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Double-Space After a Full Stop

Double-space after a full stop - yes or no?  

Do a quick search for "space twice after a period" or "double space after a full stop" and you can find plenty of opinions for and against.

Some say it's a quaint old habit; others that it is the correct form when typing; yet others say it should not be used on a computer.

However, here is the current situation at 2008:
  • On a website it is correct to use a single space and incorrect to use two spaces
  • On-screen, for most purposes, it is better to use a single space
  • In print, for some applications, it may be acceptable to use a double-space
The reasoning behind this is that a double-space was used in the middle years of the last century for typewriter use, as the quality and readability of the result was often poor. The same also applied to much printed matter, of the newspaper type. The fonts used were less readable than those in use today, so that a double space was often a useful convention. In addition, many were taught this method when typing because typewriter fonts needed this extra space inserted more than any other application, as the original fonts were monospaced; and this meant readability for these old typewriter fonts would be much improved.

However, this is not relevant to Internet or other on-screen use now, where the fonts used are different and readability levels are much higher. We no longer use serif fonts on-screen, most of the time, because of these issues. Sans-serif fonts are far easier to read on-screen. Monospaced fonts are mainly used for quotations of code examples.

For Internet use - that is, on websites - sans-serif fonts are used almost exclusively, and these need no double-space to improve their readability. Plus, in many circumstances it may be impossible to use a double space because the software sees that as a fault and corrects it.

HTML simply ignores the second space; modern versions of Word autocorrect to a single space. Or, more correctly, Word formats by default to a single space, and you could change that to two spaces if you wished, perhaps if using old-style fonts, for off-line printing purposes maybe.

Past and present
So this is basically a typesetting issue that was relevant in the past. Two spaces after a full stop (International English) or after a period (US English) was an appropriate method for use on typewriters and newsprint, where the fonts, kerning and print quality were not always optimal for readability. It is still apt for print use in some circumstances, where some combinations of font, kerning and colour may make readability sub-optimal otherwise.

Since many computer and Internet applications remove any extra space to leave only a single space; and as it is no longer required; and as it is often not possible; and also for continuity and consistency -  then only one space should be used. It is no longer taught, as it no longer applies.

CSS controls for double space after a period
How to create two spaces after a period in HTML? Can you set a double space in CSS?

These questions refer to the code on a website, and are something we get asked occasionally. It isn't possible and would be introducing a fault condition anyway. Double spacing should not be used on a website.

It could be arranged by writing a custom script in JavaScript, however. But this illustrates just how wrong this idea is: all excess scripting and especially JavaScript should be removed from web pages. However there is a modern method for using JS within a CSS stylesheet, and this could be used - perhaps for an online display of old printed material or similar. JavaScript within an external CSS file is not for beginners though.

Double spacing is not taught any longer because it is not needed, it is impractical for computer use and all but impossible for website use. If it is still taught then the syllabus needs updating; we no longer use typewriters. It's just wrong.

Is a double space after a full stop / period bad for SEO?

No. It makes no difference, because it does not affect any of the factors that are related to search, and it does not introduce any problems into this area. It's just an old typing habit that isn't used any longer. For search purposes you could think of it in the same way as using an old newspaper font on-screen - eccentric and old-fashioned, but having no effect on the search results. It would be a way to create an aura of the 1950s perhaps. It wouldn't sit well with modern content but might be useful for the display of historical material.

Zero spacing

We're starting to see more zero-spacing than double-spacing now. This must be a micro-device habit, from phones, texting, Twittering and so on.It looks like this.With no space at all.

It's probably the modern equivalent of the old telegram method. Readability is not enhanced and there is no need for it, since there is no shortage of space or a character limit on a PC screen.

Double-spaced documents

It is easy to confuse this issue with that of the 'double spaced document'. This - for a period of at least 80 years between around 1920 and 2000 - refers to a typewritten or handwritten page with each alternate line missing, in other words a space between each line. This is a double-spaced document and has been for a very long time. It was widely used in publishing before about 2000, when computers became universally popular, after which time documents could be easily and instantly edited.

Editors of magazines, newspapers and even books required authors (or prospective authors) to submit their copy with a space between each line, so that it could have edits written-in easily. This is a double-spaced document. If you are asked to present your work 'double-spaced', this is what it means. It has no relevance to punctuation spacing. It is an anomalous request now, of course, but if specified perhaps it means that the pages will be printed first and edited by hand, for some reason. Or perhaps it refers to school work that must be handwritten, and will be returned with the edits between the lines.

