Sunday, August 9, 2009

Good type matters (part 3): Spaces

The most important graphic element on any page (printed, web, or other) is type. It sends subtle but important signals to readers. Done well, it sends positive signals and reinforces your message; done poorly, it sends negative signals and confuses your message.

Businesses often use MS Word and Powerpoint to design countless communication pieces where type is often the only thing on the page (or screen). Applying some very basic typographic know-how can increase the legibility and effectiveness of those pieces. Today:


Horizontal space is just as important to legibility as vertical space. The biggest goofs I usually see about horizontal space involve spaces – too many of them.

Use one space after a period. Two spaces after a period is a holdover from the typewriter, but many are still taught to leave two spaces after a period. Good typography does not use two spaces after a period (or after any punctuation mark, for that matter). Searching for two spaces and replacing them with one is easily done in most software, but consistency is even more important. So, if you insist on using two spaces, then make sure all the periods are followed by two spaces (not one, or three, and five is right out).

Remove extra spaces. Extra spaces are another artifact of copying and pasting: they look bad, are distracting to readers, and can lead to some funky-looking paragraphs* (i.e., weird line breaks). Attention to detail will remove them. So can search-and-replace. To rid a document of all excess spaces in Word or PP (you may want to make a copy of the file in case you’re nervous):
  • Go to Edit > Replace
  • In the Find What field, carefully type two spaces
  • In the Replace With field, carefully type one space
  • Bravely click Replace All (seriously)
  • Repeat (you will need to repeat this process to clean out instances of three or more spaces in a row)
I know what you’re thinking – what about that place where I added 30 spaces to get things to line up or appear centered on the page? We’ll deal with that in the next episode: tabs.

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* When I use the term paragraph, I mean it in a word-processing sense: any group of words before you hit the return key. For instance, each bullet list item above is a paragraph, or a floating label of six words in PP is also a paragraph.

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