Studies on double-spacing and readability?
November 14, 2006 1:48 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone know of scientific studies of the readability of double-spaced text?

Personally, I find double-spaced text very difficult to read but it seems to be a standard for academic papers and research work. I would like to do what I can to stamp it out, but I can't find anything useful to help make my argument online. I don't know where I might find academic articles on the topic.

Any pointers greatly appreciated.
posted by Grinder to Education (12 answers total)
I've always thought papers were required to be double-spaced so that the professor could make legible edit marks and comments between the lines -- so not so much for "readability," but for "writability."
posted by superfem at 1:52 PM on November 14, 2006

superfem has it.
posted by jdroth at 1:56 PM on November 14, 2006

Superferm beat me to it, it is for editing.
posted by BobbyDigital at 1:56 PM on November 14, 2006

The term you're looking for is "leading" (rhymes with "sledding"). Lots of research has been done on it. Double-spacing is too much for optimum readability. Single-spacing is often slightly too little for optimum readability.

I agree with the previous commenters that double-spacing is done so that comments/edits can be made directly on the paper, not for readability.
posted by jellicle at 2:03 PM on November 14, 2006

Yup. As an editor, I love me some double-spaced text. As a reader, not so much.
posted by rtha at 2:17 PM on November 14, 2006

It is useful for comments, but I personally think it is also more readable. I'd go blind reading all the papers I do if they were in Times New Roman or Courier New at single spacing. I'd easily lose my place twice as often.
posted by ontic at 2:18 PM on November 14, 2006

I worked at a place where I was required to copyedit and proofread single-spaced text. Not fun. The original text was readable, yes, but not after I had covered everything with proofreading marks.

Double spacing is a deeply entrenched convention in both the academic and publishing worlds, and for good reason.

Or: ditto what everyone else has said.
posted by mcwetboy at 2:22 PM on November 14, 2006

I think that extra spacing helps reading the ridiculously long lines one gets from having small text all the way across a letter-size piece of paper. Anything professionally typeset would use columns. But maybe full double spacing is too much unless you need to write comments.
posted by grouse at 2:49 PM on November 14, 2006

but it seems to be a standard for academic papers and research work.

This is not really true once you get out of the undergrad level in the fields I have had contact with (linguistics, philosophy of language, logic, computer science). Look on any preprint archive and see how many double-spaced papers you find. At most it is used on papers that are going to be edited by the reader, but I would never prepare a double-spaced paper for distribution to people in the field who would read it for content (unless it was for a course and the professor specifically requested that; this has happened exactly once).
posted by advil at 3:08 PM on November 14, 2006

Double-spaced text is demanded in academic settings because it is still required for many submission standards such as APA, Chicago/Turabian, MLA and a dozen other derivative styles. Since the end goal of most papers written in academia is publication in a journal or a book that demands one of these styles from authors, you are likely to see double-spaced copy for a while.

As other people have noted, double-spacing and 1" margins are not designed to be readable, they are designed to make room for editing/proofreading, and to make documents as anonymous as possible for review. The proof-read copy is passed on to a page designer who does the tricky business of page breaks and handling floats. Perhaps with all-electronic workflows this will change.

But still, if your goal is to be published, it makes the most sense to write in the submission style demanded of the publisher. If that style requires papyrus and drop-caps on every paragraph, you might as well get used to papyrus and drop-caps on every paragraph.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:53 PM on November 14, 2006

Thanks - yes, I know that it is very useful for editing (I've done my share of that too!). What I have a difficulty with is that it is often required for final versions of course papers or used by other academics for final or almost-final versions. Sometimes this is required by regulations, and I'd like to see if I can change them. That Tinker book looks useful.
posted by Grinder at 2:40 AM on November 16, 2006

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