thought (and probably a few incomplete ones!) with a quick stroke of my right ring finger followed by two assertive taps by my right thumb on the space bar. This three-step dance of period/space/space flowed so well it became one fluid movement. So, imagine my surprise when I entered the workforce as a writer and editor and was told my beautiful keyboard waltz had to very quickly turn into a choppy two‑step. That’s right, I was way behind the times. Somewhere in those hallowed halls of university I had missed the memo: two spaces after a period is so 1990s.
Don’t believe me? All the trusted sources in editing and writing have issued the same proclamation. In fact, since at least its 15th edition, the Chicago Manual of Style has been telling us that “one space, not two…follows any mark of punctuation that ends a sentence.” But, the pro-one-space-only argument just got a little boost (and maybe even a well-earned victory). Microsoft Word has been updated and now highlights two spaces after a period as an error.
Why the change? Typewriters used monospaced fonts to allocate the same amount of horizontal spacing to every character, which means an “I” got the same amount of space as an “R”. Two spaces after a period were necessary to clearly mark the end of a sentence. However, with the very smart and sophisticated typefaces of the modern computer, two spaces are no longer necessary after a period and can even create “rivers of white” in your document that can be very distracting.
When I first learned that I could no longer insert two spaces after a period, I was horrified. How would I ever unlearn this 20-year-old habit? As it turns out, I should have given myself more credit. It must have only taken a couple of days. And on top of it all, I don’t even miss that beloved extra space. In fact, I find myself resentful that I wasted so many of those extra spaces over the course of those 20 years. Surely typing all those spaces added up to at least 10 minutes of my life that I wasted. Ten minutes! Think of all the things I could have accomplished!
As you are making your transition away from two spaces (and you must), I can offer some help. When you finish your document, use that handy search and replace function to fix any lingering double spaces. I bet you didn’t even know you could find nothing and replace it with half of nothing! But you can, indeed, search for two spaces and replace them with one with a single point and click. Also, you should always have the paragraph button selected as you compose and edit documents. This feature allows you to see all the formatting and paragraph marks in your document. This feature makes it easy to see your spaces because they are represented by little dots in the middle of the line. It might even help alert you to when you are inadvertently typing your two spaces.
So join me in the 21st century and leave those extra spaces back in the ‘90s with your Doc Martens and plaid flannel shirts. Just think of what you can do over the next 20 years with those extra 10 minutes!