Saturday, January 15, 2011


When I took typing class in 8th and 9th grade, I was taught to put two spaces behind the end of the sentence after a full stop. I've had several conversations over the last six or seven years where people have vehemently told me I'm wrong to do that, especially when writing on the internet (i.e., blogging). I hadn't been willing to be convinced that the old-fashioned way wasn't appropriate for the new age of communication via the electrophonic tool called the internet.

There was an article I was pointed to yesterday where the author stridently told us that two spaces was WRONG and if you were doing that you were WRONG and probably not the brightest bulb in the box.* I had read an article in the last six months (forgive me I don't remember from where) that explained that when writing on the internet one space after a period was not only acceptable, but preferable for readability. The argument was that two spaces created a visual issue that confused the reader and made your entry harder to read.

As I worked through that article, it made sense. Knowing that two spaces were more for typesetters who were printing your words on paper than anyone else, it also made sense to drop the extra space and I've been doing that as I've been writing over the last few months. It was hit and miss early on and I was wildly inconsistent but I've got the hang of it now. I think.

Of course this gets me thinking about readability on the internet versus paper. On paper, that is in books and newspapers, we indent each paragraph while on the web we put a blank line between paragraphs. Is there going to be a movement to go away from indenting on paper?

My blogger software here doesn't give me the option to set my blog up with having more than single-line spacing, so each blank line has to be an old-fashioned carriage return (or 'enter' since I'm using a computer and not a typewriter). I wonder if those who are so intensely advocating only one space after a period/full stop are going to take on line-spacing next? If one space between sentences creates a reading issue, wouldn't having a minimum of one and a half line-spaces be better? I know when I'm reading on paper that text that's all crammed up into a longish paragraph is hard to read, so wouldn't more space be better?

Why is it that two spaces after the end of a sentence are visually unpleasant on the internet? Why is it that indenting paragraphs on the internet is visually unpleasant but on paper isn't? I know there's an argument about variable versus fixed-width fonts when speaking about spacing between sentences, but I think it may be more than that. On paper, fixed-width fonts and double-spaced lines are the easiest to read. Why don't we do that automatically for reading on a screen?

So which do you prefer to read on - a screen or paper? Do you want formatting on one platform to emulate the other? When you have a choice between them, do you read certain kinds of things only on paper or only on a screen?**

* I've been really surprised at how passionate some people have been about the whole issue, too. On both sides there are captial-D Defenders of their position. Be careful when engaging in those conversations, okay?

** Obviously blogs are only read on a screen of some kind. Would you read this blog on paper if that was an option and would you expect it to be formatted differently?


R.L. Naquin said...

I've run into the same problem. A 20-something guy asked why I always did two spaces after a sentence. He'd never heard of such a thing.

Once I figured out it's a dead rule now that we're not all using typewriters, it took me the first four chapters of my novel to break myself of the habit.

Since then, I paid it forward and broke someone else of it. She had no idea either. I feel so old.

Someone really should have sent out a memo to those of us old enough to have learned to type on typewriters instead of keyboards.

And the indent or double space between paragraphs -- I thought it was still an option. Choose one or the other, but don't indent if you add a line between paragraphs.

I do think reading a printed book with "blog" formatting would be uncomfortable, but I'm not certain whether that's ingrained habit or genuinely difficult to read. Hope we don't have to find out.

Jason Arnett said...

Thanks for stopping by, R.L.! Yeah, a memo would've been helpful, wouldn't it?

I added your blog to my reader subscriptions. Some great stuff there.