I’m a beginner in the work of writing for strangers. I’ve spent years writing reports for people I knew fairly well. I knew their strengths and weaknesses and wrote accordingly. But writing for a wider audience is more difficult, so I am always on the look out for tips and good advice.
Recently I came across an article on Slate, a site I visit to read the Doonesbury comic strip. It is a 1,400 word diatribe against people who put two spaces after a sentence, rather than one. Read it here if you’re interested:
It includes this quote from a typographer: “in terms of what you can do wrong, this one deserves life imprisonment.”
Wow! And I thought it was just a matter of personal taste.
The article isn’t just abusive, it does explain how the ‘two spaces’ custom arose, and what purpose it served. In some places it is a reasoned article, in others simply angry.
I mention it because it struck me as an example someone lacking a sense of proportion. Are there really people who want to see other people jailed for life, just because they have failed to keep abreast of modern typographical conventions?
I doubt it. They are just getting angry about something which is, for them, a frequent source of irritation. Then, being angry, they use disproportionate language to address the world about a problem very few people care about.
Aha! That’s the real problem. They know in their hearts that the vast majority of people don’t think they are important.
It’s a mistake I never make. Honestly, I never ever do that.
But I do use ‘two spaces’, and now I have to decide whether, after forty-odd years of typing, I need to uproot an ingrained habit.
Or should I just rely on software to correct my sloppiness automatically?