Using a two-space gap, instead of just one, in between sentences might be a weird concept to millennials who grew up in a post-typewriter world, but that actually used to be a norm. When typewriters dominated schools and offices, it was usual for people to insert two spaces after a period due to the imperfections of typewriters’ presentation of letters.
When word processing programs became better at producing more aesthetically pleasing typography, it soon became unnecessary to add two spaces after a period, and the practice was eventually reduced to a historical quirk. However, there might be good reason to bring this practice back. According to Rebecca Johnson, Becky Bui, and Lindsay Schmitt, researchers from Skidmore College, adding two spaces after a sentence can improve readers’ ability to process them.
The researchers enlisted 60 volunteers to determine whether spacing twice after a sentence had cognitive effects on readers. First, they had each participant type a page of text to determine whether they were natural one-spacers or two-spacers, and then had them read different types of text: some materials have two spaces after commas and periods, some have two spaces only after periods or only after commas, and the rest have standard, single spaces after commas and periods.
Using an eye-tracking mechanism, the researchers followed how the readers absorbed these different types of texts and, afterwards, measured their comprehension. They found out that two spaces after the period did aid the readers in processing the sentences faster, noticing that the readers did not rest as long at the end of these sentences. No difference in comprehension between single space and two spaces were found, however.
The study, titled “Are two spaces better than one? The effect of spacing following periods and commas during reading,” is published in the journal Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics.
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Past researches have long established the fact that minute details in text, like spacing, font size, and font type, do have specific and significant cognitive effects on readers. One intriguing study reported by the New York Times found that font sizes don’t have any effect on memory, but font type does. Specifically, unfamiliar, hard-to-read fonts made retaining information more efficient than using standard font types.
Font sizes appear to have other effects, however. Another study recommends text-heavy websites, such as Wikipedia, to use font sizes 18 or larger because it increased the readability and comprehensibility of the text.