Q&A: What’s the deal with spaces after a period?

Q: I saw a post online that said only people over the age of forty put two spaces after a period. But I’m under thirty, and my college professors said to use two. I’m confused. Which is correct?

A: Both are correct in different circumstances.

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As with so much else that publishing professionals get needlessly worked up about, this is a style choice, not a matter of right or wrong.

Three of the most popular style books currently in use, The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, and The MLA Handbook (Modern Language Association), all call for one space after what we call terminal punctuation—that is, whatever marks the end of a sentence, whether it’s a period, question mark, or exclamation point. Continue reading

Establish Your Authority by Defining Terms in Your Own Words

I’ve seen a lot of books, both published and unpublished, in which authors use what I call the “Webster cliché.” This is the bit where the author brings up some aspect of his topic, and then, assuming the element is unfamiliar to the reader, writes something like this:

Webster’s defines “element” as “one of the simple substances air, water, fire, and earth of which according to early natural philosophers the physical universe was composed.”

This is a problem, and not only because I picked a different definition of “element” than one would expect from the context of the first paragraph. Continue reading