One space or two?

You’ve probably heard about this study that attempted to examine the readability of text written with two spaces after each period rather than one. Of course people do like to exaggerate the findings of any study; whether those findings warrant much rational attention is a separate question.

Things to notice about this study:

The study used a monospaced font, thus exaggerating the difference between one space and two.

The readability of text improved with the use of two spaces after periods, but only for people who themselves type with two spaces after a period, and only by 3%.

Using two vs one space did not have a significant impact on comprehension of the text.

The actual study, as opposed to everyone’s reactions to it, can be found here.

Now, I personally don’t find this a topic worth getting all het up about. I don’t understand why people have such vehement opinions about the two space / one space question. For example, this:

I find two spaces after a period unsettling, like seeing a person who never blinks or still has their phone’s keyboard sound effects on. I plan to teach my kids never to reply to messages from people who put two spaces after a period. I want this study’s conclusion to be untrue—to uncover some error in the methodology, or some scandal that discredits the researchers or the university or the entire field of psychophysics.

I like that paragraph a lot; it made me smile. But it just seems so strange to pick this particular hill as one to die on.

All over the blogosphere, I see people are declaiming about the unaesthetic, unappealing visual quality of text with two spaces after the period. Gosh, they must have had a tough time reading all that ugly print twenty years ago. Oh, wait, I bet it never crossed their minds to care one way or the other at the time.

Adding a stronger visual cue that tells the reader “Here is the end of this sentence” seems like it would obviously increase reading speed. I’m surprised the effect was only 3% and only for subjects who normally type with two spaces. I wonder if you tried this again with older people rather than college students as subjects? Older people are probably more used to two spaces and also on average probably have worse eyesight, so how about that?

On the other hand … I type with one space after periods now. This is because a couple years ago I quit using my right thumb to type at all, because of the tendinitis issue with that thumb, so it seemed practical to go to one space just in case the change spared my left thumb some stress. I don’t really need tendinitis problems with both thumbs. That would be super-inconvenient.

Visually … I just don’t find that it makes much difference. Two spaces don’t bother me. One space is fine. I don’t care. If I pick up an old book, this is not something I even notice, much less worry about.

Am I unique? Please tell me that out there in the wide world, there are other readers who are baffled about this particular war.

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6 thoughts on “One space or two?”

  1. I put two spaces after a period because that’s what I learned long ago in typing class on an electric typewriter. But with variable-width fonts, it’s pretty much a non-issue.

    Two spaces does make texting on a phone easier. Just enter two spaces and a period is automatically added.

  2. Two spaces does make texting on a phone easier. Just enter two spaces and a period is automatically added.

    Really? Well, I’ll start doing that, then. Thanks for the tip!

  3. I still have my phone’s keyboard sound effects on… but I type with one space after a period, except on my phone, when I use the double to get the period. I don’t find it a big deal now, but the two spaces were annoying in high school. I would do ctrl+f/r and add one in after I was done writing my paper. If it was required, which it wasn’t always.

  4. Mona, for me it was the reverse for years. I’d type with two spaces as I’d been taught, then do a find/replace to ditch the extra spaces. This is certainly easier than retraining your fingers, but on the other hand, when I quit using my right thumb, that was annoying enough that switching to one space at that time was no extra bother.

  5. Allan Shampine

    I also type with two spaces, but don’t feel strongly about it. With my editor hat on, I work with many different people, and some like two spaces and some like one. Whatever makes you happy!

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