A spaced-out vantage point

This post can be seen as an illustration of a broader truth:  that differences of opinion often turn out to be related to differences of vantage point.

Case(y) in point:  a recent discussion about the number of spaces after sentence-ending periods resulted in my learning something.

I was discussing the matter with someone who has a master’s degree in public relations and who has focused much of his career in graphic design and typography.  He knows a lot about this stuff.

I expend effort on this blog to use two spaces appear periods and colons, even where they do not appear in original texts I quote.  My experiences tells me that using two spaces after a period better enables some readers to parse sentences and thoughts as they read.  However, I will be far less dogmatic about my opinion, because I have nothing scientific on which to base it other than the way my own reading tends to go.  Moreover,  . . .

my “spaced-out” vantage point is that of a reader

– of many older books and documents
– who began reading seriously three decades ago
– during the age of the typewriter
– before the Microsoft Office release (2000 or 2003?) that changed from two spaces to one space as a default

my “spaced-out” vantage point is not that of a typographer—and typography is a field that arguably should have a lot, if not the most, to say about such things

In the course of the above-mentioned discussion, I stated my opinion too strongly at first; then I backed off a bit, as I was learning in the process.  A lot of what I learned was information from another vantage point.

My friend approaches this topic from the history and practice of typography and graphic design.  He is naturally concerned with the look of the overall page and page spread, whereas my approach is concerned more with the understanding of sentences, clauses, and words.

He has experience (that I don’t have at all) in the management and layout of magazines and newspapers.  He knows his field.

I have experience (more than he) with books and articles and essays and correspondence about matters that must be understood well for the sake of eternity, along with the layout of unique printed materials like music concert programs.

It’s largely a matter of vantage point:  mine says that spacing twice after a period used to be common practice, and it is still helpful to many eyes as they read for understanding.  His says that one space after a period is now common practice in typography and layout, and he is 99% correct.

Here are examples of book texts from my shelves that illustrate my vantage point.  They are presented in order from oldest to youngest.  (Click on the image to enlarge it.  The first example is of bad quality, but you can still make out the spacing.)

For my eyes, most of the older ones are easier to read, and I am prepared to admit that it’s because I’ve simply read more of those types and formats than most people these days.


These books were printed approximately 90, 70, 40, and 10 years ago, respectively.  The example on the lower left is a book written by my grandfather, with final text typed and edited by my parents.  It and the top two (older) appear to use two spaces after periods.  The last example, on the lower right, strikes me as a washout — a clean, beautiful-looking page with one space after each period and more advanced kerning and justification.  For some of us, though, “clean and smooth,” in which spacing is homogeneous and everything seems to run together, can translate to more effort in making sense out of the passages.

Aside:  I intentionally omitted a recent book for which I made initial editing and text choices; this book uses two spaces after periods and colons, and this choice was upheld by the series editor.  I suspect now that his choice was predicated in part on his own, vast experience in reading books many of which were produced prior to the age of modern typography and personal computers.  Some of my feeling about “modern type” may just be stubbornness on my part, and 10% of it is a reaction against the premium placed by journalists on saving space in newsprint.  (They ought simply to drop one entire article on crime or politics, and boom, it’s done — space saved!)

Essentially, I simply believe the extra space helps the reader’s understanding at the point of each “full stop,” but the amount to which this makes a difference is surely fading with time, so I’d have to say, at this point (pun[s] intended), that my vantage point is less valid as the years pass.

I’ve learned this:  the preponderance of evidence lies in favor of using one space after a period these days, although the question and its history are more complex than most typographers might admit.  I am not spaced-out or nutzoid about this, speaking from a historical or reader’s standpoint, but I need to quit being insistent about it.  More of the world has changed, and with more reason than I had realized.

This article on the whole typography thing is informative and balanced.  The comments below it are a mixed bag but are also informative.  Its conclusion (almost) is this:

Yeah, typography is an art.  Complaining about the way people space their sentences in their own documents is being [a jerk.].

I confess:  I have at times been a jerk at times about this spacing thing.  I needed to be aware of another vantage point — which, in this case, is arguably the more important of the two.

Should there be differences of opinion in your Christian community, the people involved—and especially those who lead—would do well to consider the multiple vantage points that might exist.  The other vantage point might have something very valuable to say.

P.S.  Doug, sorry I came on too strong initially, and thanks for teaching me something and leading me to learn a little more.  🙂

P.P.S.  This essay was written without reference to current political/sociological events in the U.S.


2 thoughts on “A spaced-out vantage point

  1. Steve 07/01/2015 / 10:39 am

    One space after a sentence: NEVER!!! Blasphemy…


  2. Brian Casey 07/01/2015 / 10:43 am

    You’re a hold-out like me, then? 🙂 And you also pronounce “err” correctly? We’re a dying breed, I tell ya.


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