Fontblog Typography Tips

Typography Tip #1. When writing your email, or documents, only use one space after a period. period!

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  1. You should give an explanation for this. On top of that, there should be more of an automated effort to automatically handle cases where people just habitually type two spaces as I do. Word provides a feature to address this, but it is not available everywhere. On top of that, the space between initials should not be the same size of space as between sentences, but my knowledge of typography and fonts would indicate that they would both end up with the larger space that follows a sentence.

  2. Andy says:

    Tips are great, don’t run with scissors, for example, the question is why? do they slow you down?

    So what is the advantage of one space after punctuation? or is it only full stops? should I still use two after an explanation mark? what about a question mark? what is the benefit of one over two?

  3. Rosyna says:

    How about.. "When writing email do NOT use custom fonts. Who the hell cares if you think it is pretty, you won’t be reading the email again after you send it."

  4. Dean Harding says:

    Here’s a good discussion on spacing:

    They say ‘it depends’ (definately a geek’s answer, that) but that mostly just one space should be used, unless it affects readability…

  5. I concur with Brant: it’s not quite that simple and the software should be smarter.

    Both TeX and HTML ignore multiple spaces and force you to take extra steps to insert "hard" spaces.

    I’ve mentioned this before:!1pRjebUoVh0bNLSJvrecmAEg!339.entry

  6. Mike Dunn says:

    Some explanation would be nice. Those of old enough to have learned to type in a typing class – on actual typewriters – probably got the 2-space rule drilled into us and it’ll be hard to break.

  7. fbcontrb says:

    thanks all so far for your comments. Of course we intend to follow up with explanations. In typography when a page is composed, we often talk about the “typographic color” of the page. This has nothing to do with red or green or yellow, it is about how the text forms an overall blackness or even tone on the page. You can see this yourself, by looking at a page of text, and slightly squinting your eyes. You should see in a well typeset page an overall even tone, nothing should jump out at you. There are a few things that help make this happen. The design of the letterforms themselves should be consistent, the spacing between the letters themselves should be balanced, and also the spacing between words and lines should be correctly set for the typeface. Often, with well designed typefaces and good software, much of this should come out well without having to worry, the typographic color should be good, and the text block will form an even texture. When a double space is used after a period, this breaks up the texture and flow, of the paragraph and the whole page, and introduces what we call “rivers” in the text. This is distracting to the eye, and can disrupt or even slow down reading.

    Mike Duggan

  8. Si says:

    There’s an old movie about this subject…

    Bill Hill – There is only one space after a period

  9. Centaur says:

    I would rephrase the tip a little more radically. When using anything more sophisticated than plain text, only use one whitespace at a time, ever. With whitespace meaning a space or a paragraph break.

    All occurences of two or more spaces, or a space at start of a paragraph, are a “smell” — they indicate that what you are typing wants to be an indented paragraph or a table.

    Two paragraph breaks at once signal that the next paragraph wants an increased interval before. This is achievable in Word using paragraph styles, and in HTML using CSS, but not in plain text where we still have to resort to empty paragraphs.

  10. Paul says:

    Good to see Mike at least offers a solid explanation. He is absolutely right when he says that typographic ‘colour’ is important to the legibility and therefore reading experience. The basic, stripped down rule is that spaces between letters should be smaller than spaces between words which in turn should be smaller than spaces between lines as this helps the eye skip through text by distinguishing words and lines. Extra spaces do indeed introduce uneven spacing which can break up this structure and in some cases coincide to cause vertical space ‘rivers’ which interfere with the left to right, top to bottom structure. So anything that reduces this possibility is a good thing.

    The second point is, how many indicators do you want that you are at the beginning of a new sentence? You have a full stop (period) and a capital letter after all.

    As to the origin of the double space ‘rule’, my understanding is that it originates from the days when type was hand-comped from individual bits of metal. The typesetter was paid by the character set and a simple way of increasing his revenue was increase the amount of metal he set without altering the text. This practice carried over to the heavily unionized hot metal era where the number of key strokes became a measure. This practice became endemic and was given its popular impetus by typing schools like Pitman who simply adopted the typographic practice of professional comps and taught them to the secretarial masses.

    Right, I’m going to lie down :o)

  11. Adrian says:

    Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!

    I’ve been going nuts as more and more books are set with "French spacing" (where the space between sentences is no larger than the space between words). Color is important, but so is helping people see the sentence boundaries. Capital letters and full stops are good but ambiguous clues. Wider spaces between sentences help disambiguate.

