The Scientific Case for Two Spaces After a Period


A new study proves that half of people are correct. The other is also correct.

Tina Fineberg / AP

Even in the studies where researchers have removed interword spaces altogether, reading comprehension is still very high. For example, Thai and Chinese are typically written without spaces between words, even though studies have found that when space is added between words, reading speed increases. The standard comes down to aesthetics, tradition, conservation of paper and space-basically, the fact that reading is an act of much more than information delivery.

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A Better Way to Read

I’ve written before about the effect of color gradients on reading, and how it goes against the findings of science that our words should be in a single color, usually black and usually on a near-white background, and usually presented in lines of a certain length. This is all a matter of tradition and style, not optimal information transfer. This standard does not work well for everyone. It’s why I thought, for a long time, that I didn’t like books. I wasn’t good at the mechanics of reading. When I found text-to-speech programs and actual audiobooks, it was like finally seeing the turtle in one of those Magic Eye posters that everyone else at the party saw hours ago.

All of this is to say that if we really wanted to do evidence-based delivery of text for maximum comprehension, it wouldn’t be like debating one space or two. It would look totally different: words spewing into your face by some sort of torrent that syncs with feedback about your perception, and slows or pauses when you are distracted, and speeds up when you are bored.

Still, this has been a good exercise in challenging beliefs, at least for me. What is important is that this question not be what breaks us-that Americans remember that we are united by the ideals of democracy, freedom, liberty, and justice that we still hold dear, and which demand our allegiance above any person or party or spacing issue.