The correct space between sentences? Science thinks it has the answer

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss an article on the space between sentences…

I hesitate to reopen the debate about space between sentences. Many people feel strongly on the subject, as indeed do I.

I’m a firm “one-space” person while I know that the “two-space” people feel equally strongly about their view. But, interestingly, as an article in the Washington Post argues persuasively,

…the rules of spacing have been wildly inconsistent going back to the invention of the printing press. The original printing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence used extra long spaces between sentences. John Baskerville’s 1763 Bible used a single space. WhoevenknowswhateffectPietroBembowasgoingforhere.Single spaces. Double spaces.  Em spaces.   Trends went back and forth between continents and eras for hundreds of years, Felici wrote.It’s not a good look.

The same Washington Post article, however, claims that science now has the answer. And that answer…drumroll please…is two spaces. A Yale University experiment gave readers 20 sentences that were written in various styles: one-spaced, two-spaced,  and strange combinations like two spaces after commas,  but only one after periods.  And vice versa, too.

In any case, researchers found that two spaces after a period made reading slightly easier. Note, however, that reading speed improved only marginally, and only for the participants who were “two-spacers,” themselves. The majority of one-spacers, on the other hand, read at pretty much the same speed either way.  And reading comprehension was unaffected for everyone, regardless of how many spaces followed a period.

As for me, I know enough about science to understand that a single study proves nothing. Me? I’m waiting for a meta-analysis before I give up on my single-space rule. My thanks to friend Glenda Bartosh for forwarding this study to me.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on May 21/18.

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