Once upon a time, the only way to imprint type on a page was with a press. This was done by typesetters—expert professionals that understood the rules of typography. Then along came the typewriter. Yes, typewriters were convenient, but due to technical constraints, they could not duplicate the detailed craftsmanship of set type. They employed monospace fonts, in which every letter takes up exactly the same amount of space on the page. The Roman alphabet was not designed to be displayed in such a fashion, and as such, readability suffered. Due to the uniform letter spacing, a single space was not enough to sufficiently separate one sentence from another. For this reason, the practice of double-spacing after a period was introduced. People were taught to type that way. High School students were required to double-space their sentences when they turned in essays. The technique became ingrained in several generations of the populace.
In the mean time, technology advanced. Typewriters have been replaced by computers and high resolution printers. We now have more control over type and the printed page than ever before. In fact, our software now takes care of most of the fine points of typography automatically, from kerning and leading to ligatures and en dashes. What’s that? You don’t know what an en dash is? Don’t worry, Microsoft Word does. We have a large selection of quality typefaces, and monospaced fonts have been relegated to programming code editors.
And yet, everyone still dutifully enters the double-space after every period. They do so because that is the way they were taught. They don’t know that the extra spaces create holes, turning text blocks into swiss cheese. They don’t realize that it hinders readability. The teachers continue teaching the practice because they don’t know any better either. That’s what they were taught too. Graphic Designers are the only ones that are taught about this, and it doesn’t happen until they are in college.
I know this blog is not read by English teachers—I’m preaching to the choir, and likely some other ministers. So you, reader, have a duty. If you know an English teacher, please send this to them, or point them to this passage from The Elements of Typographic Style. It’s high time we all give our thumbs a break and lay off the space bar. If we are going to break this bad habit, it has to start with them.