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Are Two Spaces After a Period Better Than One? (arstechnica.com) 391

Researchers at Skidmore College conducted an eye-tracking experiment with 60 Skidmore students and found that two spaces at the end of a period slightly improved the processing of text during reading. Ars Technica reports the findings: Previous cognitive science research has been divided on the issue. Some research has suggested closer spacing of the beginning of a new sentence may allow a reader to capture more characters in their parafoveal vision -- the area of the retina just outside the area of focus, or fovea -- and thus start processing the information sooner (though experimental evidence of that was not very strong). Other prior research has inferred that an extra space prevents lateral interference in processing text, making it easier for the reader to identify the word in focus. But no prior research found by [study authors] Johnson, Bui, and Schmitt actually measured reader performance with each typographic scheme.

First, they divided their group of 60 research subjects by way of a keyboard task -- the subjects typed text dictated to them into a computer and were sorted into "one-spacers" (39 regularly put a single space between sentences) and "two-spacers" (21 hit that space bar twice consistently after a period). Every student subject used but a single space after each comma. Having identified subjects' proclivities, the researchers then gave them 21 paragraphs to read (including one practice paragraph) on a computer screen and tracked their eye movement as they read using an Eyelink 1000 video-based eye tracking system. [...] The "one-spacers" were, as a group, slower readers across the board (by about 10 words per minute), and they showed statistically insignificant variation across all four spacing practices. And "two-spacers" saw a three-percent increase in reading speed for paragraphs in their own favored spacing scheme.
The controversial part of the study has to do with the 14 point Courier New font that the researchers presented to the students. "Courier New is a fixed-width font that resembles typewritten text -- used by hardly anyone for documents," reports Ars. "Even the APA suggests using 12 point Times Roman, a proportional-width font. Fixed-width fonts make a double-space more pronounced."
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Are Two Spaces After a Period Better Than One?

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  • by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @06:12AM (#56572518)

    Is it any wonder that the brain is optimized for 2 spaces after a period?

    There's probably a part of the brain which is totally optimized for recognizing that particular text cue by the time you have read a few thousand sentences.

    It's a fixed format font- so it will be different for proportional fonts and the sites I use already display both single and multiple spaces after a period as 'about 2 spaces". They don't alter the textual data- they just alter the way the text is displayed.

    There's probably a benefit to some spacing difference vs "all run together text.with nospaces." But if everyone had been reading text with 1.5 or 2.7 spaces after a period since age 3 then the test would probably have found that was the ideal spacing.

    • by Junta ( 36770 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @07:27AM (#56572754)

      No one has a lifetime of reading monospace text anymore, which is the only thing this study covered.

      Also, in most cases text input have their spaces normalized.

    • I notice you're keen on paragraph breaks, reflecting a common preference in readers. Do you suppose that preference is because your brain has been conditioned to expect breaks between paragraphs? Or is it because the way the eye and brain work together means that interruptions in text are more easily read because it allows the brain to break down what is written into smaller, linked bits of information, rather than trying to parse it all together?

      I personally think the preference for a visually distinc
  • Of course (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @06:12AM (#56572520) Journal
    Adding extra space after the period makes sense typographically. That's why it make sense to put two spaces after a period when typing on a typewriter.

    Computers can add the space automatically though. If you look at the spaces after a period in any decent font, it's wider than the spaces after other letters.
    • On a typewriter, it's fixed width font. And double space works there because you have varying amounts of spaces between letters. ie: more space between two l's than two m's. So having a longer pronounced space between sentences makes sense for visual categorization.

      But in a variable width font (computers) the amount of space between letters is the same; words have a slightly longer standard. A period + single space between sentences is enough to differentiate itself from those between words. So why have dou

    • "... in any decent font, [the space after a period] is wider than the spaces after ... letters."

      Exactly. The "researchers" at Skidmore ignored the fact that fonts have already solved the problem. In the future, I suggest that they skid less.
      • Fonts have not solved this problem, and the problem has actually gotten worse now that one-space-at-the-end-of-sentences has become the status quo.

