Thursday, January 20, 2011

Two spaces or not two spaces

In my previous post, “5 things to stop typing”, I listed five mistakes people make when typing documents. In that post, I said I was talking about documents intended for professional publishing, and I noted reasons for those recommendations.

In a comment to that post, Roger Green linked to a post by Mark Evanier who concluded: “I've decided not to try and break the habit and to go on inserting two spaces after a period when I type. If Farhad Manjoo doesn't like it, I don't care. He doesn't read this site.”

Evanier was referring to an article on Slate.com, “Space Invaders”, in which Manjoo makes some of the same points about two spaces after a fullstop that I did. Evanier, I think, completely misunderstood Manjoo, assigning to him some of the, uh, assertiveness of some typographers. That aside, Evanier’s follow up led me to the downright pissy post “everyone has a right to their beliefs” by someone Evanier calls Tom Lee (I can’t find authorship listed on the site, so I’ll just assume that Evanier is correct).

I have no interest in getting into an argument with either Evanier or Lee (or anyone else for that matter, like the commenters on Slate or Lee’s sites), but quite frankly some of the reaction has been appalling, falling squarely into the “someone is wrong on the internet!” category of gross over-reaction to a non-issue.

Here’s my position: If you love two spaces after a fullstop more than life itself, then use them. No one’s proposing the death penalty for you. However, be aware that you’re making extra work for someone else, and that will cost you money.

Professional page layout programs expand or contract space on a line to make it fill without ugly gaps between words or letters. When an extra space is added, it throws off that spacing—sometimes dramatically.

For this reason, all those extra spaces must be stripped-out before the document is placed into a professional page layout program. Over the course of a year, I spend about one full work-week’s worth of time (and others spend considerably more time) doing nothing but fixing the typing errors I mentioned, and the majority of that time is spent removing extra spaces. That’s empty, lost time I can’t use for anything else—but customers still pay for that time.

But hey, if you’re like Evanier and Lee and want to cling to your double spaces after a fullstop, go for it! And folks in my profession will happily charge you for removing them from your document.

NB: I originally wrote this post yesterday, but held back because I’m truly not interested in a fight about something so stupid. But I think it’s important to know that there’s a cost-benefit factor in using two spaces.


Roger Owen Green said...

I should note that I usually do only one space myself. But then again, I can't type, and two spaces would be more work. For Evanier, one space would be more work (for him).

epilonious said...

I am going to use two spaces because it is a habit I've had since I started typing when I was about 5, and trying to tell my thumb "Don't whack the space bar twice after mashing the period" is like trying to write with my left hand or learn piano again.

BUT, I will gladly do a ctrl-H (Find Replace) and replace ". " with ". " to documents I am sending off to be published in a non electronic manner... which I don't anticipate happening that often.

Also, I can't fathom any publishing programs not having a find-replace program that makes it as simple as I have it in word, pages, and most other word processing programs... so I feel you are aggrandizing the scale of the chore a bit ;).

Arthur Schenck said...

Roger: Yeah I don' get that, but then I guess I don't really think about how much, if any, work is required either way. But I was truly shocked by the level of condescension, mean-spirited snarkiness and downright self-righteous prickness (if that's a word) of some of the "opponents" of single spaces. I had no idea that those folks were so touchy—and about something so hugely unimportant. I couldn't help thinking, with the way some of those people got so apoplectic over something so silly, it's no wonder we can't bridge political and religious divides!

epilonious: Like you, I learned to use two spaces, but that habit's long gone. It helps that I've written on computer keyboards a LOT over the past 25 years or so. The switch was deliberate and conscious, but it's second nature to me now.

As far as I know, all page layout software does, indeed, have find and replace (or, as I've always liked to call it, "Search and Destroy"). The truth is, I do necessary changes in Word for much the same reason as you use two spaces: It's what I'm used to.

Not so very many years ago, the program I used had no function to change the case of letters (like all caps to normal) and the text-editing features were very rudimentary. Word simply did a better job on everything.

Modern page layout software has every type control someone could ever want, and the text editor is much better. But word processing isn't its core function, and a program like Word is a better tool— because that's what it's all about. Also, it's actually often faster to fix the files in Word than in the huge file that is the entire publication.

The other reason is that I'm a little compulsive about having input files that are all fixed so I can always place the document another time if I need to without having to re-do all the edits.

All of which is just me, but the essential point is the same: The spaces need to be fixed and the time it takes to prepare a document for publication is all billable time, regardless of the specific method or program used to do it.