From the Archives: Andromeda Romano-Lax on Clean Copy #1. Spaces!

Clean Copy: An Occasional Column

In the search for new ways to freshen up the blog, I’ve decided to write  an occasional (once – or twice-monthly) column meant to help you endear yourself to future editors.While not an expert, I will point out a few issues of punctuation, grammar, and so on that have recently come to my attention, and I will try to keep these bite-sized, so you can feel good about getting that small dose of editorial self-improvement every now and again.
 There’s nothing like editing other people’s work to make your own eye a little keener, and I’ve spent the last 2,000 years — I mean, six months — freelance copyediting several drafts of a highly technical 800-page document. Oh, how it has revealed to me my own past errors, and how those errors compounded over the length of a book manuscript can drive an editor batty, I now know from personal experience! I’ve also been doing just a wee bit of manuscript coaching, and again, I notice how each of us have our own little blind spots, the correcting of which might greatly soothe the frayed nerves of the people who read our work. (And yes, I have my own blind spots, without a doubt. We’re all better at cleaning up other people’s copy– that’s why editors and proofreaders exist. And will I continue to make mistakes at this blog? Absolutely. It’s much easier to catch and correct errors in a word document than on a blogpost. You’ve been warned!) 
Today, I begin with the smallest thing of all: the space.

The error: Putting more than one space between each sentence. (Am I seeing a lot of this? Yes ma’am. And it means I have to scroll sentence by sentence, taking out a space at a time, and inevitably missing a few because spaces are often hard to judge, over the course of hundreds of pages.) 

The correction: One space. Just one. It’s that easy.

Why the furor? Agent Nathan Bransford did a survey and found that his readers split over the issue of spacing. Asked how many spaces should be used after a period, 54 percent said “one space, clearly!” and  45 percent said “two spaces, obviously!” I’m sorry to tell you that 45 percent of his readers are wrong.

Why the error? Like so many things, this one has to do with changing technology. In old-fashioned pre-computer days, we were limited to non-proportional font spacing (all characters same width), and two spaces between each sentence made text easier to read. But today, proportional font renders the extra space obsolete. People who learned the old way in typing classes seem to have a hard time letting this one go, but it’s an important habit to break. Why? Because you’re making work for your copyeditor. You want your copyeditor to love you. And that’s why you’ll stay tuned for the next column in this series!

Don’t believe me and/or want to learn more? This take-no-hostages column at Slate will more than satisfy your spacing questions and leave you feeling sheepish that you didn’t have it straight until now.

1 thought on “From the Archives: Andromeda Romano-Lax on Clean Copy #1. Spaces!”

  1. There's an easy fix on this. In Word, use search and replace to find all two spaces and replace them with one. No need to do this one at a time. While I'm at it I search and replace all paragraph breaks followed by a space, space before a paragraph break, space before a period(when appropriate), space before a comma, double paragraph breaks, and– with em dash, "with smart quotes, … with smart ellipses, and – with en dash (when appropriate.)

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