One Space, Two Spaces

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One mind-blowing change APA made in the 7th edition is the switch to using one space after a period rather than two. Why is this mind-blowing? After all, most publication styles such as MLA, Chicago, and AP specify that one space is to be used after a period. Even Microsoft has an opinion, as Word will flag two spaces after a period as an error. 

The reason the change from two spaces to one space is mind-blowing–and perhaps mind-numbing– is that the 5th edition of APA specified that one space be used after a period, but when the 6th edition came out in 2009, APA changed the requirement to two spaces. And now the 7th edition has returned to the one-space-after-a-period requirement. 

As a result of this change, folks in the Writing Center have been busy updating all of our resources from two spaces after a period to one space. I’m serious. The task would be far more tedious than you might think if it weren’t for the word processor’s “Search and Replace” function. 

It’s worth noting that when APA shifted to two spaces after a period in 2009, an appreciable level of hullabaloo followed. Everyone had an opinion. Those who learned to type on an actual typewriter felt vindicated. Typesetters were flummoxed. A 2018 Skidmore College research study found that two spaces after a period was actually beneficial to readers in that the two spaces allowed readers to process text faster. Of course that same study ended with “while period spacing does influence our processing of text, we should probably be arguing passionately about things that are more important.”

What’s confounding about the whole one-space-two-spaces issue, however, is the way in which APA discusses the change in the new publication manual. APA writes that it recommends (emphasis on recommends) the use of one space after periods, but if an instructor or publisher has other requirements such as using two spaces after a period, to follow those guidelines. There. That clears it up. Nothing fuzzy about the spacing requirement at all. To quote my favorite tragic literary hero, “Good grief!”

Until next week–

Kurtis Clements

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1 Response

  1. Paula says:

    “Good Grief” is appropriate. I imagine a man sitting in a meeting, “I think we should change the space bar requirement again”…. I would plead to not change it!

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