One space or two after sentences?

Over at Daily Writing Tips, Maeve Maddox provides historical perspective on a divisive question: do you type one space or two after sentences?

My opinion and practice: one space. If you disagree, no big deal. Unless you’re trying to squeeze a brief into a page limit, in which case those unnecessary extra spaces are costing you some valuable page space without improving the appearance of your text.

Great blog post on the em-dash, plus a hint on how to type it

Over at the Lawyerist, Matthew Salzwedel has posted a terrific piece on The Enigmatic EmDash. Its history, its proper use, its misuse—Matthew covers it all.

One thing I’ll add to Matthew’s article is an easy way to type an em dash, at least on a PC with a full keyboard. First, make sure your Num Lock is on. That’s the key in the upper left corner of your numeric keypad. To type an em dash, hold down the Alt key while typing 0151 on your numeric keypad. Then release the Alt key and–voila!

Wayne’s tips on writing for screen readers

Wayne Schiess has an interesting post on formatting your writing for screen readers. As Wayne points out, more and more people—including judges—are reading your writing on screen instead of on paper. So it makes sense to format your brief, memo, or whatever to make it screen friendly.

One thing Wayne suggests is to left-justify headings. I usually center my main headings (e.g. “Statement of the Case,” “Argument,” etc.) and left-justify my subheadings. But once, as an experiment, I tried left-justifying all headings—including the main ones. The resulting brief did not look bad. It certainly looked different. I went back to centering the main headings because I did not want the format of the brief to call attention to itself. But if we have reached the point where most readers are reading on screen instead of on paper, then it may be time to re-think the conventions originally developed for paper reading.

I wonder how many pages they used for their motion.

Here’s an interesting legal spat over typography, reported by the WSJ Law Blog and the ABA Journal. According to the stories, one law firm accused another of filing a brief with 1.75 line spacing instead of double-spacing, thus enabling them to squeeze about four more lines on each page of a brief limited to 25 pages. The accused law firm denied the charge, insisting that they used Times New Roman 12-point typeface with line spacing set at 24 points, exactly double the line height. Nevertheless, the judge gave the complaining law firm five extra pages for its response brief.

According to Matthew Butterick’s Typography for Lawyers, double-spacing in Word results in spacing about 233% of line height. So it does seem that, whether or not you can call it “double-spacing,” the accused law firm in fact managed to fit more lines on the page by opting for 24-point spacing in lieu of Word’s double-spacing.

On a related note, what do y’all think of this opening comment in the WSJ Law Blog item:

Lawyers, as good advocates, try to cram as many arguments as possible in their legal briefs, particularly when judges impose limits on how much they can say.

Bad typography = higher concentration?

My friend Scott Stolley spotted an article saying that bad typography might be better for your brief. The theory is that if the readers have to work harder to read it, they will remember it better. Scott is skeptical, and so am I. Still, I’m all for airing views contrary to conventional wisdom. And if the theory holds water, maybe we should explore whether oral argument in a whiny voice is more effective.

One space, not two, after each sentence.

I’ve written on this topic many times before (e.g. here), but too many out there either haven’t gotten the message or willfully resist it. So here we go again ...

If you are writing in a proportionately spaced font (i.e. almost anything besides Courier*), you need only one space—not two—at the end of each sentence. The latest and (in my mind) most authoritative voice saying so is Matthew Butterick. Besides being a lawyer, Matthew has credentials most lawyers lack in this area. He has a visual-arts degree from Harvard, where he learned traditional letterpress printing and digital font design. He worked as a font designer for several years before entering law school and becoming a practicing litigator. He explains on his web site and in his new book why, when writing in a proportionately spaced font, one space is enough and two is too many. So if you’re still {sigh} putting two spaces after every sentence, please read what Matthew has to say about it.

Matthew is not alone in his view. Every authority I’ve consulted on this question agrees with him, including the following:

If you still insist on putting two spaces after every sentence despite using a proportionately spaced font, be my guest. But I’d like to know if anyone out there can cite any authority to support such a practice.


* If, on the other hand, you’re using your computer to produce text in Courier or another monospaced font, put two spaces after every sentence, as you learned in typing class. But please consider re-examining your choice of fonts.

p.s. (31 Jan. 2011): For some high-minded debate on this topic, check out First Draft.

Typography for Lawyers — the book

Tfl-book-cover I just finished reading Matthew Butterick’s new book, Typography for Lawyers. For lawyers and law students, I have two words of advice about this book: buy it. Why? Because every lawyer is a professional writer. So the lawyer’s writing should be professionally presentable, for the same reason that the lawyer should be professionally presentable when appearing in court or meeting a client. This book will tell you how to get there.

For myself, I thought I was relatively knowledgeable about typography. I’ve read Bryan Garner’s good advice about it in his various books. I’ve read Ruth Anne Robbins’s fine article, Painting With Print. And I’ve read the Seventh Circuit’s guidelines for briefs and other papers. I even taught myself how to put real apostrophes and quotation marks in my blog posts. But after reading this book, I realize how much more I need to learn.

Yesterday I linked to a blog post by Kendall Gray, showing before-and-after versions of a court opinion, the latter based on lessons learned from this book. Today Ernie Svenson posted a review of this book and presented his own writing samples applying lessons from this book. If  you haven’t done so already, check out Ernie’s review.

The difference good typography makes

Over at The Appellate Record, Kendall Gray took a typical opinion in typical type style (12-point Times New Roman, double-spaced), and re-did it using principles learn from Matthew Butterick’s new book, Typography for Lawyers. The difference is remarkable. Go there, have a look at the before and after versions, and lament court rules that force us to write and read stuff that looks like the before version.