Please don’t use this study to justify your horrible habit of using two spaces after periods – the verge gas stoichiometry worksheet

Is it better to have one or two spaces after a period? The first study investigating this hotly contested issue is here, and it supposedly gives the win to the two-spacers. But a closer look at the research suggests that the only reasonable interpretation is that double spacing after a period remains bad . It’s ugly, it doesn’t help when it comes to what matters most (reading comprehension), and the experiment that supports its benefits uses an outdated font style.

The “two-space” convention is left over from the days of typewriters. Typewriters allot the same amount of space for every character, so a narrow character like “i” gets as much as a wider character like “w.” (This is called a “monospaced font.”) With a typewriter, it makes sense to add an extra space to make it clear that the sentence has ended. Today’s word-processing software makes fonts proportional, though, which is why we only need one space. Also, it looks better. The Chicago Manual of Style and the Modern Language Association Style Manual also take this stance. Two-spacers, though, claim their way improves readability, which is the same reason the American Psychological Association gave when advocating for two spaces.

But, as the authors of the new paper point out, until now, there’s been no research to support this claim. They recruited 60 college students to settle the debate. First, the students typed passages to determine whether they’re one-spacers or two-spacers. Then, they wore eye-tracking technology while reading paragraphs in which the number of spaces was manipulated. Afterward, they answered a question to test reading comprehension.

The finding that supposedly vindicates two-spacers is that students reading the two-spaced pages were less likely to fixate on the punctuation area, probably because the extra space made it clear that the sentence had ended. This happened regardless of whether the students themselves used one or two spaces. But the effect, the authors write, was small, and it didn’t prevent people from later rereading what they’d already seen. Double spaces after a period didn’t increase reading speed unless the student was a two-spacer. (And because we don’t use typewriters anymore, people have increasingly started to see the light.)

It’s not clear if readability was really improved, even though people looked at the area near the period less: the two-spaces after periods didn’t help anyone understand the passage better. Plus, the researchers used a monospaced font, and most computers use proportional fonts — meaning the researchers acknowledge that the findings “may differ” when it comes to other situations, like the ones we encounter most often.

Finally, it’s important to note that, in a deeper way, none of this — not one space or two, not “ tabs versus spaces,” or the entire Oxford comma debate — really matters. Humans just love to become overly attached to debates that hold relatively little significance. Before there was the one space / two space divide, there was a famous psychological experiment that created the false divide of Kandinsky versus Klee. Psychologist Henri Tajfel randomly sorted a group of teen boys into two groups and told them it was because they preferred either the paintings of Paul Klee or Wassily Kandinsky. Despite this random sorting, the boys came to define themselves as “Klee lovers” or “Kandinsky lovers.” When asked to distribute money, they strongly favored their own group. To be fair, teens and adults are thankfully not the same, so the exact details of this study could be misleading. But this finding is not surprising to anyone who has seen people get way too worked up over cake versus pie.

So, really, the best and most noble thing of all — the action that will help us transcend our natures — is to free ourselves from caring so much about spaces after periods. The authors are correct when they suggest that “we should probably be arguing passionately about things that are more important.” But until we beat human nature, two spaces is wrong.