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Low-Flying "Ls"

Should You Use One or Two Spaces after a Period?

From deep in my soul, I apologize for writing this Tip. So many of you have asked me about this, however, it begs for comment, and I have a weakness for the inane. But this is the lamest, least important writing Tip I have ever written, or will ever write. It’s not even a “writing” Tip; it’s a “typing” Tip.


Our story begins in a classroom on the second floor of a terracotta-tiled, stucco-walled, Spanish Colonial, open-air high school, with coconut palms in the courtyard, in the middle of what is now downtown Ft. Lauderdale. My parents thought I should learn how to type, so I was in summer school with 20 other soon-to-be sophomores. Before the summer was over, I could bang out 17 words a minute with no more than sex or seven mistakes. And I learned that after every period, you hit the space bar twice.


Our typewriters came with “fixed-pitch” Courier font – an “i” took up the same horizontal space as an “m” – which made sense for those who engineered typewriters: shift the carriage the same distance with each keystroke. I didn’t know this then, nor would I have cared, but even typesetters at book and magazine publishers had long squeezed two lead slugs into the tray after a period. Typists merely mimicked traditional typesetting by hitting the space bar twice.


But about the time I learned to do that, typesetters in publishing were cutting back to a single space between sentences. They called it “French spacing.” It looked better. (Remember the French can’t serve raspberry sorbet without shaping it into a large, frozen dahlia.) Yet many years after that typing class, I typed the manuscript for my first book on a plastic, manual, portable Olivetti with a ribbon striped red and black, and I still left two spaces after each Courier period. Everybody did.


Although IBM in 1941 gave us the first “proportional-pitch” electric typewriter, which made a page look like it was printed rather than typed, not until the early 1970s did we start shifting to proportional-pitch fonts, first on a “Daisy Wheel” and, by the end of the 1980s, on the fly. With publishers dropping the second space and proportional-pitch fonts smoothing the blocky appearance of Courier, most of us began to space but once after a period.


Debate continues (“rages” would be hyperbolic) over whether one space or two is more readable, but typographers agree that a single space between sentences makes the sentences work better visually.


If anyone cares what I think about spacing between sentences, I would use one and keep my sentences looking like they connect rather than float like little word archipelagos. The hardest part will be trying to convince your brain, a creature of habit, to send a different signal to your thumbs.


While we’re in Ft. Lauderdale, I need to resolve something that has bothered me ever since that summer I learned how to type.


Long before lawsuits over the Stanford “Indians” and the Washington “Redskins,” my high school had a mascot in a white sheet we called the “Spirit” of Ft. Lauderdale High. Our nickname was not a race, or an animal, or even an act of god. We were a winged letter of the alphabet. Not much to offend. But imagine the stadium on Friday night, lights bright, grass green and chalk-striped, as the team storms onto the field and the announcer screams into the microphone that heeeeeere come – quick, get the women and children into the root cellar – “the Flying Ls!” Upon graduating and entering the real world, what we believed in so fervently back then, later made little sense. This has sent many of us 800 at-one-time Ft. Lauderdale High School seniors to the couch, confusing our therapists: “I'm a Flying L!”


Thank you; I feel much better.


Save yourself some time; at the end of every sentence, hit the space bar once. And I’ll be back next time with a real “writing” Tip.

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About Gary Kinder

Gary Kinder

WordRake founder Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for AMLAW 100 firms, Fortune 500 companies, and government agencies. He’s also a New York Times bestselling author. As a writing expert and coach, Gary was inspired to create WordRake when he noticed a pattern in writing errors that he thought he could address with technology.

In 2012, Gary and his team of engineers created WordRake editing software to help writers produce clear, concise, and effective prose. It saves time and gives confidence. Writing and editing has never been easier.

WordRake takes you beyond the merely grammatical to the truly great—the quality editor you’ve always wanted. See for yourself.

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How Does it Work?

WordRake is editing software designed by writing expert and New York Times bestselling author Gary Kinder. Like an editor or helpful colleague, WordRake ripples through your document checking for needless words and cumbersome phrases. Its complex algorithms find and improve weak lead-ins, confusing language, and high-level grammar and usage slips.

WordRake runs in Microsoft Word and Outlook, and its suggestions appear in the familiar track-changes style. If you’ve used track changes, you already know how to use WordRake. There’s nothing to learn and nothing to interpret. Editing for clarity and brevity has never been easier.