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[Studio Sitka] The One-Space Rule

By Euletha Dukes

Here’s a trivia question for you: How many spaces should follow a period, a question mark, or an exclamation point? One or two? Much to the dismay of many, the answer is one. Double spaces used to be taught as the basic mandatory typing rule, but in recent decades this rule has fallen out of fashion. If you have ever been the subject of snarky remarks about your punctuation or had a first draft returned to you riddled with X’s where you inserted extra spaces, read further. 

Copyeditors, publishers and typographers alike have all lent their voices to this age-old spacing debate. In fact, this issue goes back to the 15th century, when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. In the 19th century, the period that witnessed the invention and rapid evolution of the typewriter, wide spaces between words and sentences became the norm. In fact, back then the question was, should we make the wide spaces in a printed text even wider?

As much as many of us may have an interest in manual typesetting and Victorian era conventions, our most recent frames of reference are typewriters and computers. One major difference between these two technologies is character spacing. The keys on a typewriter employ monotype spacing, meaning that each character has an equal amount of space around it. At least aesthetically, double-spacing on a typewriter was necessary to signify a break between sentences. With the invention of word processors and computers, each typed character would now have a space proportionate to its font and size, making the double-space no longer necessary.

Admittedly, while some rules for grammar and style seem to be arbitrary, they usually have a multilayered history that eventually required a rule. Who knows what the next technological invention will be that might change the written word as we know it? But until that time comes, we stick to the one-space rule. At the end of the day, no matter the style guide and no matter the rule, it’s all for the sake of consistency.

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