According to the Washington Post in this deliciously geeky article, in the beginning, the rules of the space bar were simple. Two spaces after each period. Every time. Easy. That made sense in the age of the typewriter. Letters of uniform width looked cramped without extra space after the period. Typists. learned not to do it. But then the modern, digital word processors arrived — and along with them, fonts with glyphs whose width could be easily adapted. From then on, double - spacing has been considered a type crime and speaking from the heart, I get a little anxiety attack every time I spot double spacing in a book (unfortunately, I’m serious). And we’re not alone, it seems:
And so the rules of typography fell into chaos. “Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong,” Farhad Manjoo wrote in Slate in 2011. “You can have my double space when you pry it from my cold, dead hands,” Megan McArdle wrote in the Atlantic the same year. (And yes, she double-spaced it.)
It’s fantastic to think about spaces. If you happen to read and know about Burmese
Scripts, you’ll know that there are no spaces - really
. Back to the single vs. double space debate, there have been multiple studies arguing over which one is best,
They cite dozens of theories and previous research, arguing for one space or two. A 2005 study that found two spaces reduced lateral interference in the eye and helped reading. A 2015 study that found the opposite. A 1998 experiment that suggested it didn’t matter.
As much as I like and am amused at that last 1998 study, there’s been a recent one which tried to assess if double-spacing really is better for readability:
The researchers then clamped each student’s head into place, and used an Eyelink 1000 to record where they looked as they silently read 20 paragraphs. The paragraphs 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.
As much as it pains me to see, double-spaces were regarded as easier to read and had overall better readability scores. Reading speed and comprehension were not affected in any way, as expected, just overall comfort. But there are catches to this study: for example, the 21 research papers were, in fact, double-spaced with Courier New, a mono-spaced font, which might not have taken into account the overall aesthetics of the page.
But the funniest thing?
Johnson told Lifehacker that she and her co-authors submitted the paper with two spaces after each period — as was proper. And the journal deleted all the extra spaces anyway.