Sentence spacing. The final frontier.

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Do you want to know what sets graphic designers off? Double spaces. I don’t mean the kind that college students use between paragraphs to make their papers appear longer. I mean the tap-tap of the spacebar at the end of a sentence. It’s unnecessary. And to typographers and graphic designers, it just looks terrible. It creates rivers of space through columns of text. Here’s the fastest, easiest way to take all of your communications — both personal and professional — from sloppy to sleek. Scrub the double space.

“But I’ve always double spaced! When did the rule change?”

Those of us over 40 may have learned to type on something called a “typewriter” — a heavy, noisy old machine that made things a nightmare to edit and didn’t even come with a spell-checker. My uncle was a newspaper reporter in the 1970s. So, I’ve seen one of these beasts up close. Even if you’re a Millennial who has never used one, you may have been taught to type by somebody who learned on a typewriter. When typewriters were the word processors of the day, they used “monospaced” characters — in other words, all of the letters and numbers were the same width. And it’s said that adding a double space after a sentence improved readability by making it easier to see where a pause goes.

When personal computers replaced typewriters, digital fonts blessed us with “proportional width” characters. So the extra-wide gap after a period became unnecessary. Open any book or magazine today and you’ll see the slim single-spaced sentences that have been the print industry standard for decades. Even web sites use single spacing because HTML code (the programming used to create web pages) ignores superfluous spaces. In fact, there’s an extra piece of code that’s needed in order to create any additional spacing.

My eyes aren’t as sharp as they used to be. But, I can spot an extra space from 12 parsecs. They jump out at me now. In my work as a graphic designer ( / proofreader / editor / copywriter), I frequently need to format text documents from assorted writers. And before I begin turning them into something that will be easy to read and have a pleasant layout, I always run a Find-and-Replace… for double spaces. If you’re having trouble transitioning to a single space as you type, I suggest taking advantage of this feature in Microsoft Word after typing your own documents. There’s also a setting in Word’s grammar checker that will flag an accidental double space. Sometimes the double-space even sneaks into the middle of a sentence. Once in a blue moon, I’ll even see writers throw a triple or quadruple space into their text! If you’re an iPhone user, you probably already know that tapping the space bar twice will automatically end a sentence with a period and enter a single space to start a new sentence. (I wish this feature was built into Word!)

I know it’s a hard habit to break. I had to go through it myself. But it’s a simple, subtle change that will make your business and personal documents soar.

I would be over the moon if you would read this excellent article from Slate. It’s probably the most frequently shared piece on Twitter about the subject:

Want more free design advice? Send me what you’re working on, and I’ll send back five ways you can make it even better! phil@phillustrations.com

I am an animator / #Illustrator / graphic #designer from Seattle, WA. I write about design and productivity. http://phillustrations.com

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