« Name parser | Main | Groggy »

Double spacing


During the past year, three different authors have submitted stories to us in which there were two spaces after every word, which made the stories very hard to read.

It took me a while to figure out what had gone wrong. And I wasn't going to post about it when it was just one author. But after seeing three authors do it (two of them in the past three months), I figured it was worth making a public comment. This entry is not so much aimed at my regular readers; more at people who are doing web searches looking for manuscript formatting info.

When I was first beginning to submit stories, I read various manuscript-formatting guidelines, and they all said manuscripts should be "double-spaced." And I wasn't sure what exactly that meant.

But eventually I saw examples of proper manuscript format and figured out that in almost all publishing-related contexts, "double spacing" refers to blank lines between lines of text, not to extra spaces between words.

To put it more directly: No magazine ever wants to see two spaces after every word in a story.

More generally, if you aren't sure what standard manuscript format (SMF) looks like, Google for standard manuscript format and read some of the resulting pages. They don't all agree on all the details--for example, font choice is a particularly contentious subject--but they all provide useful info and most provide good examples. If you've never seen an example of SMF, then look at an example or two before you try to submit your work anywhere.

Btw, an author asked us a few months ago whether stories to be submitted to Strange Horizons should be double-spaced or single-spaced. The answer is that, as long as you use our web form to submit an RTF-formatted story, the line spacing in your story doesn't matter to us; our conversion system changes the spacing between lines to what we prefer, so you don't have to worry about it.

But our system doesn't change the spacing between words. So please don't put two spaces between words.


our conversion system changes the spacing between lines to what we prefer...

Ah, but is it smart enough to do that if somebody uses carriage returns to double-space their paragraphs?

I wonder if the two spaces between words was due to some bizarre setting in the authors' word processing / writing programs? Although it would be strange if the authors modified their tools on purpose to do that!

David: Alas, no. Fortunately, not too many people do that, and I'm hoping that my entry on word-processor paragraphing from a couple months ago will further reduce the number of people who do that. (Thanks for the opportunity to re-link to that entry, which I'm doing for the benefit of random passers-by who happen across this page.)

S.: In one of the three instances, the author argued with me about it; they were doing it on purpose because they thought that was standard MS format. They backed down when I gave them more information and pointed them to relevant websites. In the other two instances, I'm not sure what was going on; it's possible that those were accidental word-processor settings of some sort, but I can't think of a reason why a word processor would supply such an option.

In one of the three instances, the author argued with me about it...

Wow, what a clever and useful thing for the author to do!

(And yet, somehow I suspect that the authors most likely to do stupid things like that are also the ones most likely to believe that editors are vindictive bastards who mark authors down on blacklists for just that sort of behavior.)

Why not have your conversion system change all instances of multiple spaces into single ones? Or first change 5 or more spaces into TABs, and then change remaining multiple spaces into single ones? (I thought I had read somewhere that you didn't need two spaces at the end of sentences -- this is an artifact from typewriting -- and I don't know why else you would need multiple spaces.)

I suppose you should warn authors of this, in case they use creative multiple spacing intentionally, and then they can let you know and you can disable the conversion for that particular submission.

Interesting idea. But by the time the story shows up on my screen, it's in a monospace font; I find monospaced text easier to read when there are two spaces at the end of a sentence. In typeset material (and on the web, where multiple spaces are collapsed into one), you're right that having only one space at the end of a sentence is standard, but that's mainly for proportional-width fonts. The direction of that dichotomy is kinda counterintuitive--I would expect that two spaces would be more necessary when the spaces are thinner, as in a proportional font--but it's traditional, and it matches my expectations. So I prefer to see two spaces at the end of a sentence (though I'm not sure what my co-editors prefer). (I suppose the system could automatically put two spaces at the end of every sentence, too....)

And, yeah, people do sometimes use creative spacing intentionally.

But also, the two-spaces-between-words thing has happened only three times that I know of in the past 16000+ submissions, so I think it's not worth building extra processing into our system for. And anyway, if an author is putting two spaces between words, I'd like to let them know not to do that; it'll probably improve their chances of getting published anywhere, not just with us.

Still, the general idea of handling automated formatting tasks on our end rather than making authors do it and getting annoyed when they don't is a good one, and is an approach we've been leaning toward more and more lately.

Jed, just FYI, this peculiarity of double spacing after sentences really did used to be correct ms. format in the days of typewriters and monospaced Courier. I still have manuscript format books that show it that way, and that's how those of us who learned to type pre-word processors learned to format. For a good old-fashioned touch typist, it's almost automatic (though it's also a setting in both Word and WordPerfect). But get with it, people. Times change. Electronic formatting is SO much easier!

Funny! That's bizarre. I guess that author had never written an academic essay on a computer either, otherwise they would know what double-spacing means.
Spaces after full stops are never used anymore either, I'd think, but if you wanted them you could always change all multiple spaces to single spaces and then change all instances of ". " to ". "

Hello, I'm one of those "passers by" who stumbled upon this info. It's very good and has answered some questions for me but I still have the original problem to figure out.

