Proper Manuscript Format : Sentence Spacing

A reader writes to ask:

I know it's still acceptable to space twice after periods. However, if there's a close quote after a period is there actually only one space remaining after the quotation mark before first letter of the next sentence? Also, are there two spaces before the beginning of the quote, after the period closing the previous sentence?

In both the situations you describe, use two spaces. Keep in mind that your two spaces go after the sentence's final punctuation, whether that's a period, a quotation mark, a question mark, or an exclamation point.

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A reader writes to ask:

Quick question - as a new/aspiring writer, starting a manuscript, I'm curious to know if *you know* of a way to make it double spaced after each sentence. I'm used to writing documents that have only one space between sentences, but I perfectly understand the need for two for a submission manuscript.

Any tricks you've found with Office Word that make it automatically two spaces for a single hit of the space bar?

I'm not aware of any feature in Word, or in any other word processor, that would do what you want. Most word processors can easily be set to perform the opposite conversion—two spaces collapsed automatically to one—but determining where the end of a sentence falls is a very tricky programming problem that would fall prey to frequent errors.

More to the point, though, why on earth would you want a feature like that? Yes, two spaces after a sentence are still acceptable in most manuscript submissions, as I've endlessly argued, but that convention is quickly going the way of the dodo. If you're not already in the habit of putting two manual spaces at the end of each sentence, there's no reason for you to go out of your way to do it. Stop worrying about spaces and just focus on your writing.

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Back in January, Slate's Farhad Manjoo set the blogosphere a-boil with a vitriolic philippic against the evils of ever placing two spaces at the end of a sentence. A veritable Greek chorus rushed to add its voices to his, including no less a figure than John Scalzi. On the flip side, Megan McArdle of The Atlantic spearheaded the opposition, and a flurry of spirited defenses of the two-space tradition set out to demolish the arguments at the center of Manjoo's emotional diatribe.

I stayed out of the fray at the time. I've already had what I hoped would be my definitive say about sentence spacing, and in fact I spent a lot of time last year thinking through some significant ameliorations of my former strict insistence on two spaces. It was never my intention, back in 1995 when I first posted "Proper Manuscript Format" on the web, to become a de facto formatting guru, but it happened anyway. This means I still get frequent emails from aspiring writers who want to know why this authority or that is telling them they should never ever, on pain of banishment to editorial hell, put two spaces after a sentence.

It's probably past time for me to expand further on my position that, while one space is fast becoming the reigning standard, it's still perfectly fine to use two if that's what you prefer.

We are all by now familiar with the argument that the two-space rule is a relic of the typewriter era, outmoded in these days of computer typography and proportional fonts. I am willing to admit this, to a point (even as I am unwilling to unlearn a practice that, through more than three decades of dedicated typing, has become as much a part of me as my two thumbs). But where this argument falls short is in its failure to recognize that the commercial publishing industry, at least in the U.S., had already begun phasing out the two-space rule sixty years ago—at the very height of the typewriter era. It wasn't the advent of the personal computer that made the practice begin to change. It was much earlier advancements in high-volume mechanical typesetting.

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Sentence spacing

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A reader writes to ask:

I have always used two spaces after the end of each sentence and someone recently said they believed that was no longer the correct method to use. Can you tell me if I should leave one or two spaces between each sentence in a paragraph or is it one of those inconsequential issues?

I receive more email on this topic than any other. For such a simple question, it stirs up plenty of passion, controversy, and bile on forums where these sorts of things are discussed. I would like to advise you that it's an inconsequential issue, but clearly it is not for many writers and editors.

The roots of this debate go way back to the days of typesetting by hand, when two different styles of sentence spacing emerged. French spacing was the practice of setting a single space between sentences, while English spacing meant using two spaces. The two-space method carried over into the realm of the typewriter when that device was invented. If you learned typing on a typewriter, you were no doubt taught to put two spaces after every sentence, and two spaces after every colon, too.

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FLOG is Hugo- and Nebula-nominated author William Shunn's blog on manuscript formatting and preparation for fiction writers. It features formatting questions from real readers and writers like you. Submit your questions to format at shunn dot net. Identitying information will remain private. We regret that we can't always respond individually to submissions, and that we can't answer every question we receive.

About Sentence Spacing

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Proper Manuscript Format in the Sentence Spacing category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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