        We were told twenty (thirty?) years ago that computer typography would solve this problem, but that has not happened, even though the teaching and convention has changed. Fonts just add extra space after all periods, including inline abbreviations like Mr. Sure, higher-end desktop publishing knows the difference in-line periods and end-of-sentence-periods, but

      • nope (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mschaffer ( 97223 )

        Fonts did not solve this problem. Do you select a different space after a sentence or do you just press the space bar? The characters in a font do not know where they are. If you are lucky some software will fix this when the text is presented. Otherwise, it will not.

    • Re:Of course (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ( 4475953 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @07:36AM (#56572786)

      Not really, computer cannot really do this automatically except very complicated language-specific programs with lots of exceptions, because the "." is also used within sentences for abbreviations.

      Sentence boundary disambiguation has always been a rather annoying problem.

    • Computers can remove the extra space too. HTML does that - any multiple-whitespaces in the coded text for a web page are automatically shortened into a single space when displayed.

      So this is really a stupid thing to be arguing over. I'm a two-space guy. Screens get dirty, and to me having the extra space makes it easier to distinguish a period from a speck of dirt which happens to fall right where a period could be. But I don't care if someone else types using one or two spaces. Even if it's a docume
    • I have always used 2 spaces after a period. It was the way I learned typing and it seemed to me to make text more readable.

      That was a problem for the publisher when I wrote my first book. The copy editors wiped out all the extra spaces at the end of sentences. Publishers do no want manuscripts with more than one space after a period. Period.

      It was a really tough habit to break. But it only took writing 2 books to do it.

  • by DingerX ( 847589 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @06:18AM (#56572540) Journal
    Double-spacing is a hangover from manual typing, and most of us who learned in that era learned by typing with something resembling Courier. Most typewriters couldn't handle proportional fonts or adding extra space after a period, so double-spacing was the way around that. When I see something double-spacing, I recognize that person as someone who is generally old enough to have learned on a typewriter (or the first generations of word processing), and who doesn't engage heavily with IT. Those people are also likely to be less distracted in reading and thus capable of reading faster. The "3 percent increase" for them reading with double spaces is hardly significant.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @06:33AM (#56572596)

      Their test subjects were 60 college students. It's reasonable to assume that most of them have never seen a typewriter in the flesh, much less used one.

      • Their test subjects were 60 college students. It's reasonable to assume that most of them have never seen a typewriter in the flesh, much less used one.

        Shh, you're spoiling a cool narrative!

    • by SWPadnos ( 191329 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @08:21AM (#56572926)
      So, your comment got me wondering when the typewriter was invented. Turns out it was 1868. That's about 400 years after the printing press, so there's a lot of history to look at from *before* the typewriter existed.

      And here's an article that does just that:
      https://web.archive.org/web/20... [archive.org]

      I agree with this guy. It's an aesthetic preference, so there's no right or wrong answer. I tend to prefer additional space after the end of a sentence, because it more easily allows me to see the logical break that should be represented by that sentence end. Since computers and displays today are capable of micro-adjustments to character spacing, and they also can tell where sentences end (unlike a typewriter), it's irrelevant how many spaces there are after a period in the source - the text can be (or should be able to be) displayed with my preferred spacing.
    • When I see something double-spacing, I recognize that person as someone who is generally old enough to have learned on a typewriter (or the first generations of word processing), and who doesn't engage heavily with IT.

      Or you see a professional programmer who spends a great deal of time writing code in monospace fonts, with extensive and properly-punctuated comments.

      Personally, I try to remember to single-space after sentences when writing in proportional fonts, but I deliberately bias towards double-spacing because it's more important to me that my code have the double spaces than it is that my other writing have single spaces. I actually run a regexp on my code occasionally to find single-space instances and fix them,

    • When I see something double-spacing, I recognize that person as someone who is generally old enough to have learned on a typewriter (or the first generations of word processing), and who doesn't engage heavily with IT. .

