Re: Advice on starting out; dealing with employers

Subject: Re: Advice on starting out; dealing with employers
From: Ned Bedinger <doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Sat, 30 Apr 2011 22:45:58 -0700

On 04/29/2011 09:35 AM, Carter Campbell wrote:
> Chris Morton wrote:
>> [. . .]
>> One tip I'm going to offer right away is to eliminate using two spaces
>> after
>> punctuation in all further communications. Regardless of how you were
>> taught
>> in high school or college, this convention became an anachronism as
>> manual-
>> and non-IBM Selectric typewriters became relegated to The Antiques Road
>> Show.
> Man, I can't believe that this keeps rearing its ugly head. I am not
> going to try to start this same tired old fuss-session up again (well, I
> guess I am, but only quickly)

Me too. :)

, but other than the result being "pretty"
> and that it's "just not cricket", do you think there might be another
> reason why you might want two spaces after a period instead of one?

We would agree that we would single- or double-space sentence ends in
the interest of keeping to an established style guide. But the perennial
argument for single-spacing, by typographers going back centuries, is
the claim that double spaces slow readers. It might as well be the claim
that two spaces take more paper and so increase publishing costs.
Whatever it boils down to, it is from a different age. Modern research
tells a very different story.

For example, here's research that finds reading being mediated by a
process in our brain that governs how big or small an area of text we
take in, and how long our eyes dwell on it. (see" Reading as a
Perceptual Process", ISBN 978-0-08-043642-5).

This process isn't well understood yet, but the study results support
the theory that the reading brain is slowed by what it doesn't
recognize. When a reader comes across something unrecognized (let's say
an unfamiliar acronym), the size of the text area taken in by the eyes
gets smaller, and the eyes dwell on it longer, Again, reading is slowed
while the eyes take in the unfamiliar. How spaces, whether em- or
en-dash worth, can be unfamiliar is a mystery to me.

> I would think that it would depend on your audience and not on your own
> delicate sense of style. There are groups of people with learning and
> reading disabilities (such as dyslexics) that find it difficult to read
> through or scan a document that looks as if it is rammed altogether.
> Since many of these people are taught to read patterns, they will look
> for a larger space between sentences to give them visual cues.

The effect on dyslexic readers sounds like a different issue, and a very
interesting one for tech writers to be aware of.

Dyslexics sometimes describe the difficulty of reading as "words jumping
around on the page." It never occured to me before that the patterns of
white space on a page could interact in some visual way to make reading
more or less difficult for dyslexics. Yow! I am all for doing whatever
it takes to get people in my target audience to read the manuals.

To me, the "rivers of white" don't jump out and disturb my reading, but
I can see that effect if I look for it. A page can look awkward if I
appraise it as an aesthetic object--if I see lots of contiguous white
space flowing vertically through the lines, it looks sort of loose and
sloppy. But I think the effect is harmless, the time needed to improve
it would be wasted, and I doubt that any but the pickiest of art-minded
readers, authors, or editors would obsess over it.

Still, it isn't hard to imagine contiguous white spaces appearing to be
in motion or otherwise interacting with the words jumping around on the
page. But if we're to produce dyslexic-friendly manuals, I feel like
we'd have to go m-u-c-h deeper into the questions about the needs of
that audience. I suspect that single- or double-spacing for the sake of
dyslexic readers would amount to a token gesture, at best.


If, in your best estimates, you are in a domain that
> "would probably not have too many people who struggle to read", then one
> space would be just fine.

I must have been a mule skinner in a past life to think, as I do, that
this is a great rule. I'd love to see it applied. Hyah!

> It can also be argued that a work of fiction, which IS art (for the most
> part), should have one space, because two spaces breaks up the aesthetic
> of the page, but I don't think that we intentionally write fiction.

I think we prefer to say that we "synthesize information". Same
difference, sometimes.

Regards to all,

Ned Bedinger
doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com

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Please move off-topic discussions to the Chat list, at:

Advice on starting out; dealing with employers: From: Joan Wamiti
Re: Advice on starting out; dealing with employers: From: Chris Morton
Re: Advice on starting out; dealing with employers: From: Carter Campbell

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