Roadmap

(A great place to start if you're new here is my Wide Spacing Roadmap.)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Summary of arguments in favor of two spaces between sentences

Functional
• The period is an overloaded piece of punctuation with multiple meanings. Periods alone are ambiguous or misleading sentence termination.
• Two spaces allows for vastly simpler and more accurate machine interpretation, including translations and text-to-speech.
• Ironically, this machine-interpretation issue allows for simple technology to allow the reader to control visual layout to their aesthetic preference. One space between sentences forces readers into the writer's preference.
• Wide spacing has been shown to be better for many new readers, and for some learning issues.
• In my opinion, wide spacing is clearly superior for skimming and scanning, and for finding your place again.

Aesthetics
• “Everybody does it that way now” is just fashion, not a design law carved in stone. And it ignores the history of how we got here.
• The aesthetic argument is 100% undercut by the functional argument of two spaces allowing for reader-controlled display.
• Human beings found wide sentence spacing preferable for four hundred years.

History
• All the “just-so” stories about sentence spacing you've ever heard (typewriters, monospaced fonts, etc.) are easily disproved.
• The only compelling and supported theory on how we lost wide sentence spacing is that the technology couldn't handle it.

Summary
Ultimately, we provide more information with two spaces between sentences. This trumps everything, particularly the aesthetic argument, where one space is dictatorship and two spaces can be reader-centered.

4 comments:

  1. I suspect an equally significant cause driving the elimination of sentence spacing is that even in cases where the technology could easily handle the distinction between an abbreviation and a full stop, the people responsible for setting text or converting it into machine-readable format weren't always capable of doing so. Using unified spacing means that such people will never make the wrong decision.

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    1. Yeah, that's one of several technological issues. They're all covered under that bullet point above "technology couldn't handle it." Several articles on my blog cover that. Including The Cost of Printing Errors on Linotype
      and Two Spaces - An Old Typists Habit?

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  2. This is pure speculation on my part, but the printed language is a representation of the spoken language. Full stops and pauses need to be represented in the written language, and I suspect that the longer break after the full stop is an aid to visualization for the reader. It most certainly is true for me, as I find it much easier to read.

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  3. Indeed, I have found 19th century and older texts that explicitly mention a relationship between spacing and length of pauses.

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