The Digital Revolution and Single-Spaced Sentences

I've owned typewriters in the past. I'm not totally unfamiliar with monospaced typefaces and fonts. But it's fair to say I'm what most people would call a 'digital copywriter'.

That is to say, the majority of my work is published online, I write most of it on a computer (as opposed to drafting by hand or good old-fashioned typewriter ink) and, in actual fact, I learned to type (one-finger typing, but typing nonetheless) on a ZX Spectrum before I could even hand-write in block capitals.

All of this means that digital copywriting is my 'natural' way of working. Directly into an eCommerce platform, or a blog posting page (like the one I'm typing into now...), or a Word document if it's text that needs to be sent elsewhere before publication.

It also means I'm au fait with the conventions of writing for the web.

One that comes up fairly often is the question of how many spaces to leave between sentences.

The answer, these days, is 'one'. Not 'two'. Writers all over the web argue incessantly about it, but it's very clearly 'one'.

Making The Case For a Single Space

Why is this such a big deal? Well, back in the typewriter days, it was conventional to leave two spaces between sentences, to aid readability when using the monospaced (every letter is the same width) fonts that typewriters have to use due to their mechanical construction.

Modern digital typefaces are different. They have 'kerning', which allows character spacing to adjust slightly for the best visual effect. Not every letter is the same width - the 'i' and the 'l' may be narrower, particularly in sans-serif fonts.

Significantly, they are also designed to look 'right' with a single space after the full stop (or period, if you're American).

SEO and After-Editing

The major headache caused by double spacing between sentences is that, if single spacing is what's needed (as is usually the case these days), somebody has to go through and change everything. A 'find and replace' search might do the trick, but you wouldn't want to miss anything, would you?

It's similar with post-production search engine optimisation. Doing your SEO after the fact - or, worse, getting a copywriter to write your text and then handing it over to an SEO 'expert' - raises certain issues.

Getting a keyword into a sentence - especially if it's a key phrase of several words - can be a real challenge. Certain sequences of adjectives and nouns just don't occur naturally in English grammar, so you have to be sneaky and flexible about how you write the sentence.

For a copywriter who's grown up with computers and the internet, it's a fairly natural process to work around awkward key phrases, and make them less noticeable to the reader. If you've spent the past 20 years working in print, with no keywords, getting them in there without your sentence sounding clunky is probably more of a challenge.

To any print copywriters and SEO specialists who read this - I'm not saying none of you are any good. As with digital copywriters, I know there are good and bad examples out there, and some people excel in different areas.

For clients of all types though, remember to ask yourself what your priorities are - search ranking at all costs, or readability of your finished content? Sticking to the traditional, or embracing the modern?

Be confident in your decisions, and make sure you hire the right copywriter for the job, whatever it may be.

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