May 7, 2013Line Editing
Lawyers almost always double-space after periods, colons, and semicolons. The origins of this practice are somewhat obscure. But the origins don’t matter. There is no debate whatsoever among professionals—I mean professionals in design, advertising, typesetting, and printing—that single-spacing is superior. You won’t find double-spacing in professionally-designed text like books, even though you will find it everywhere in legal writing (including in Supreme Court opinions).
All you have to do to remove it from your own writing is spend a few days breaking the habit of hitting the spacebar twice. When you are revising your own work, or someone else’s, a search-and-replace deleting two spaces and substituting one will fix this problem everywhere that it exists. (You won’t cause any problems for formatting elsewhere in the document if the briefwriter has followed the rule against using the spacebar to format.)
Because this advice often surprises lawyers who haven’t heard it before, let’s take a look at the authorities.
First of all, this is the standard rule for all professional text. Books, magazines, newspapers, advertisements, and anything else created by professionals in typographic design use one space after periods.
The Bluebook says nothing about double-spacing, and it follows the one-space rule both in its own text and in its examples. (You can see this, for example, on p. 14/B4 of the 19th edition.)
Court rules rarely address the issue, but when they do advocate one space. Here’s what the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals says (p. 5): “Put only one space after punctuation. The typewriter convention of two spaces is for monospaced type only. When used with proportionally spaced type, extra spaces lead to what typographers call ‘rivers’—wide, meandering areas of white space up and down a page. Rivers interfere with the eyes’ movement from one word to the next.”
All of these excellent standard references on legal writing (or just writing) advocate a single space:
Typography for Lawyers, Matthew Butterick, p. 41.
The Redbook: a Manual on Legal Style, Bryan Garner, p. 82 ¶ 4.10.
The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition, p. 60 ¶ 2.9.
The Pc is Not a Typewriter, Robin Williams, p. 13
(The sole exception recognized by these authorities is when you are using a monospaced typeface, like Courier. This exception should apply only to those forced to use Courier by a court rule; nobody should choose a monospaced typeface who has a choice.)