Can you tell me how many 'points' double spacing is? I'm am trying to figure out how much different it is from Exactly 25.4?


I thought "double-spacing" was a paragraph formatting attribute – the spacing between lines, but anyway...

So about the two spaces after a period thing, yeah, if you learned to type on a typewriter, it's pretty much automatic. The thing is, I think it's *a lot* easier to read with two spaces, but then I also like to space out my paragraphs, headings, etc. in favor of legibility – particularly when so much reading takes place on a computer screen.

And hey, since a computer screen is displaying the contents of a file, stored on some massive hard drive, where there's space-a-plenty, (espcially for text) why not go the extra mile with two spaces?

I'll take two spaces to the grave! I figure if someone needs to change it, they can deal with it.

Belated responses:

Lee: "this peculiarity of double spacing after sentences really did used to be correct ms. format in the days of typewriters and monospaced Courier"--yeah, I know--that's how I learned to put two spaces after a period. I'm not sure whether you were responding to my comment about liking two spaces after a sentence, or whether you were responding to the main entry; if the latter, you may've misunderstood the mistake people were making. What I was talking about in the main entry is that some submitters had put two spaces after every word, not just at the ends of sentences.

Peter: In my experience, people who grew up with typewriters, and people who use monospace fonts on computers, still fairly commonly put two spaces after the end of a sentence. (At least, I assume that's what you're referring to when you say "Spaces after full stops are never used anymore either"?)

Anonymous: When you set your word processor to double-space a paragraph, it bases the spacing on whatever point size your font is set to. Different word processors do this differently, but for example, if you're using 12-point Courier, and you set the spacing to Double, then the space from the baseline of one row of text to the baseline of the next might be 24 points. (Or might be a little different--maybe 23.5, or 24.5, or 26, or some other similar number, depending on the word processor's algorithm.) MS Word, iIrc, has an "Exactly" setting that lets you specify an exact number of points rather than basing the spacing on the font size. But you should really check your word processor's manual or help system for information about this kind of thing.

Bob: Yes, in many word processors, "double spacing" is a paragraph formatting attribute. Your phrasing makes me think that you think you're disagreeing with someone by saying that, but I'm not sure who--I don't think anyone on this page has said anything that contradicts what you wrote....

As for two spaces between sentences, yeah, different people have different tastes about that, and yeah, it's certainly never an issue of taking up too much space on a computer. (Or anywhere else; adding an extra space to, say, 20 sentences on a manuscript-format page means 3-4 extra "words" per page, which means adding one page to every 100 or so MS pages. That's obviously not going to cause serious problems for anyone.) But I've never seen anyone argue that the extra spaces take up too much disk space. It's essentially an aesthetic issue; some people like 'em, some don't, but in my experience most people who think they have an opinion on 'em actually find both approaches perfectly easy to read without realizing it. For example, in my experience, you can show most people a monospaced email with two spaces between sentences, and a typeset book with one space between sentences, and most people won't even notice the difference, much less have a problem with it.

THANK YOU FOR POSTING THIS!!I had submitted and resubmitted my assignment several times and I didn't want to look stupid by asking what double-spacing was and she kept telling me I had spacing errors so I Googled it and got this.Now I can finally get it right lolz.

Double spacing between lines is clear enough. When going to the next paragraph, does one go two line (double spacing) or three lines?

Traditionally, the beginning of each paragraph is indented, and that's how the reader recognizes paragraph breaks. Thus, you don't need any extra spacing between paragraphs.

If you're not indenting paragraphs, though, then it may be a good idea to put an extra blank line between them (much the way HTML text paragraphs are usually displayed).

The only standard formal context in print (as opposed to online) that I can think of offhand in which paragraphs aren't indented is some business letter formats. If you're using such a format, I recommend either using your word processor's business-letter template or reading a book or other description that explains business letter formats; details of business-letter formats are far outside the scope of this blog entry.

well i for one im a 12 year old girl who has a science fair project and needs to type my science fair bibliography in MLA style format and text. which means i need to do double spacing but im too lazy to go back between words and space one by one!!!!if you know how to double space on wordpad please let me know A.S.A.P.!!!!


do you know how to double space without doing it individually???

Marissa: Yes. Do a search and replace, replacing every instance of ". " with ".  " Then do a search for ".   ", replacing it with ".  "

That is, replace every instance of a period and one space with a period and two spaces. Then, in case you already had two spaces in some instances, replace every instance of a period and three spaces with a period and two.

With that said, I do not believe current MLA style requires you to put two spaces after a period.

Okay, I think I misunderstood you. For actual double-spacing -- that is, having a blank line between each set of lines, which is required by MLA -- sadly, I don't think that can be done in Wordpad. You'll have to use a more full-fledged word processor. If you can't afford Word, might I suggest OpenOffice.Org? It can do that and much more, and it's completely free.

Post a comment