Thursday, June 13, 2013

Old School Punctuation Rule

What does the MLA Style Manual say about the amount of spaces to insert after each punctuation mark?  When I first saw this question come across the ALA listserv, I quickly dismissed it.  How much can librarians write about a topic such as this?  I must admit that I soon realized my knowledge and understanding of this rule was far from accurate.

I am a two spaces woman.  As I write, I punctuate each sentence and insert two spaces before beginning my next sentence.  In my eyes, it is clean and clearly delineates the beginning and ending of each sentence.  When I took typing in high school, we were told about this rule and it stuck with me for, I guess I will admit it…, forever.  Why question such a functional, noninvasive rule?

As I read the posts on today’s listserv, I was amazed to find out the current MLA Style calls for simply one space after each punctuation mark.  One space…  How can that be?  This bit of information from the Grammar Girl website further clarifies some of the reasoning behind this punctuation shift:

“Here's the deal: Most typewriter fonts are called monospaced fonts. That means every character takes up the same amount of space. An "i" takes up as much space as an "m," for example. When using a monospaced font, where everything is the same width, it makes sense to type two spaces after a period at the end of a sentence to create a visual break. For that reason, people who learned to type on a typewriter were taught to put two spaces after a period at the end of a sentence. 

But when you're typing on a computer, most fonts are proportional fonts, which means that characters are different widths.  An "i" is more  narrow than an "m," for example, and putting extra space between sentences doesn't do anything to improve readability.”

So, the rule is quite clear.  If writing a paper using MLA Style, insert one space only after each punctuation mark!

Just out of curiosity… did anyone check the amount of spaces I inserted between sentences in this blog entry?  If you counted 2, you are correct!  By the way, APA Style still calls for the standard two spaces between sentences!

Michele Gregg

No comments:

Post a Comment