How many spaces after a period, one or two?
I’ve been asked to referee disputes on the subject, been urged to publicize the “right” answer, and been chastised for recommending the “wrong” answer. Lawyers tend to feel strongly about spaces, so I hesitate to weigh in. Let me start by acknowledging there are arguments on both sides.
If you put two spaces after periods, you have several arguments on your side. There’s the long tradition: that’s the way we’ve always done it (at least since the invention of the typewriter). You also have your own training to back you up: that’s the way we were taught (and still are, as I learned when my seventh grader took typing last year, or what is now called “keyboarding”). You might rely on widespread practice: that’s what everyone does (or at least the lawyers you know). Or you might say one space looks bad: it makes the document seem crowded.
If you put one space after periods, you have arguments on your side, too. One space is what the pros do: professionally published texts, like books, magazines, and newspapers mostly use one space after periods. For example, Austin Lawyer uses one space. You could point out that two-space practice is a vestige of the typewriter, with its mono-spaced fonts, and no one uses typewriters or mono-spaced fonts like Courier anymore (at least they shouldn’t). Or you might argue that one space is becoming the modern, standard practice (which it is, although it isn’t catching on quickly in law practice).
With arguments on both sides, I’ve found it difficult to persuade anyone on this issue. I tell my students that while in law school, choose a preference and be consistent with it. Then, in practice, conform to the expectations of your employer.
My own preference? I’m a one-space guy, and here’s why.
First, two-space practice really is a vestige of the typewriter, and I want my word-processed documents to look neat, modern, and professional. I don’t find a one-space document crowded; rather, I find a two-space document “gappy.” What are all those little cavities of white space?
Second, one-space practice really is the trend for professional writing. Search the topic on the Web if you doubt it. It’s just that lawyers are behind. The truth is that in professional writing, we are in the middle of a long, slow transition from two spaces to one space, and it really isn’t worth fighting it.
Third, those who know—the experts—prefer one space:
“One space is the custom of professional typographers and consensus view of typography authorities.” Matthew Butterick, Typography for Lawyers 42 (2010).
“Like most publishers, Chicago advises leaving a single character space, not two spaces, between sentences . . . .” Chicago Manual of Style 60 (15th ed. 2010).
“[T]he single space between sentences is enough to visually separate them, and two spaces creates a disturbing gap. . . . Yes, this is a difficult habit to break, but it must be done.” Robin Williams, The PC Is Not a Typewriter 13–14 (1992).
Fourth, clean-up is easy. As you know, there are plenty of places in abbreviations and citations where you want one space after a period, not two. Making sure you have one space there but two spaces after sentences is a headache, isn’t it? I use one space after sentences, so here’s all I need to do: as part of a final edit, run a search for two spaces and replace them with one. Done.
It’s still too early say two spaces is wrong for law practice since it’s so common in legal writing. But the battle for two spaces is being lost—one space at a time.
Filed under: Grammar and Punctuation