Word spacing in typography refers to the size of the space between words. It should be distinguished from letter-spacing (the spacing between the letters within each word) and sentence spacing (the spacing between sentences). Typographers may modify the spacing of letters or words in a body of type to aid readability and copy fit, or for aesthetic effect. In web browsers and standardized digital typography the word spacing is controlled by the CSS1 word-spacing property.
Effect on readability
Word spacing is crucial for the written form because it illustrates the sound of speech where audible gaps or pauses take place. With typography, word spacing shows this unspoken aspect of speech. Otherwise, it would be difficult for people to read one long continuous line of letters. It is hard to determine how much spacing should be put in between words, but a good typographer is able to determine proper spacing. When text and spacing are consistent, this makes it easier to read.
Geoffrey Dowding describes the nature of spacing since the invention of printing from moveable type in the fifteenth century. Since the fifteenth century, the best work shows that text is to be read smoothly and efficiently. This is because they should always be closely spaced and “not en or em quadded!” The convention of having close spacing has lasted for two reasons: because it is easier to read than text which has wider spaces and because it looks better. For the first reason, adult readers take in words as units, and it would be unsuitable for “compositors, in settings not intended for young children, to break the eye’s track by introducing great gaps of white between words”. Words must flow smoothly into lines. For the second reason, the colour or “blackness” of the line looks better when it has close word-spacing, otherwise a widely-spaced line of text will appear grey.
Language can also be a factor that typographers would take into consideration for word spacing. For a language like Latin, “most boundaries are marked by grammatical tags, and a smaller space is therefore sufficient”. In English, the ability to read a line easily, instead of needing to make sense of it first, is also attributed by good word spacing.
Word spacing has the ability to express the meaning and idea behind a word, which typographers consider when working on design works and text. With a written piece of text, the designer has to remember to make sure they do not add too much or too little space between words; otherwise it could ruin the texture and tone.
Jan Tschichold’s rule is that “spacing should be about a middle space or the thickness of an ‘i’ in the type size used. Wide spaces should be strictly avoided.” For Tschichold, it was better for words to be broken up in order avoid wide spacing. Other views on this issue of wide spacing include that it could depend on the typeface to determine word spacing, so long as it does not look overspaced. The perfect word space is affected by the circumstance; “at larger sizes, when letterfit is tightened, the spacing of words can be tightened as well.” Two other gentlemen have expressed different opinions on what the space between words should be. Aaron Burns, a typographer, suggested that the lowercase “r” was the best size for spaces between words. Edward Johnston, a noted calligrapher, supported that the lowercase “o” was the more appropriate size of measurement for spacing.
- Lupton, Ellen. (2004). Thinking with Type. Princeton Architectural Press, p. 67
- Carter, R., Day, B. & Meggs, P. (2002).Typographic Design: Form and Communication. 3rd Edition. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., p. 92
- Dowding, Geoffrey. (1995). Finer Points in the Spacing & Arrangement of Type. Hartley & Marks Publishers Inc., p. 3
- Dowding 1995, p. 5.
- Carter 2002, p. 91.
- Bringhurst, Robert. (1997). The Elements of Typographic Style. Hartley & Marks Publishers, Inc., p. 26
- Bringhurst 1997, p. 26.
- Lupton 2004, p. 104.
- Dowding 1995, p. 8.
- Carter 2002, p. 92.
- "The School of Close Spacing", excerpt from Book Typography, by Ari Rafaeli
- Finer Points in the Spacing & Arrangement of Type, Geoffrey Dowding