    For example, these two examples differentiated only by the width of a space, have different meanings:

    "Hurry!"_Jack yelled.

    "Hurry!"__Jack yelled.

    The first case is a single sentence, the latter is two separate sentences–Jack said something *then* he yelled.

    Yes, typography must be easy-to-read and it must be pretty, but not at the expense of clarity.

    Rivers are bad, but they are not a direct result of using wider spaces between sentences. Good algorithms can minimize rivers regardless of the type of intersentence spacing chosen.

    On this blog, with the particular font it uses, the sentences always look jammed together, especially when one ends with a period and the next starts with a capital T. To my eyes, it looks like the space is missing. It’s very jarring.

    Now I’ll admit that two *full* spaces between sentences is probably overkill. I think TeX, by default, uses an intersentence space approximately one-third larger than an interword space, which I find quite satisfying. When typing in plain text, two spaces is a better approximation than one because the whole point is to disambiguate.

    I pray that when ebooks finally catch on, we’ll have options in our readers to choose which set of typographical conventions we prefer.

  12. More importantly, TeX figures out this spacing stuff (mostly) on it’s own puts an end to this incessant "one spaces or two" nonesense. It doesn’t matter if you like one space or two after your "."s at the end of a sentence, TeX is fine with either.

    TeX does give you ways to indicate less then a full sentence-ending space: for example "Mr.~Smith" instead of "Mr. Smith".

    Why should users (old typing) habits have to change to match the software?

  13. Si says:

    >Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!

    >Wider spaces between sentences help disambiguate.

    This seems like an unconventional opinion that should be very easy to prove or disprove, by presenting the same text with narrow and wide spaces and measuring comprehension. Kevin – any evidence for or against wider spacing?

  14. Si says:

    I suppose the other point is that in the olden days compositors would use the wide range of spaces available to them in metal type: hair spaces, em, en and a bunch of others too. These spaces are in Unicode, although not in many fonts. However, I doubt that if they were in all fonts they’d get used very often today.

  15. Si says:

    So after thinking about this, I shouldn’t have used "unconventional" in the post above. Still interest in research to back up the wider space improves reading theory.


  16. Paul says:

    > Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!

    Adrian, I admire your passion (typography should indeed be a passionate subject) but I am unconvinced that adding an extra space in the sentence – "hurry!" Jack Yelled. – gets rid of ambiguity. If anywhere, the ambiguity exists in the writing.

    The notion of a wider space is not unappealing but the key here is not at the expense of balancing all of the other objectives of clear, legible type. Indeed as Si points out, professional typesetters of the past used an armory of different spaces in this service. The sad truth is that we are surrounded by examples of poorly executed typesetting. I guess hard rule making is difficult where understanding and judgment is the real answer.

  17. I can’t speak for Adrian, but I think I’d add "…all other things being equal…" to his comments.

    Sure, the example is contrived; and yes, the writing itself should be changed. But in the context of "one space or two", it shows that there can be a semantic difference. And that the hard-and-fast rule that started this whole discussion is just plain wrong.

  18. Which font is this blog in? It’s unbelievebul!

  19. fbcontrb says:

    The font for this blog is Candara, one of the new ClearType fonts for Windows Vista and the new version of Office. See the blog posting for further details.


  20. Wayne says:

    Part of the reason I have trouble reading long passages of text on webpages is that they’re so uniform.  The uniform "colour" of the text is the exact thing I want to avoid.

    From this wee layman’s point of view, that is a form over function justification.

    But what the hell do I know?  I read, not write.

  21. Nar says:

    > Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!

    >"French spacing" (where the space between sentences is no larger than the space between words)

    Is it really? Does your software not add a bit of space to the end-of-sentence period? Maybe you should get something better, then.

  22. z says:

    >Which font is this blog in? It’s unbelievebul!

    Unbelievably crappy?

  23. jenjams says:

    So back to double spacing at the end of a period.  Yes or no?  Do we have a definitive answer?

  24. Plinko says:

    There are a lot of statements of opinon on both sides in this page that are not backed up by references or research. Stop worrying about making claims either way. Consult your respective style manual and use what it prescribes. If you publish, ask your publisher what he/she wants. If you don’t have a specific style guide, you can use "The Chicago Manual of Style" or "The Elements of Style," which are intended for general use. They both recommend or prescribe one space. If you feel you must use two spaces because of personal preference, use the MLA writing style. As of June 09, it allows the use of two spaces for draft manuscripts only. If you submit to a publisher, it recommends one space.

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