Grammar Tip: How Many Spaces Go After a Period?
Published on October 9, 2023 From The Editors
In legal writing, should you include a single or double space after a period? A quick Google search will reveal that a single space after a period is the current norm. However, there are still strong proponents of a double space, their argument typically being that a bigger pause after a sentence increases readability.
So, you might come across legal text that includes two spaces after a period. This isn’t necessarily a mistake, but a stylistic choice that traces back to our use of typewriters and early computers, which had what we call "monospaced" typesetting.
Monospaced fonts have the same horizontal space for each character, so that, for example, a "W" takes up the same amount of space as an "I." Because our old computers exclusively used monospacing, every character was uniform. Writers began adding an extra space after their sentences to distinguish them and make long-form text easier to read.
In contrast, computers today use proportional fonts. As the name suggests, characters in proportional fonts take up space proportional to their shape and size—a "W" takes up more space than an "I," an "m" takes up more space than a "t".
It’s generally agreed that proportional text is easier to read because the letters aren’t squashed or stretched, the white page space is balanced, and the text flows intuitively. Thus, with our new computers, a single space became adequate to distinguish sentences from one another and the convention of adding an extra space fell out of style.
Some firms, judges, and courts have stuck to double-spacing after a sentence, so it’s important to consult whatever set of style guidelines you’re working under when deciding how to space a document.
However, both the Chicago Manual of Style and the American Bar Association suggest a single space after a period. So, if you’re in doubt or your style guide is ambiguous, a single space is your best bet.
A Quick Tip
If you’re a lawyer struggling to switch from a double to single space, you can press "Ctrl + F" on your keyboard and enter two spaces in the search bar. This will locate all of the double spaces in your work. You can then click "Replace with" and enter a single space!
Lexi Clidienst is an editor for the Texas State Bar Books. She studied Humanities at the University of Texas and received an M.Phil in Literature from the University of Cambridge. In her free time, she enjoys crocheting and swimming in Barton Creek.