      Those are both very poor assumptions. My school district growing up required double spacing for all papers. My university did, too. And I can tell you right now that personal computers were a thing before I was born. I sit at a computer all day, writing software and I double space everything that I write. It’s a habit that will never go away. I personally think it looks cleaner, too. But you feel free to use whatever spacing you prefer. Just don’t assume that someone double spaces becaus

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @06:20AM (#56572544)

    Due to retina detachment I am almost blinded on one eye and the vision of other eye is slowly degrading

    To compensate the gradual loss of vision I make the font of my computer screen much larger, and I change the font setting and use fonts that are much easier to my eyes

    Now I can appreciate why good fonts are much better than lousy ones

    Before I had that retina problem my vision was 20/20. I actually had a pilot license

    At that time fonts for me were, well, fonts. Some were boring, some were pretty, some were crazy

    Now, my view on the fonts (pun intended) has totally changed. Some of the fonts I used to think as 'funny' or 'pretty' are actually very tiring for my degrading eyes. Those which were deemed 'boring', on the other hand, surprised my eyes for they do not need to be 'stared' for too long

    So it's not how many spaces after a period. It's the size of the font and the structure of the font that counts !!

  • Find/Replace (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dohzer ( 867770 )

    They're fun to "find/replace" when some old type-writer-using geezer has put them in one of our document templates. Another favourite of mine is the guy who puts spaces after an opening bracket ( like so).

    • Re:Find/Replace (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @06:41AM (#56572626)

      So you're angry that the "old type-writer-using geezer" is reading ten words per minute more than you and you're trying to sabotage his productivity?

      And millennials wonder why nobody likes them...

      • Hey, take it easy, he was snapchatting about his artisanal toilet paper business plan at the same time he made his post. Something about Sears catalogs...

    • Re:Find/Replace (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Drethon ( 1445051 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @07:47AM (#56572828)

      They're fun to "find/replace" when some old type-writer-using geezer has put them in one of our document templates. Another favourite of mine is the guy who puts spaces after an opening bracket ( like so).

      Don't know if it is my dyslexia or just how I read but if I see function(variable), my brain just filters out the open parenthesis at first glance and reads everything as functionvariable. If I write it as function ( variable ), it just reads better for me, particularly when I start getting into complex logic conditions.

      • I don't care if its function(variable) or function ( variable ). But if you do function ( variable), you will need to be stabbed.

    • I look forward to when you eat those words when you're older. Until then, get off my damn lawn.
  • 2 spaces (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @06:37AM (#56572602)

    2 spaces and the Oxford comma! You one space kids with your missing commas can get off my lawn!

    • Re:2 spaces (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Gonoff ( 88518 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @08:05AM (#56572876)

      2 spaces and the Oxford comma! You one space kids with your missing commas can get off my lawn!

      Please call it the Serial Comma. My, Oxford trained, English teacher was quite specific that putting a comma between the penultimate item and the "and" was wrong.

      • So he should have said, Space, space and the serial comma! You one space kids with your missing commas can get off my lawn!

  • So, if we switch all reading material (including websites) to mono spaced fonts, we'll have a 3% increase in reading speed for paragraphs. Wow, just WOW!
  • by LordHighExecutioner ( 4245243 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @06:39AM (#56572614)
    IMHO [xkcd.com], it is better to use a tab.
  • I'm not sure why this is being discussed. It makes absolutely no difference how many spaces you put after a period. See, that was one space. That was 2 spaces and it looks exactly the same. This time I used 3 spaces. That was 8 spaces, and here comes 13. Could you tell the difference? I didn't think so.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Slashdot loses formatting unless you post using the "code" option.
      Also, generally on the web, browsers render HTML multiple spaces as a single space - try using   instead.

      -

      Here's the correctly spaced version of your text:

      I'm not sure why this is being discussed. It makes absolutely no difference how many spaces you put after a period. See, that was one space. That was 2 spaces and it looks exactly the same. This time I used 3 spaces. That was 8 spaces, a
  • Python programmers know this.
  • Researchers at Skidmore College conducted an eye-tracking experiment with 60 Skidmore students and found that two spaces at the end of a period slightly improved the processing of text during reading.

    I think we have a candidate for the IgNobel Prize in Who Gives a Shit for 2018.

