Monday, 31 October 2011

I'll Put That Bit There ... Part 3

Double spacing. Why do we do it? And what exactly is it?

Well, first things first: double spacing is NOT two spaces between every word, or sentence.

Double spacing means having a blank line between each line of text.

The image here shows how to set it up in Microsoft Word, although many other word processors operate in a similar fashion. In Word, go up to Tools, select Paragraph and the following window will appear.

About half way down the window are the options for spacing. In the middle of this section is the drop-down menu for line spacing. Select the arrow, and then choose Double from the drop down list.

THAT'S IT! Yes, that is all there is to it. (Okay, I lie, you also have to press OK at the bottom, too.)

DO NOT select anything in the boxes to the left, labelled Before or After. These need to be left at 0pt. (I've explained why in last week's post - I'll Put That Bit There ... Part 2)

So, why do we use double-spacing? Basically, because it's tradition. It's what writers always have done, since the days when anything printed, be it newspaper, magazine, or book, was published using hot metal presses. An editor would take a double-spaced typescript, use the extra space between each sentence to annotate to the typesetter any changes that needed making, or inserting any special instructions to the typesetter about headings, or inserting images, and then send the document to the typesetter for setting out on the metal presses.

Proofreaders and copy-editors needed double-spaced text to give them the space they required to annotate any corrections.

But since the advent of computers, hot metal presses have not been used to publish material. So why do we still do it? Double-spaced text is easier to read. (Try it. Print out one of your typescripts in double-spaced format and then print out the same text in single spaced format. Which is easier on the eye?) This is why writing competitions ask for double-spaced text. It is far easier for the judge to read. I once had to judge a pile of 166 short stories (of up to 4,500 words each) and it's surprising how quickly the eyes tire.

Editors know how much text there is on a double-spaced page. And yes, the gaps still give the editor space to write notes or comments for other staff to action.

When should you not double-space your text? When the editor tells you there's no need to. Yes, that's right. If an editor tells you there's no need to double-space, then you don't have to do it. But don't do this until you have permission from the editor.  (Let's be honest, if an editor says he wants your manuscript on pink paper, in Comic Sans font, at size 8, then that's what you bloody well give him!) But until you are told otherwise, you give an editor double-spaced text.

So, when you set up your article, short story or book template, make sure you include double-spaced text. Whilst double-spaced text is no longer required for the publication process, it's what writers have been doing for years and what many publishers continue to ask for today.

Good luck.


  1. Do you mean when submitting hard copy? Because I submit exclusively by email these days, and I've not double spaced for years. I can't remember when an editor has requested it either. Am I allowed to say I dislike it? I do. I would probably use it if I did send hard copy though...

  2. Hi Alex,

    Yes, I generally mean hard copy. However, even if I email my text as an attachment, I would double-space the attached document. The only time I don't double-space is when an editor tells me not to (hence my comment, always do what the editor asks!), or if a magazine asks for text to be emailed within the body of the email. (Any formatting within an email is a waste, because it all depends upon the email settings of the recipient's email programme. Those whose email software is set up for Plain Text messages only, will strip out all formatting before opening the message, anyway.)

    I think double-spacing is important for competition submissions and if the competition rules state double-spacing, then it is vital, if you do not want to be disqualified!

    Of the the agents and publishers I'm approaching at the moment, I would estimate that 75%, specifically ask for double-spaced text in the guidelines, including the ones who accept electronic submissions.

    I think this will change over time, and the change has started. But my advice to students is to double-space, until they told otherwise by an editor, or unless they see guidance specifically stating it isn't necessary.


  3. Like Alex, I'm mildly surprised by this. I submit pretty much all my work electronically these days, and I can't remember in recent years *ever* being asked to double-space. It seems to me that with an electronic manuscript it's easy enough for the publisher to switch it over to double-spacing if he wants to anyway.

    I do accept that with competition entries double-spacing may still be required, though again a growing number of contests accept electronic submissions anyway.

    I guess the bottom line is that you should always read and follow the guidelines provided, but in my own personal experience not many publishers today request double-spacing.

  4. I think there may be a distinction to be made here between speculative work / proposals / submissions sent to book publishers / agents (who may want to print off and read) and filing commissioned copy to magazine and newspaper editors.

    I don't doubt your experience with agents and publishers for a second, but as far as submitting by email work which has been commissioned by mag/paper eds - single spacing all the way for me. And it's what I would strongly advise students too.

    Disagreement in action, eh, Simon? :)