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Randall Munroe’s take

From Randall Munroe’s XKCD

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Alive on the bigger stage!

The question of whether to add that extra, wasted space after sentence-ending punctuation is hot again! For your reading pleasure:

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Where’s the evidence to justify two spaces?

We’re still scratching our heads trying to figure out what prompted APA to revert back to two spaces at the end of sentences. Combing three likely sources for why they made this change, so far we’ve found the following:

  1. The Manual, itself, doesn’t appear to provide any rationale. In fact, in the introductory chapter, in which changes are enumerated chapter by chapter, no mention is made of the change to two spaces.
  2. On APA’s website, there’s a section devoted to pointing out changes (http://apastyle.apa.org/manual/whats-new.aspx). Here’s what they say about the change to two spaces: “Punctuation—return to two spaces after the period at the end of the sentence recommended for ease of reading comprehension.”
  3. On APA’s blog devoted to the Manual, they have said the change will make manuscripts easier to read: “this new recommendation will help ease their reading by breaking up the text into manageable, more easily recognizable chunks” (http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2009/07/on-two-spaces-following-a-period.html).
  4. On the APA blog, they  say:
  5. The question of whether one space or two should follow end punctuation has been hotly debated for quite some time, and it is no surprise that writers from both camps harbor equally compelling reasons for the approach they have always used, were taught, or have adopted.

  6. On the APA blog, they say: “improved readability was the impetus behind the new ‘two spaces after a period’ style recommendation” (http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2009/06/apa-style-who-we-are.html).

So, based on these statements, it appears that some combination of making manuscripts easier to read or easier to comprehend was the primary rationale for the change. And the only reference to an empirical justification for the change is the claim that both those who advocate for one space and those who advocate for two spaces “harbor equally compelling reasons.”

During times when many disciplines that recommend the APA’s Publication Manual are advocating evidence-based decisions, it’s noteworthy, we think, that these discussions of the rationale for using two spaces at the end of sentences (and after colons) do not appear to be based on scientific examination of the hypothesis that two spaces makes manuscripts more readable. We have to admit that we haven’t employed the most rigorous search methods in seeking evidence, but we’ve searched for studies comparing readability when one or two spaces follow sentence-ending punctuation, and we simply haven’t found any studies of the hypothesis.

We’d welcome assistance from the leadership of the revision of APA’s Publication Manual in locating the evidence undergirding this change. It’d save us some additional head scratching, and neither of us has much hair to protect his scalp from more scratching.


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Why Doesn’t APA Follow Its Own Rules/Recommendations?

Here’s another puzzle. As in previous editions, the Manual contains examples of  manuscript pages (see pp. 41-59) so the reader can get a better sense of how some of the stylistic mechanisms play out. I’ve always thought this was one of the best pedagogical devices in the Manual. And I still do. However, why are the sentences in these example pages only separated by one space?

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Old dogs and new tricks

I am glad that I learned to type. When I learned to type, while I was in junior and senior high school in the 1960s, we had the luxury of using electric typewriters. Even though the schools’ machines were modern typewriters, they used the same technology as both the manual typewriters I had at home, the trusty Royal that I used regularly and the Royal Portable that was in a closet (the latter left over from my father’s college days in the ’20s; I still have both). The school and home typewriters produced type in which every letter occupied a fixed dimension.

Type with fixed dimensions was called “fixed width” or “monospaced.” The physical space occupied on a page was the same for an i and an m. When typewriters had monospaced type, it made sense to use two spaces after sentence-ending punctuation and internal colons.

Wikicommons image of type differences

Without disucssing dot-matrix printers (mayhaps in a later post), when personal printers capable of printing proportional type became widely available, beginning with the Apple Laserwriter (I suppose), things changed dramatically. That extra space after sentence-ending punctuation was no longer needed. I could print type that mimicked the kind of print I knew from learning how to set cold type while in junior high school (a skill I no longer find valuble).

So, 15 years ago I was happy to see that the Publication Manual abandoned its requirement that I make my thumb hit the space bar twice after sentence-ending punctuation (compare p. 140, American Psychological Association, 1983, with p. 244, American Psychological Association, 1994). What liberation! I no longer had to switch modes depending on whether I was typing a manuscript or just about anything else. I could employ the same thumb behavior regardless of reader.

Now I’m asked to return to differential responding. One space after sentence-ending punctuation when I’m typing most everything except manuscripts for submission to journals.

Thanks to Bassetman3 for making this image available

Oh, woe is me. I’m an older dog who must learn new tricks.

I wonder if I should plan to use monospaced fonts, too. Mayhaps I could just put the old Royal on my desk and relegate these monitors and plastic keyboards to a shelf.


American Psychological Association. (1983). Publication manual (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

American Psychological Association. (1994). Publication manual (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.


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Heads up to folks responsible for Web pages

The changes in the APA Publication Manual will require many people to change their pages about using APA style. Now, I’m not writing this because I’m recommending that they add non-breaking spaces in their HTML. It’s just that people who have developed Web pages explaining APA style to folks will need to revise their pages.

At least one individual has already updated his page. See the recommendations of Doug Degelman of Vanguard University: “Spacing after Punctuation: Space once after commas, colons, and semicolons within sentences. Insert two spaces after punctuation ending sentences” (emphasis added; accessed 29 July 2009).

