Two spaces after a full stop?

Hmm. I haven’t yet made two posts in any single day, but an issue came up on Twitter that I absolutely have to say something about. It’s a typographical issue, about which I can speak with a bit of authority, since I have done layout work both for books and magazines.

Should you use two spaces after a full stop.

The short answer: NO!
The long answer: NO! NO!
All answers in between: please for the love of whatever deity you prefer, don’t. Just don’t, OK?

Right, got that off my chest, now I’ll tell you why.

At some stage back in the day of typewriters, it became fashionable to add two spaces after a full stop. I don’t know why, but there must have been some sort of typographical reason for it.

These days, all layout is done by computer. Professionals, and semi-professionals, and anyone who likes to look professional, don’t use Word for layout of magazines or books. They use a desktop publishing program, like InDesign, or QuarkXpress. These are highly specialised (and expensive!) pieces of software that can move blocks of text around, change the space between characters, change the width and height of characters. Basically, DTP programs treat text like a graphic. They are not, however, a text editor. Unlike Word, they don’t ‘read’ any of the words. You can’t search for a word or a phrase, or anything in the text. As I said, they treat text like bunches of meaningless pixels. Any formatting in a wordprocessor document is lost. DTP programs import text as ASCII (this is the reason why adding formatting to your submissions is not recommended).

Imagine this: You have an article that needs to fit on one page A4. There are two smallish photos to go with the article, and the text needs to wrap around the photos. The text is in two columns, and is fully justified (both left and right margin are straight). This means that the program will automatically proportionally increase the size of a space between words so that the line will fill out the page.

OK, you’ve finished, but what’s that? Unsightly gaps in the text, especially around the pictures. OH [insert the worst swear words imaginable]!!! The writer of the article has used double spaces after full stops! [more swear words]

Worse – remember what I said about DTP programs? They don’t read the text, so you can’t search & replace two spaces and replace with one. At this stage, you have two options: 1. delete all spaces by hand, 2. go back to the Word file and delete them there, but in the process, you lose ALL you previous work, because DTP programs don’t even copy italics from word. [swear words]

We are no longer in the age of the typewriter. Love your layout person (who usually does the job for nix), and get rid of those double spaces.

Please, please, please, please!!!!!

ETA: Of course I know that for an editor or layout person, the spaces are easy enough to delete, if, and that is IF, this person has the experience to know about the unsightly gap problem, and realises that you can’t edit anything once you’ve imported text into the DTP program. If you submit something to a professional publisher or magazine, there should not be a problem. However, most SFF magazines are run by volunteers with no formal training in DTP, people who hand over their jobs every year or so, and already struggle with complicated DTP programs.


  1. I never edit anything without going over it in a WP app first, with the formatting showing. That way I can get rid of anomalies – like extra spaces and the bad habit of using the tab key instead of setting tabs on the ruler etc – by using Find and Replace.

    BTW, they used 2 spaces in the old days because when typesetting they used to space the characters manually and the space was a warning to the typesetter not to miss the full stop. For some reason, typists were taught to follow this convention – in case, I suppose, it was to be typeset later. I believe it also had something to do with the size of each piece of lead type. I think there’s an article on Wikipeida somewhere!

  2. Unfortunately, it’s how I type, and I can’t change that without retraining my subconscious 🙂

    But fear not! I CAN use the find/replace in word, to reduce all double spaces to single space.

    Hey presto, I’ve joined the in crowd 😉

  3. the thing is, though, that editing/layout jobs with SFF magazines is a volunteer task, and people rarely do it for as long as you have. To learn to use a proper DTP program is hard enough. When you start using it, you don’t realise you can’t edit anything. You’re too busy wrestling the program without having to deal with what are essentially typos made by the author, and typos you can’t see at that.

  4. I don’t put a double space after a full stop. But this brings up all kinds of questions. Like: don’t use the tab key? What do you do about italics in the text? Same with bold, which I don’t really ever use, but just in case…

    I think I do set the tab on the ruler, because for some reason, Word automatically starts indenting my paragraphs. I must have it set automatically, somewhere. But let’s just admit I don’t know what I’m doing.

