One Space or Two? That Recent Study Won’t Tell You.

A recently released study tested whether it was better to put one space or two spaces after a period. A commenter at Kieran Healy’s Twitter feed comments:

I guess this confusion isn’t surprising, but the “rule” has never changed. It’s always been two spaces for monospaced fonts, like the ones on typewriters, and one space for proportional fonts, like the one you’re reading now. There was good reason for this:

  • Monospaced fonts like this one already have a lot of air.  Two spaces make it easier to quickly distinguish when a new sentence begins.
  • Proportional fonts like this one are denser and don’t have that problem. Spaces and capital letters jump out at you.

More to the point, proportional text in magazines, books, and newspapers is usually justified on both right and left—like this paragraph. When text is justified, typesetting equipment ignores your spaces entirely, putting in just enough to make the line lengths come out right. So it doesn’t really matter what you do.

Still, what about the study? As it turns out, the authors tested only monospaced fonts, which is odd since almost no one uses them anymore. Here’s an excerpted and colorized version of their main result:

Among people who preferred one space, reading speed was about 5 wpm higher with one space. Among people who preferred two spaces, reading speed was about 9 wpm higher with two spaces. In other words, people preferred whatever they preferred, and the difference wasn’t very much anyway.

Oddly, though, the folks who preferred two spaces were generally faster readers than those who preferred one space. For $39 I suppose I could find out if the authors had anything to say about this. However, I suspect it means that the difference between the two groups isn’t random.

So the whole study is pretty useless.  What would be more interesting would be a study of proportional fonts.  Over the past couple of decades, it’s become far more common to use a ragged right margin, like the one you’re reading now.  The reason is readability: By keeping the spacing constant, instead of tweaking it to make the line lengths come out evenly, the text is easier to read.  But with even spacing, would two spaces after a period make the text even easier to read?  I don’t know!  Someone should do a study to find out.

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate