Writing content for a website is a no easy task. It requires planning, subject knowledge, several drafts, and a handy thesaurus to assist in the process. As web developers, we see content delivered in every shape, size, and format. One detail that always grabs my attention is a writer’s choice of sentence separation. This got me thinking, is one space or two spaces appropriate for separating sentences in web content?
The practice of using two spaces originated from typewriter days. Fonts were fixed-width, meaning each character, including spaces, had the same width. For example, an “i” took up the same width as a “w”. When the same amount of space that separated sentences also separated words, it became difficult to identify sentence separation, despite the period. The result was to use two spaces between sentences to make it easier to see when one sentence ended and another began.
As technology advanced, fonts evolved into variable-width, which means each character’s width is determined by its shape. Font spacing became efficient. Now an “i” only needs a small amount of width while a “w” needs more. It became distracting to include two spaces between sentences in a variable-width format. Variable-width fonts broke up the monotone format and eliminated the need to use two spaces to make it easy to identify sentence separation.
Fixed-width fonts such as Courier and Console are still used in certain niches like programming and text editors. However, variable-width fonts are more widely practiced. Fonts such as Calibri, Times New Roman, and Trebuchet are used for day-to-day electronic communications such as emails, memorandums, contracts, and even web content.
A quick click around the internet will prove single spacing is the common choice. Wikipedia notes that “published and final written work, as well as digital (World Wide Web) media,” employs the single spacing method.¹ Furthermore, all top ten Fortune 500 companies from 2009 use a single space for sentence separation on their websites. This includes Walmart, General Motors, and AT&T.
We recommend single spaces for sentence separation for web content to be efficient with space and to avoid spacing distractions. Using two spaces is a bit outdated but can be acceptable as long as it’s consistent.