To get an idea of whether people had pages (or other documents) that would require updating, I searched with Google using “+apa style spaces after period” (sans quotes, of course). Here are 50 places where authors will apparently need to update their directions:

  1. http://www.docstyles.com/apacrib.htm
  2. http://www.personalityresearch.org/writing/apa.html
  3. http://www.louis-hoffman-virtualclassroom.com/Psychology%20Resources/Writing%20Resources/APA_style_little_things.htm
  4. http://www.unb.ca/extend/wss/apa5.htm
  5. http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080620155924AA5VNxh
  6. http://rencsi.com/b/2009/05/one-space-or-two-spaces-after-a-period/
  7. http://www.accreditedwriters.com/apa-style-faq/
  8. http://gradpsych.apags.org/webexclusives/style0408.html
  9. http://www.psychwww.com/resource/APA%20Research%20Style%20Crib%20Sheet.htm
  10. http://www.fluther.com/disc/48808/when-typing-something-what-is-appropriate-after-a-period-one/
  11. http://big.net/amy/sota/howtowriteapastyle.doc
  12. http://ifindmyselfwondering.tribe.net/thread/cd781eb5-3aa7-4505-9a50-6a9a22baa3c1
  13. http://www.sunyjcc.edu/files/apa.pdf
  14. http://www.reddit.com/r/geek/comments/7pagt/apparently_two_spaces_after_a_period_is_no_longer/
  15. http://soe.cahs.colostate.edu/Graduate/Forms/documents/SOE-APA-Guide.pdf
  16. http://drupaled.alphabetademo.org/?q=blogpost/111
  17. http://psychology.about.com/od/apastyle/a/apageneral.htm
  18. http://www3.uark.edu/qwct/resources/handouts/14%20APA%20Style%20Guidelines.pdf
  19. http://www.defendingthetruth.com/off-topic/26870-single-double-space-after-period.html
  20. http://web3.woodbury.edu/library/infolit/apaguide.html
  21. http://chronicle.com/forums/index.php?topic=53775.45
  22. http://forums.macrumors.com/archive/index.php/t-121157.html
  23. http://www.lakeviewcol.edu/documents/APASTYLEREFRESHER-1.ppt
  24. http://www.sonoma.edu/users/s/smithh/psy445/pages/lornacatfordsummary.pdf
  25. http://professorialmusings.blogspot.com/2007/11/one-space-after-closing-punctuation.html
  26. http://cybertext.wordpress.com/2009/01/23/word-change-the-spaces-after-a-period/
  27. http://www.psichi.org/Pubs/Articles/Article_578.aspx
  28. http://blade.nagaokaut.ac.jp/cgi-bin/scat.rb/ruby/ruby-talk/168142
  29. http://new.dixie.edu/health/nursing/File/Nursing/APA%20format%20paper2.pdf
  30. http://teach.valdosta.edu/blbrowne/Experi/apacrib.pdf
  31. http://www.ps.ritsumei.ac.jp/college/files/APA_en.pdf
  32. http://faculty.virginia.edu/patecourses/EDLF_863_052/APA%20GUIDE%202001.pdf (our colleague’s guide for his students)
  33. http://academic.pgcc.edu/~dfinley/writingapastyle.htm
  34. http://www.schoolofed.nova.edu/matl/pdf/APA_QRG.pdf
  35. http://www.docstoc.com/docs/622853/APA-Style-Guide—Punctuation
  36. http://www.2myprofessor.com/Common/apa_intro.html
  37. http://www.docstyles.com/apastudy.htm
  38. http://savvytechtips.com/how-many-spaces-after-a-period.htm
  39. http://www.huntington.edu/students/learning_center/writing%20pointers.doc
  40. http://www2.ivcc.edu/stylebook/apa.html
  41. http://crofsblogs.typepad.com/english/2006/11/space_after_per.html
  42. http://voezo.awardspace.com/gold-rusa9/apa-style-single-space-after-period.html
  43. http://www.drkenhunt.com/apa.html
  44. http://ipt.boisestate.edu/files/APAFifthEditionJan06.pdf
  45. http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/im-so-stylish.aspx
  46. http://www.antiessays.com/free-essays/43113.html
  47. http://library.ccsu.edu/help/style/apa1.php
  48. http://www.missioncollege.org/lib/handouts/APA.pdf
  49. http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/news-and-opinion/the-angry-grammarian/the_angry_grammarian-38461859.html
  50. http://www.lscc.edu/library/guides/sampleapa.pdf

Google returns 248,000 results, though not all of them would be as germane as these first 50. Yahoo returned 145,000 and Bing returned 91,000. I didn’t check the extent to which those items overlap with the items in the list from Google.

To be sure, the authors of these resources will have to update their works to bring them into line with some of the other changes in the Publication Manual (e.g., headings). Still, it’s a lot of updating.

Some of these sources, however, are basing their recommendations on even-older versions of the Publication Manual. Some of these also include substantial other departures from APA style. And, just in case things are not confusing enough, here’s one that states that two spaces are needed, although it’s based on an earlier version of the Manual that didn’t require two spaces!


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