If, on the other hand, you are asked for work to be presented with "double-spaced periods" or "double-spaced full stops", then this refers to the spaces after the sentence-ending punctuation and is what we are discussing on this page. This is an antiquated requirement and the syllabus needs changing - see your Principal.

Best fonts for on-screen use

There are clear differences between the requirements for print and for monitor use. For example, the best fonts for on-screen use are sans-serif fonts; the best for print use are often serif fonts. Serif fonts are the more complex ones with the squiggly bits on, like Times New Roman - typewriter-style fonts in fact. Sans-serif fonts are 'clean' fonts with little embellishment, like Arial, or Verdana which is the font-face this page is mainly in.

As a general rule, sans-serif fonts should be used for computer applications, eg:

Arial / Helvetica ...... - the quick red fox jumps over the lazy brown dog*; now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party*; the quick red fox jumps over the...
Verdana ............ - the quick red fox jumps over the lazy brown dog; now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party; the quick red fox jumps over the...
Tahoma ................... - the quick red fox jumps over the lazy brown dog; now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party; the quick red fox jumps over the...

[each of the preceding in its correct font at 10-point]
...and so on. These are the most common, in order of popularity.
* The meaning of these phrases is explained lower down.

Best fonts for use in print

Serif fonts may be best for printed materials in many circumstances. These include:

Times New Roman ... - the quick red fox jumps over the lazy brown dog. Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party; the quick red fox jumps over the... [12-point here]
Courier New ..... - the quick red fox jumps over the lazy brown dog. Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party; the quick red fox jumps over the...
Georgia  ...................  - the quick red fox jumps over the lazy brown dog. Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party; the quick red fox jumps over the...

Where exceptions are made, the clear difference is no doubt part of the required effect - the use of Courier for code 'quotes' onscreen, for example.

You can also see that in some serif fonts the kerning (inter-letter spacing) is clearly less than for sans-serif fonts - eg with Georgia. This is another reason why two spaces after a stop is popular in some printed materials, as the letters do seem to be jammed together too closely. Courier New, being a monospaced font (one with regular spacing), has the opposite problem: there is too much space and therefore a double-space may make the end of a sentence clearer. These issues are not applicable to modern on-screen fonts.

Best font size on-screen

Verdana is probably the best sans-serif font for small text on-screen, of 10-point size usually; Arial may be superior at the larger sizes from 14-point upward. It depends entirely on preference and application. For example, if a narrow column of text is used, then Arial would be a better choice than Verdana, since the latter is wider; a sentence using Verdana will be approximately 15% 'wider' than the same text in Arial. This page is in Verdana 10-point, with some examples earlier in Arial.

It is normally accepted that Verdana 10-point is the smallest font for reasonable usability, ie readability by all, on all equipment. If the audience may be older, or with older equipment, then 12-point might be a better choice. Our favourite font-face and size, however, is Verdana 11-point; but this is not a default size and needs some CSS adjustments in order to use it.

Developers, if left to their own devices and without instruction to the contrary, often prefer to set the font size at 9-point Verdana, by specifying a size in pixels and overriding the CSS and browser defaults. They do this because it makes their life easier in many ways. This is a bad habit and needs to be prevented, otherwise readability and usability take a hit. If people don't find a website easy to use they go elsewhere. Tiny text is a factor here, and there is no reason for it at all (except to make web designers' lives easier). The font size in the HTML source code should be "size 2" - and not a size in pixels. It's true that Internet Explorer cannot cope with - well, just about anything really - so it is a different case; a separate CSS file is used for these old or faulty browsers. 

Of course, you often see what you think is a double space - but actually it's the extra spacing introduced just in that line in order to fully justify it (align it flush on both left and right). For example, in the paragraph above the spacing before: 'This is a bad habit and.....' has been stretched by the adjustment required for full justification.

Which is perhaps another reason why full justification looks quite smooth - assuming the column width is sufficient, as it often jars visually when used for a narrow column since some lines will be incorrectly spaced.

What is the meaning of 'the quick red fox...' ?


