Are Two Spaces Better Than One?

A recent study is making waves. The shocking conclusion: two spaces after a sentence are better than one.

Two spaces versus one—a perennial debate, like the Oxford comma and how to pronounce GIF. Many of us, myself included, were taught to space double after each sentence. It’s how we learned to type. It’s how we wrote our high school and college papers. It became a habit ensouled in our right thumbs.

But then, when we became working adults, some of us learned that typography and publishing pros do it differently. With our innocence shattered, we had only two choices. Embrace correction, professionalism, aesthetics, and efficiency; or cling to the malformed habits of youth. Perhaps you can guess my own decision.

Those who cling to their extra spaces have lacked evidence that two-spacing is better, so a new study claiming to provide that evidence has them rejoicing. But is there any meat to this meatloaf? No. I’ll just point you to Matthew Butterick for the explanation.

This debate is all in good fun on the internet, but it gets frustrating when it comes to professional publishing. Many legal publishing operations still use two spaces (among other typographic barbarisms), not because it’s easier to read or more professional, but because it’s the way they’ve always done it, and they like it that way personally, and don’t-fix-it-if-it-ain’t-broken, and what’s the big deal anyway?

My own state bar is, of course, among these recalcitrants, and that’s a shame. Bar publishing divisions are an important source of revenue for their organizations. They pride themselves on the value of the legal information they provide—but they package it in what looks like a college student’s term paper. It’s like serving filet mignon in a McDonald’s wrapper.

Of course, using two spaces after a sentence is a small thing—it’s not a hill to die on. But for a professional publisher, using one space should be an easy decision. Every big, successful publisher does it; every professional typographer recommends it; implementing it costs nothing and can be done with a split-second Word macro. Being different just to be different is silly.

So if you are a lawyer or legal publisher, I implore you: read the experts, accept the professional norm, take two seconds to retrain your thumb, and move on knowing you’ve done something to let your readers know you care about the details.

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