One Space or Two?

Prior to the advent of the typewriter, convention said that one space should be inserted after a period and not two. During the reign of those clunky machines and their odd spaced type, two-spacing become customary. Unfortunately, even with the rise of the computer and intelligent publishing software, two-spacers are still in the majority.

Of course, one-spacing is, like all publishing standards and writing customs, a matter of consensus and fashion. There is no grand reason for it to be set as some writing law. There is no right way to write.

Publishers, though, need rules to help them publish magazines and books that are easy on the eye, and in this respect two-spacing proves problematic. Text with two-spaces following the period looks silly in print. There are too many large gaps. Of course, that’s yet another opinion. Some people also say that capitalization ruins a body of text, that literature looks better entirely in lower case. Some also say that quotation marks are unnecessary.

The Beat Generation existed during the reign of the typewriter. They were two-spacers, whereas their pen-wielding predecessors were one-spacers. The Beats were not much for convention, though. They were famous for, if nothing else, breaking the rules. So why should a supposedly Beat magazine care for custom and convention?

Here at Beatdom we have fewer rules than most, and we give our contributors more time than perhaps it is wise to do. We have a slim set of rules for submission, and yet they are rarely followed. This is understandable, since most writers will scour the internet for publications and simply fire off form letters. That’s the way it goes, and to dismiss every error-ridden, ill-formatted submission is to potentially miss a truly great piece of writing.

On our submission page, though, it states that writers should NOT use two-spaces after a period. This is because it looks bad in print and costs our editor(s) countless hours of their precious time in an extremely boring task. It is, of course, the job of the editor to make text presentable, but it is infuriating when so many writers ignore explicit instruction.

But this post is not meant to be a lecture, nor even an addition to the submission guidelines. Beatdom has stated its opinion on this contentious issue and would like to know more of what its readers think.

David S. Wills

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David S. Wills is the founder and editor of Beatdom literary journal and the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs the Weird Cult. He travels a lot and currently lectures in China. He also runs an ESL website. You can read more about and by David at his blog, or on Tumblr.

9 responses to One Space or Two?

    • Sorry, JK, your comment was for some reason sent to the spam folder.

      Anyway, I’m glad you agree. One space is the best!

  1. there is my old buddy, the electric IBM…i miss those days…thanks for posting a pic of it!

  2. One space. See how much better one space looks. As compared to two spaces. One space. Two spaces. One space. Two spaces. Particularly when text is justified. I’d love to know how many hours in my day job I’ve spent removing that one extra space behind a period. I now refer you to the Chicago Manual of Style and rest my case:

    • Actually, ignore my last comment. Why? Even WordPress removes the extra space when using two spaces. Now I rest my case.

      • Haha. I had no idea that WordPress was that much of a space Nazi. But I agree absolutely. Two spaces looks stupid. And as an editor, I spend hours and hours of my life going through pieces of writing for the single purpose of removing those superfluous spaces.

  3. btw…i believe the typer you have their is the same one we used in newspapers in the 1970s…officially, it is the IBM Selectra, we had the IBM Selectra 3. the one up top looks like an original Selectra.

  4. If mss come in electronically, in Word, say, can’t an editor simply ask the program to replace every instance of period-space-space with period-space? It doesn’t seem that onerous.

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