  • If the intent is to make text more readable, then start using more commata in written language. That will properly segment logical units far better than double spaces after a full stop. While we are at it, ban the use of APA style inline references in favor of footnotes or end notes. By now all have access to computerized word processors and we no longer need to accommodate the shortcomings of typewriters.
  • and a blank line to separate paragraphs is a good idea too

    and nitpicking over starting the first world in each new sentence with a capital letter is stupid. but double space after the period and comma is good
  • I have always used only 1 space. The two spaces after a period rule came from a pre-computer, typewriter era. Today's font kerning makes the two spaces after a period rule obsolete.
  • Two-Spaces here (Score:2, Interesting)

    by os2fan ( 254461 )

    The thing with using paragraphs, sentences, etc, is that it allows one to bite off bits of information. We already use em-dashes to mark off particular clauses we wish to emphersise -- to this point -- but now argue about spaces. White-space helps the reader catch the large-scale of the text. Setting a sentence off in double-space is one devise that does this. Even in the font i type here, it is easier to pick sentences off.

    Paragraphs are likewise set off by a blank line, or first-line indent. Where f

  • by jo7hs2 ( 884069 )
    One space. The typewriter is dead, please donâ(TM)t bring two spaces back.
  • by sabbede ( 2678435 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @07:56AM (#56572850)
    From the summary it looks like they broke the readers into 1 and 2 space groups based on how many spaces they entered when typing. Then they discovered the 1 spacers, who apparently didn't know this utterly basic rule of grammar, read slower.

    So what did they really demonstrate? That people who don't know how to write don't read very well either.

    The worst aspect of the results is that in a sample of 60 college students more than half didn't know how to write! How the F do 39 out of 60 college students not know how many spaces to use?? What the F are they doing in college???

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Incidentally, this "utterly basic rule" is unknown in Europe as far as I can tell. So it is not "basic" at all.

    • by orlanz ( 882574 )

      Its not an "utterly basic rule" of grammar. Its not even a grammar rule. Its an inheritance from early typewriters that had fixed width letters and double space increased legibility. Its a rule based on "This is how we did it." The research above was probably done many times over in defining the double space on typewriters 100+ years ago.

      If you go back to typesetters, they don't use double space because they always had variable width letters (think Ben Franklin times). Double space in a book also ends

    • What the F are they doing in college???

      Learning to blame their problems on everyone but themselves.

  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @08:12AM (#56572900)

    Most only need one space after their period before we're back in business. Some though have a little extra surge at the end, so two spaces is a safer bet. Unfortunately you don't know until you "know", if you know what I mean.

  • by Sqreater ( 895148 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @08:28AM (#56572964)

    Ever taken a ruler and held it over the bottom half of a line of text and been surprised that you can still easily read it? If we cut letters in two we can increase the amount of information on a page and probably be able to what I would call "chunk read," or absorb information and meaning more quickly. It would make, I think, the "parafoveal" capture of extra characters easier. Also, we need to progress to an "emotional alphabet," something like: "a" with a following up arrow indicating rising anger, "j" with a down arrow indicating decreasing jealousy, "h" with an equal sign indicating a sustaining level of hate, etc. It could be much more complicated and subtle. I called it "emotional algebra" to order my thinking. Don't tell me about emoticons. They are for children.

    Janet looked at Amelia and smiled brightly while putting out her hand at the business conference. (without emotional algebra, just a couple of actions)

    Janet looked at Amelia and smiled brightly while putting out her hand at the business conference. (j,h{up arrow}) [And now we know her internal state while she performed those actions]

  • hah! but yes two spaces after a period is my default and i believe easier to read. I try to leave two spaces when I write by hand but it never works out. :)

    • by burhop ( 2883223 )

      I prefer tabs but the Slashdot IDE doesn't allow it. If they would finally support Unicode imagine all the great whitespaces we would have then!

  • If you have a "slight" effect, there is a large probability that something else caused it or that it is just statistical variation. Also, a "slight" effect is usually not worth the effort for the change and may well come with a "slight" negative effect as well. I know that whenever I read a text with these two spaces, I get offended at the ugliness. That would offset any benefit in reading comprehension.

