For people like me who toil away in the wordsmithery business, there’s no credible argument. Whether I’m writing feature-length articles for saratoga living‘s print edition or shorties on the website, the same rule applies: I insert a single space after each period, no questions asked. (My Editor in Chief will stand by me on that one.) But according to a recent scientific study, I will have to publicly admit that I’ve been doing it wrong for at least 15 years. (I’m pretty sure I did it “right” all the way through college.)
Per a recent Washington Post article, three psychology professors at Skidmore College—Rebecca L. Johnson, Becky Bui and Lindsay L. Schmitt—set out to find an answer to the ongoing “to be or not to be” spacing quandary. Should it be a single or double space beyond each period? Publishing a paper, entitled “Are Two Spaces Better Than One? The Effect of Spacing Following Periods and Commas During Reading,” in the journal Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics here(read it ), the professors landed on this conclusion: “Although comprehension was not affected by punctuation spacing, the eye movement record suggested that initial processing of the text was facilitated when periods were followed by two spaces.” In other words, my colleagues and I have been doing it all wrong. For, like, ever.
How did the trio of Skidmore professors land on this conclusion? Per the Post, they drew their data from 60 students, who were given a typing task to deduce their preferred usage of spacing (21 of 60 used double-spaces over single ones) and then hooked them up to an eye-tracking machine (the Eyelink 1000), to figure out where their eyes wandered while reading a block of text littered with a number of different spacing options. “The major reason to use two spaces, the researchers [concluded], was to make the reading process smoother, not faster,” reports the Post. “Everyone tended to spend fewer milliseconds staring at periods when a little extra blank space followed it.”
Look, I’m going to be blunt here in saying that saratoga living magazine and I aren’t going to be changing our one-spaced ways anytime soon. But this news will certainly keep copy editors up even later at night, worrying about how to appease the inner voice telling them that two spaces are, in fact, better than one. Ugh.