    How do you do away with all formatting when submitting? What does an unformatted manuscript look like, anyway? Are we really supposed to use underlines for italicized words? (But underlines are formatting, aren’t they? Doesn’t SOMEONE have to ‘undo’ the underlines and set up the italics in the DTP? So they can’t just use your submission ‘as is.’)

    At what point in the submission process do you send an unformatted manuscript? When you send it to an agent? Or later, after it’s been bought by a publisher and you’re sending in the final, final copy?

    See what I mean about questions? I suppose I should have this figured out by now, but really, it’s just never very clear to me what we’re supposed to do.

  5. What you should do about things like italics, especially if you submit to a magazine, is read the instructions carefully and follow whatever instructions are on the site. Beyond that, the double spacing thing is like adverbs. The lay person won’t mind them, but a trained eye can immediately spot the amateurism of a publication if the holes are left in the text.

  6. Marlene, you can probably learn the answers to all those questions by Googling. Or better still, do a course on using Word to learn its strengths and weaknesses. It’s a lot easier to learn if someone shows you. Same with Desk Top Publishing (DTP) – you need tuition on each new kind of software because no two programs are quite the same.

    To get rid of all formatting all you have to do is copy and paste your text into Notepad, which only handles plain text. You can then copy and paste it again into any other program or file format (such as .pdf) and start formatting all over again. If you copy and paste things directly from Word, some DTP programs will show up with weirdnesses that arise from the strange coding Word uses in the background. I’ve noticed that using tabs instead of the ruler will often cause this kind of problem but other things will do it too and they aren’t predictable from one program to another.

    What’s needed, of course, is a universal standard for word processors and DTP programs, but that doesn’t look like happening anytime soon:-(

  7. I’ve yet to find anybody’s submission guidelines that goes into anything beyond “double-space, one-sided, 12-pt font.” I always look for guidelines and follow them to the letter. They just don’t talk about this other stuff.

  8. Thanks. You’re right – it would be so nice to have a consistent format for everything, but it probably won’t happen in this galaxy.

  9. in Word, if you use the Grammar Checker, it will point out any double spaces – under Tools, Options, Spelling & Grammar, Grammar Settings, one can set the Spacing Between Sentences to be “1 after full stop” (among other things)

  10. Hey, that’s actually good advice for those who can’t give up the annoying habit of typing two spaces behind a full stop.

    My personal problems are:
    1. I’ve never learnt to type properly – so I never learnt to double-space in the first place 😉
    2. My space bar is wonky and often doesn’t register a space at all

    Thanks for the tip, though 😉

  11. You are correct to assert that two spaces after a full-stop is no longer a convention, but your information about typesetting packages – InDesign and Quark – is incorrect. You can search text, you can replace text and they even have spell checkers. If they didn’t then proof corrections would be a painful job. The difference between Word and InDesign or Quark is that Word puts writing first and the other two put layout (and output of printer-ready files) first. Although more Word-like features have entered into the two typesetting packages as they have evolved.

  12. As I said, in the ETA at the bottom, the recent versions have this feature. The version of InDesing I have certainly doesn’t.

  13. In that case, I see why it would be time-consuming stuff then, and why you were prompted to write this article.

  14. Ha! I am the same, it is ingrained into my pscyhe to type to spaces after a word. I end up having to do find/replace as well.

  15. Amen. I use InDesign at work to layout a newsletter.

    Copy comes from a number of contributors. I learned the hard way to strip out formatting, extra spaces and a plethora of other oddities, after initial maddening struggles. Now I get the copy all cleaned up in Word first, which always feels like such a waste of my time.

    Thankfully the academics who contribute have mostly had the typographic corners knocked off ’em by various journal & book publishers.

    I do this for money, every two months. Doing it as a volunteer would drive me nuts!!

  16. I’m sorry that in all the discussion, no sign is given that written text is intended for consumption by a customer. Two spaces after a full stop is simply polite, in that a reader is given an additional prompt to understanding, while I would expect that at least as many people believe it looks better that way.

  17. Really? I find it ugly.

  18. Agreed. I don’t know anyone that prefers it. Bar one after this comment, of course!

Comments are closed