  • Betteridge's law of headlines holds the answer yet again.

  • by Train0987 ( 1059246 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @09:17AM (#56573208)

    WHERE'S THE ALL CAPS STUDY?

    • by tomhath ( 637240 )

      Not all caps. What we NEED is a study of the RANDOMLY capitalized words that liberals are so FOND of using.

      It was COMICAL to see them using it on each other it in the HACKED emails from DNC.

  • If the extra space helps, IT HELPS. It doesn't matter that they used a fixed width font for the test. Since proportional fonts mess with the size of the space, to have a meaningful test they almost had to use fixed width. A single space separates words to make them more readable and a double space separates sentences for the same reason. Even if it doesn't aid in reading speed, I guarantee you it helps if you have to go back and find a particular sentence in the middle of the text.
  • by e**(i pi)-1 ( 462311 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @09:30AM (#56573292) Homepage Journal
    it simply does not matter for most cases. There is the historical reason why double spacing made sense but it rarely matters. It has been pointed out that HTML does not mind whether double spacing is used. Also decent text processing systems like Latex do not show any difference. So, it simply does not matter. If one feels good doing two spaces. Where fanatism in syntax can matter is in programming but also there, the languages don't distinguish between one and two spaces. What matters however is zero or one spacing. I common mistake done in programming languages which allow spaces to be used as multiplication is to mistake xy with x y. This is often hard to catch. I personally always had big reservations with the tab which can often lead to mistakes in data as it is not visible and only the processing of the data with programs can lead to problems. But also here, some tolerance can help as it is easy to "clean out tabs" with one strike. There are obviously some who like tabs. Let them live. Also, if somebody likes the nostalgia with double spacing after punctuation, let them be even if it does not make much sense any more with modern type setting systems.
  • or a decimal point
    or a dot

    The period is the inverse of (as in one divided by) the frequency

    As a male I don't have to worry about the biological definition of period

    (I was born in an English speaking country)

    and while we're at it

    # is a hash (the pound sign is a curly L)
    @ is an at

    And element number 13 is Aluminium

  • I believe there is another cause for this.

    The "one-spacers" ... showed statistically insignificant variation across all four spacing practices.

    So individuals that are likely oblivious to the practice of using double spaces after a period saw no discernible difference in reading speed regardless of the amount of space after a period. To me, these individuals represent the physical reality of whether the spacing makes any difference in how easily the words can be seen and read. The result is that it makes no difference on the physical ability to identify and read words and sentences.

    "two-spacers" saw a three-percent increase in reading speed for paragraphs in their own favored spacing scheme.

    Let's phrase that differ

  • by crow ( 16139 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2018 @10:03AM (#56573436) Homepage Journal

    Typing two spaces at the end of a sentence indicates a between-sentences gap, as opposed to a between-words gap. That may or may not be the same amount of space. If you're using a proportional font, then you're relying on the computer to handle the spacing, and this should be no different. Perhaps two spaces should kern together to be the equivalent of 1.2 spaces, and that sort of rule can be handled by the font.

    The problem is that determining the difference between the end of a sentence and a period that just ends an abbreviation is quite difficult. That's something that requires natural language analysis, not something simple like kerning that is part of the design of proportional fonts.

    So everyone should continue to learn to type with two spaces after a period. We know it's superior for fixed-space fonts. Computers should be taught to do the right thing for proportional fonts. If they don't, file a bug report.

  • Unicode doesn't even support the concept of a less than full stop.
    There's no reasonable way to differentiate the period after an abbreviation like "Mr.", from one at the end of a sentence.

    CSS doesn't let you control the number of spaces that follow a period - the authors of CSS apparently didn't believe this was a "style" choice.

    What if the "best" choice was 1.5 spaces between sentences?

  • Two spaces after the period in a mono spaced font, one space in a proportional spaced font. The reason for this is simple, in a proportional space font the spacing of the letters may be smaller than the space, which remains fixed.

    I learned this from someone who was a professional secretary who could see the difference at 10 feet.

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