Re: One space or two?

Subject: Re: One space or two?
From: Kathleen Frost <kfrost -at- BTSQUARED -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 19 Aug 1997 09:31:22 -0400

On Sun, 10 Aug. 1997, James L Secor wrote on Subject: Style Manuals "Mike
Little asked about style manuals. <snip> ...try the MLA Stylesheet. It's
the standard for writing, at least scholarly/academic. It says one space.
Two spaces just doesn't look write, you know?"

I have to strongly disagree. No matter how many style manuals suggest one
space between sentences, two should be the standard for user documents,
IMHO.

My reason is readability. Anyone who has had training for technical
writing and user manuals knows there are serious discussions on white
space. This has been a strong usability issue for many years. " Make
everything open, readable. Do not create long blocks of text that
intimidate your user. Etc." That is the reason for much of the open
styles today that start paragraphs as far right as the middle of the page.
Now, I don't go to that extreme, it's far too wasteful on paper and
printing, but we do start about two inches in on the left to create a space
for user notes in the margin. It's a visual device to reassure the user
that this isn't some dry, boring, unreadable monologue. Tables, bulleted
lists, and other formats are also used to create white space and
readability.

So, if you are going to subscribe to the practical theory of white space
and smaller, more easily "digestible" paragraphs, why would you even
consider visually smashing the sentences together with no more space than
is used between words? Give the reader visual breaks between sentences so
it's easy to see where one ends and the next begins. Let them take a
mental breath between sentences, just as you would increase the space
between paragraphs slightly, either with a blank line, block line (IMI
style), or with a paragraph style "space before" on a word processor.

This is, of course, my opinion. I don't know when we moved from two spaces
between sentences (as I was taught, too many years ago to admit) to only
one, but I reserve the "one space" rule for magazine and newspaper use
only. In those types of publications, the reason is practical. A saved
space between each sentence can allow a few more words in the article. But
for all other writing, I use two spaces. In a 200-400 page manual, with
wide margins, a space saved here and there isn't going to count for much.
Two spaces is the rule in our documentation standards manual.

P.S. After 16 years of writing, over 10 of those in technical writing, I
tend towards using style manuals (government and academic) as good sources
of options and suggestions but not as law. Think of your document, think
of your readers, and do what is right for your particular situation.

My 2.5? on the subject.......

Kathy Frost
KFrost -at- BTSquared -dot- com
As always, speaking for myself.

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