Thursday, January 27, 2011

Maybe I LIKE Doing It Wrong

I love reading John Scalzi, I really do. Ever since I stumbled across his blog due to his role as a consultant for Stargate Universe, I have to admit I have enjoyed it immensely. He actually talks very little about SGU in his blog (even more so now that SGU has been canceled), but that makes it no less interesting. I very much enjoy his writing style, and though I do not always agree with the opinions he expresses on his blog, he usually makes his point in a way so as to not be even remotely offensive to me. Rather, I can nod and say, "alright, I see your point. I don't necessarily agree with you, but I respect your opinion."

But an entry on his blog a little while back has been rattling around in my brain ever since I read it, and the more I think about it, the less amused I become.

Here is a link to that blog: Farhad Manjoo is Right and I Will Go to This Barricade With Him

Here is the full text of that entry:

"The vile perniciousness that is the second space after a period. If you do this, you are everything that is wrong and bad in this world. That is all." 

The link is to an article by the titular Farhad Manjoo concerning the fact that when typing, the majority of the population still uses two spaces after a period, when in fact, contemporary thinking is that the correct formatting requires only one space.

I have to admit I am a little bit bemused by the whole thing. I have spent my entire typing life, be it at a typewriter or a computer, believing that two is the correct number of spaces to follow a period. I honestly had no idea that the times had changed. Manjoo's article gives a fairly interesting history of how the practice of typing two spaces came into being, along with when and why the professional shift back to one space occurred. He mentions multiple copy-editing and typing reference books (this is an important distinction from textbooks, I think) that have been updated to reflect the paradigm shift.

What Manjoo fails to offer, however, is a sound proposal for actually teaching new and existing typists the now correct formatting. Really he just offers a lot of anecdotes about professionals who are irritated (and wow, people are really emotional about this issue, believe it or not) at the perseverance of that second space. The blame seems to fall on the fact that typing teachers in schools everywhere continue to teach two spaces because that is the way that they were taught to type.  Yes, it is a valid point that teaching methods must evolve to match the ever-changing world, especially where technology is concerned. But just updating reference books isn't going to cut it. Someone needs to mandate a change to the curriculum itself if a change is to occur. This means changing teachers' training, textbooks, course plans, ect. In the current economy (especially with regard to cutbacks in educational spending), I don't see that happening any time soon, however.

This feels a bit to me like the people who still insist that "ain't" isn't a "real" word. It is in the dictionary now folks. You may not like it, but the word has been made official through its permeation into the common vernacular. Languages change and trying to insist that they haven't is a silly thing to do. Though in this case it is something of the opposite that is true. The common "vernacular" of typing hasn't yet caught up to the change. Just because the copy-editing community has accepted that one space is the correct format, the rest of us haven't quite caught up to that yet, and I feel the professionals need to be a bit patient. You may think (or even know) that you are doing it the right way and we are all wrong, but if the "we" is the vast majority, then I gotta tell you, two spaces is still perfectly acceptable for the time being.

Especially if your biggest complaint is that the use of two spaces is wrong because it looks ugly on the page. Seriously?

Look, I am not trying to say that just because everyone is still doing it that way, that's the correct way. Clearly that is unison among the people who "know better." But. Instead of going around writing (or linking to) snotty articles, start to figure out a way to get the rest of the world on board. Nicely, preferably. The best way will probably be to mandate a change in curriculum at all levels of school, from elementary straight up through post-graduate. That won't help those of us who are out of the education system, sadly, but this is the kind of change that I think you just need to accept will take a generation or two to come to fruition.

For example, ever since I read that article, I have tried to remind myself to only use one space after a period. I made a conscious effort to do so for this blog entry, and I have to say, it was hard. At the end of almost every sentence I hit space twice and had to backspace. I am not that old, but I am a writer and I am set in my ways. I don't know if there's any changing those of us who are to this point.

I mean, there's a lot going on in my life, and the number of spaces after a period just don't enter into it most of the time, even when I am writing. The thought will flit through my mind and then be gone again, and without thinking, I am hitting that space bar twice.

So, writers, teachers? What are your thoughts? One space, or two, or does it even matter?

Update: When I originally wrote this entry (last week) I was irked that the "professionals" seemed to be getting so offended by those of us who continue to use two spaces simply because that is how we were taught and we were never told it had changed. I still think that those individuals should seek to teach the change, rather than grump about it, but I am not so sure that the one-space practice is as isolated as I thought. Since posting my blog, I have obsessively been paying attention to the number of spaces in everything I read online, and it does seem that one is far more prevalent than two nowadays. So, either I know a lot more people trained by professional writers than I had previously thought, or the word about one space is getting around much more efficiently than I believed and I, in my little bubble, just missed it. My little sister did mention she had a professor laying out the guidelines for papers recently state that she required one space, but only in the bibliographies, so I am not sure what that means. But it does seem some professors are starting to require the one space of their students in spaces, which is a good place to start proliferation of the change at least. Still, people out of school, without access to copy editors and who do not publish their writing professionally, seem to have not learned of this change. I am glad to see the next crop is (starting to, at least) be taught the correct format, and I personally can strive to make the change in my own writing, but I think we need to accept that a lot of the "old guard" as it were are beyond changing at this point.



  1. I was always taught two spaces, until I went into the publishing program and was taught that it was wrong. Thankfully, I broke the habit fairly quickly.

    An easy trick if you want to not have your copyeditors yell at you - rather than worrying each and every time you finish a sentence, just finish your project - whether it's a blog entry or your book - and then do a find and replace in Word. Have it find every instance of double space and replace it with a single space. Easy as pie! =) (When I was editing, that was always the first thing I did. Then I didn't have to give any more thought to such a trivial issue.)

  2. That's a good tip D, thanks. That is the kind of thing that will come in useful for manuscripts to be sure!