It's Official: Two Spaces Are a Waste of Space (and How to Cope with the Aftermath)

One event of 2020 that might have passed you by: using two spaces after a period is now officially a formatting error. At least, according to Microsoft. The extra space is now marked with a blue squiggly line.

This may not have been the biggest news this year. However, it’s a joyful win in a long, painful battle between the die-hard double-spacers, relics from the time of typewriters and fixed-width fonts, and typographers, and their supporters, who feel passionately that the additional space is an insult to modern font designers.

The long-fought debate has had some surprising twists and turns. The majority of style guides (for example, Chicago Manual of Style, Associate Press, and the United States Government Printing Office Style Manual) have long supported a single space at the end of sentences. However, only in 2018, The Washington Post reported that ‘science’ had ‘proved’ the one-spacers ‘wrong’, quoting research that suggested readability improved with extra spacing after periods. Also, the American Psychological Association (APA) revised its rules, stating that two spaces should follow punctuation at the end of a sentence. A study by scientists in 2011, claiming that two spaces after a period improves readability by 3%, prompted Justin Wolfers, a professor of economics and public policy at University of Michigan, to tweet: 'Science can blow your mind sometimes, and this time it has come down on the side of two spaces after a period.'

Megan McArdle’s piece for The Atlantic, titled You Can Have My Double Space When You Pry it From My Cold Dead Hands was a feisty response to Farhad Manjoo’s polemic Space Invaders: Why you should never, ever use two spaces after a period. It begins 'Can I let you in on a secret? Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.' Whenever a blog post appears on this subject, the comments invariably are a mix of accusations of ‘grammar nannying’ and defiant statements such as ‘two spaces is the way I was taught, and two spaces I will enter until the day I die’ with cries of ‘are you insane? Don’t you realize the proportion is already built into the fonts?’

Well, it seems that Microsoft has declared this bloody war irrefutably over. The APA gave way on two spaces in its 2019 update. At PerfectIt, we are relieved that it has ended this way because one of our final document-polishing fixes is to eliminate all double spaces. There has never been an option to go the other way.

And we are here to help all of those affected by the decision. If you can’t change, PerfectIt can sort it for you with the click of a button.

Meanwhile, the debate on the Oxford comma still rages on…

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