Quick Picks from CMCL

December 21, 2012

In The Know: One space or two? Getting passionate about period punctuation

Filed under: In the Know, Info — Tags: — LGP @ 9:00 am

It all started with an email question from a patron:

“I heard that APA style has changed recently, and now they require two spaces after a period. Can you confirm this?”

From XKCD dot com - click for more

Third Way

My first reaction was to think “No, it’s not necessary since we all use computers now, fonts have adjustable spaces, HTML collapses white space automatically; since typewriters were monospaced, it’s changed….blah blah blah.”

Like a good librarian, I did my research to help the patron, starting with the ever-useful Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL). After a bit of work, I tracked down the change in the 2009 edition that “suggests” double-spacing after a period.
http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/24/ (Under “Mechanics of Style”)

My answer to the patron included that link as well as a 2009 APA blog post which offered the view that two-spaced periods were good for draft manuscripts but things could vary in publication. As I sent off the answer to the patron, what I’d read during my research made me wonder whether my original reaction (based on decades of hearing about typewriters, MS Word errors for “extra” spaces near a period and such) was really true.

I found this great, long essay on the topic which says, essentially, “computers didn’t kill the double-spacing, economics did”, and that period-spacing continues to be a matter of taste and argument. The writer pulls together citations from the history of the Chicago Manual of Style, 19th- and 20th century printing manuals and more to make his case, and does it well. His assessment rings true with me, for before I became a librarian, I spent seven years in the book publishing biz using MS Word and removing double-spacing to the annoyance of authors and pleasure of the book designers. Read his post here:
“Why two spaces after a period aren’t wrong (or, the lies that typographers tell about history)”

If you make it to the end, you’ll see this PS that says it all:
“P.S. For any non-typographers who made it all the way through this article, if you want to double-space, do it. If you want to single-space, fine. Just please don’t try to enforce your view on the world. Stop judging people. Because, really, if you’re not a typographer, chances are the junk you’re producing in MS Word or whatever has dozens of other worse spacing sins than double-spacing your sentences.”

Hope your reading experiences are river-free and a pleasure to the eye (just don’t ask me to double-space my own periods — I’m too lazy for that.)

1 Comment

  1. And…. the controversy continues. XKCD suggests A Third Way… http://xkcd.com/1285/

    Comment by Anonymous — November 14, 2013 @ 12:26 pm


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