What is the meaning of 'now is the time for all good men...' ?
These are old and very useful typing tests:

  • The quick red fox jumps over the lazy brown dog
  • Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the Party
The first one, 'the quick red.....', uses every main letter key on a typewriter. It has been used for years for that purpose - to test the machine and to test the typist. Of course, it is totally out of date now as there are a lot more keys, so someone should come up with a new one. They probably have, but I'm too old to have heard of it.

'Now is the time for...' was a very popular quick finger-warmup for typists of my parent's generation, in England (they were born in the 1920's). Their generation used to think of it as hilarious, as it was the rallying cry of the Communists.

They had just survived a world war lasting years, in which many of their family members and friends had died, and many of the cities had been nearly bombed flat (I spent many a happy hour as a child, innocently playing in the bomb sites in a South London suburb, many of which still existed in the 60s), and a near-starvation period of years after that (rationing in England lasted for many years after the war), and then a cold war following that. Consequently they had a very low opinion of politicians of all types, from all countries - but especially extremists.

Party mottos of any type were considered so ridiculous, in the aftermath of so much death and hardship caused by extremist politics, they were considered laughable. As such they were the butt of jokes, or useful for typing warmups. As they had seen the results at first hand, they considered that only fools were conned into believing that pro-left or pro-right politics ever created anything other than misery. We cannot judge them as they and their families suffered as we have not, but the lessons were clear enough to them.

It is interesting to note how the 'Now is the time...' phrase has been altered to end with '...to come to the aid of their country'. As anyone concerned with selling a product or idea knows, an excellent method is to use what existed previously and alter it to suit the new theme, it is such a powerful device.

Terminology of fonts

In fact it is strictly incorrect to use the word 'font' to describe a typeface or font-face, as we commonly do now. The term properly refers to a box of lead type that a compositor would use to make up a print block for a page. However, language changes, and nowhere so rapidly as in any field related to technology.

History of fonts on-screen
There are many interesting circumstances surrounding the early use of fonts on-screen, which are tied up with the history of IBM, Apple, Adobe (who were font designers initially) and Microsoft.

An interesting point is that we have heard in certain quarters that if you find that you prefer and insist on a double space after a period / full stop for computer typing, and/or you sometimes make up new words by combining others (called neologisms), and/or you have a preference for green biro when writing by hand - then it may be possible that you should consult a doctor. How much credence to attach to this is debatable.

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Two spaces Q & A

Q: My copy of Word auto double-spaces after a sentence - how do I fix it ?
A: Well, it must have been used by someone else - maybe your aunt - as this is not the default setting. Change it back to the default setting of one space.

Q: I have been sent a doc with double-spacing and I need to fix it - how ?
I have got a text page with random double-spaces in it - how to fix it ?
A: There are two ways. You can try publishing it to an HTML page, then copying and pasting the result out to a text file again. Maybe even just change the file extension from .txt or .doc to .html to do this, it may work. This is because a double space does not exist in HTML and with luck your computer will fix it and read the HTML file correctly - but it depends on the PC.

Or, paste the text into a real text editor like NoteTab, which has a Find & Replace function. Get the F & R box up, place the cursor in the 'Find Text' box, and simply hit the Space Bar twice. Then go to the box below, the 'Replace With' box, and hit the Space Bar once. Then hit Replace All. It just looks for two spaces and replaces them all with one space. Easy.

You may have to place your cursor at the start of the text page, or even select (blue out) all the text - depending on your text editor.

Q: But my teacher says I MUST double-space. What to do ?
A: Same as when unreasonable demands are made by any figure in authority such as teachers, old aunts etc -- just do as they say when they're around and go back to sensible mode when they're gone. Then fix the damage. The old dears are probably near retirement so you just have to put up with them till the happy day :)  They learnt on an old crash-and-bang typewriter and lessons were hard in those days...

Or, use the spacing fix described above, using the Find & Replace function. Search for one space and replace it with two. That way you can type correctly, with one space, but deliver the document adjusted to suit an obsolete syllabus etc; and then repair the damage easily later.

So: the answer to the question "How to double space after a period on a computer?" is now, in essence, "You don't need to, it is unnecessary, it is impossible to do in some circumstances, it is obsolete by many, many years - and it certainly should not be taught now". Conventions have changed and it is no longer taught - since in practice it cannot be executed much of the time anyway. Times change.
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