You may have noticed that I have strong feelings about
certain matters of grammar, style, and punctuation. I love the em-dash.
Sentences that omit the serial comma make me twitch. Periods and commas outside quotation marks drive me crazy. I am unequivocally a giant
I remain agnostic, however, when it comes to what may be the biggest
punctuation controversy of the modern era: how many spaces to insert
after the punctuation at the end of the sentence. When I present to
groups of attorneys, paralegals, or secretaries, I can be certain that at
least one person will ask about the issue and that several people in the
audience will have strong opinions one way or the other.
Because I do not believe that the number of spaces after
a period materially affects the accuracy or clarity of my
written work, my personal rule is simple: Pick one option and be
All the cool kids, though, argue for one space.
1 Matthew Butterick,
author of the excellent Typography for Lawyers, mandates one space
between sentences (and will brook no discussion). The Chicago
Manual of Style, The Redbook, the MLA Handbook, the MLA
Style Guide, and the United States Court of Appeals for the
Seventh Circuit, among other authorities, agree. Typography
and style aficionados posted and forwarded Farhad
Manjoo’s 2011 anti-double-spacing screed.
The one-spacers’ argument goes as follows: The two-space
habit—partially a relic of the era of typewriters and monospaced fonts—
is obsolete. Old typewriter fonts allocated exactly the same amount of
space for each character. As a result, to better show the break between
sentences, many typists and typesetters inserted two spaces after the end
punctuation. Now that computers and word-processors allow home and
office typists many of the same proportionally spaced fonts that professional typesetters enjoy, the reason for the two-space rule has evaporated.
Typeface designers take spacing into consideration, and good typeface
packages will insert exactly the right amount of space after different letters and punctuation. Moreover, the additional space after the
final punctuation creates a “river” of white space in the text
that many find visually unappealing. Some argue that this visual river also interrupts eye movement, decreasing readability
Cursory research suggests that the history of post-sentence
spacing is both less linear and more interesting than the one-spacer argument allows. Professional typesetters—even those
using proportionally spaced font—used two spaces after final
punctuation for years, especially in the English-speaking world,
and well after the introduction of typewriters. Some typesetters
even inserted three (or even four!) spaces to signify the end of
a sentence. Perhaps the double space was political: In some
quarters, “French spacing” originally referred to single-spacing
(before it came to refer to double-spacing … even the terminology is a moving target).
3 The more cynical among us speculate that major publishing houses introduced the single space
to save paper (and money), and that magazine and newspaper
Multi-spacers argue that the extra space at the end of the
14 ARIZONA ATTORNEY MARCH 2015
THE LEGAL WORD by Susie Salmon
Susie Salmon is Assistant Director
of Legal Writing and Associate Clinical
Professor of Law at The University of
Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law.
Before joining Arizona Law, she spent
nine years as a commercial litigator at
large firms in Tucson and Los Angeles.
sentence provides a helpful visual signal to
the reader. A space signals a pause, and we
want our readers to pause a beat longer at
the conclusion of a sentence. Furthermore,
a dearth of white space allegedly makes text
more difficult to read. Legend holds that
T. S. Eliot threw a fit when a publishing
house typeset his The Wasteland with a mere
single space between sentences. But many
of the reasons that the two-space habit per-
sists are more practical and, quite honestly,
reflexive. Our thumbs were trained to tap
twice after a period. Texting and word-
processing programs automatically insert a
period if you hit the space bar or button
twice. The double-space rule is ingrained.
Science provides little guidance. Studies
on how post-sentence spacing affects readability and reading fluency—all of which
examine screen reading rather than reading
print on paper—are inconclusive. Even virulent one-spacers like Farhad Manjoo concede that they can point to no evidence supporting their belief that one space enhances
When pressed, many one-spacers admit
that the excess white space caused by the
additional space is aesthetically displeasing.
Fair enough. Certainly the modern trend
favors one space, as do most typography
and style authorities. But let’s not pretend
that history or science dictates one rule or
the other. If you find that additional space
visually offensive, by all means omit it, and
by all means require those you supervise to
omit it. If your audience—the supervising
attorney, in-house counsel, a judge—prefers
one convention or the other, follow that.
Just be consistent.
The Space Controversy: One and Done?
1. I think this article title pretty much encapsulates the attitude: Jennifer Gonzalez,
Nothing Says Over 40 Like Two Spaces After
a Period! at www.cultofpedagogy.com/
2. Farhad Manjoo, Space Invaders: Why you
should never, ever use two spaces after a
3. See, e.g., RICHARD ECKERSLEY, GLOSSARY
OF TYPESETTING TERMS