Last night this Slate article on whether to end a sentence with one or two spaces after the period appeared in the family Facebook stream. Good discussion ensued and I said I would look up the research in the morning. I was a little surprised by the scarcity of empirical work and opined, before my coffee, that my students could run the definitive study in a weekend. Then I started to think...
It occurs to me that it won’t take a weekend’s study to address this question. It will take years. We are starting with contaminated samples. I learned to read with two spaces. Younger readers are learning to read with one. Whether the human brain reads better with one or two may be a result of both the basics of brain mechanics and learning.
My post caffeine version of the study requires that we find a large sample of pre-school triplets. Randomly, the children will be assigned to one of single space, double space, or mixed spacing presentations for all their reading. At age eight we can examine the results.
Prior research on reading speed has not found significant differences across different inter-sentential spacing choices (you did want to know what the academics would call it, didn’t you?)
Yes, I jest. But many technology use questions have similar complexities. How much of the benefit or the burden is due to the technology, the technology’s use, or our brains? Hard to know and why it is so important for us to be proactive in how with think about and design our modern work.
Real research on the issue:
- Wikipedia Entry on Sentence Spacing Studies (be sure to look at the River Effect)
- Research proposal for psychology study (pdf)
What other new world order technology adjustments deserve our attention?