Absence of controversy usually lets matters of typography elude Disputed Issues. Typography is an engineering discipline resting on centuries of experience and a firm scientific basis. Occasional controversies arise at the periphery, such as specific font choices, but core typographical matters are well settled, including: Should margins be justified or ragged right? and How many spaces should separate sentences? Yet, lawyers ignore the typographers’ answers:
- Use a ragged-right margin for word-processed text.
- Never use more than a single space between sentences.
Unexpectedly, the superiority of two spaces between words is upheld by some informed legal writers, who after being set straight, switched to one space between sentences and then decided two spaces were better after all. Sometimes the reverters complain about rare circumstances where a single space is misleading. More often, they conclude that, despite its origins in the obsolete typewriter’s shortcomings, the extra space aids comprehension: the right idea for the wrong reason. (See Comments.)
Young lawyers’ loyalty to the old two-space typewriter convention is puzzling. Two biases seem relevant: 1) the more-is-better evidentiary heuristic and 2) false assumptions about the mechanics of reading. The more-is-better heuristic, the disposition to think that supplying more evidence (such as an extra space) necessarily produces a higher level of certainty, accounts for the tendency of reverters to stress occasional typographic anomalies, while not considering their counterparts. Supporting this explanation is the practice in the 19th century of placing a super-space, larger than the two spaces recommended for typewriters, at the ends of sentences. Redundant evidence and the importance of processing speed make applying the more-is-better heuristic misleading.
Craving stronger cues for sentence endings expresses a mistaken theory of the reading process—or fault in the process itself—which confuses the units for eye fixations with those involved in parsing meaning. While the sentence is the basic unit of meaning, eye fixations are blind to meaning, as reader can’t distinguish meaningful units until brain analyzes input. Using the extra-large space as the automatic boundary for eye fixations, a tendency promoted by extra spacing, slows reading. Efficient readers read through the period and space.