If you’re submitting articles to journals or shopping around your scholarly book proposal, content is key. But when you also adhere closely to a publisher’s or journal’s style guidelines, you demonstrate professionalism and your ability to honor parameters. It shows that you can work in the service of something larger than your own project.

If you could do something simple to send the subtle message that your submission fits and enhances the image of your target journal or press, would you do it?

Attention to details—like the spaces between sentences—can give your work a leg up. Luckily, there are only a couple dominant standards for the number of spaces between sentences: one space or two. And the best way to enforce consistent between-sentence spacing is by using a function built right into Microsoft Word: find and replace.

(For a basic introduction to this feature, here is Microsoft’s own guide. Find-and-replace functionality is available in every version of Word I’ve ever had, but this link is specifically for Office 2010. I believe find and replace operations are also possible in Google Documents and OpenOffice, but I can’t vouch for some of the advanced techniques below. If you try them out, let me know your results!)

These tips are tried and true, but before you make any big find-and-replace moves, save your document! That way, if anything goes haywire, your precious work remains unharmed.

Chicago and MLA: One Space

Chicago and MLA styles go by the one-space standard. No matter how many times you accidentally hit the space bar while typing your manuscript, achieving only one space after every period is very easy. All you have to do is leverage the find-and-replace function in Microsoft Word. Just find ”  ” (two spaces, leave out the quotation marks) and replace with ” ” (one space, no quotation marks).

You can even do a replace-all operation because there’s really no good reason to need two spaces together. (Please, please, don’t use multiple spaces to create an indent or tab. That can be a big mess for your future copyeditor, who is often appointed by your publisher.)

After you replace all once, do it again and again until the report back indicates that zero replacements were made. This way, you catch not just instances of two spaces in a row but also three spaces in a row, four in a row, and so on.

APA and the Two-Space Standard

APA style, however, follows a different system:

  • space twice between sentences
  • only space once between elements of a reference list (APA Publication Manual § 4.01)

For two spaces between sentences, you can’t just do the reverse of what I’ve suggested for Chicago and MLA—that would make every single space two spaces. Instead, use the find-and-replace function with wildcards enabled—it’s a check box in the expanded section of the find-and-replace dialogue.

Once you’ve enabled wildcards, type (.) ([A-Z]) in the find field. That indicates that you’re looking for a period, followed by one space and then a capital letter. In the replace field, you’ll type 1  2. That’s a backslash, the numeral 1, two spaces, another backslash, and the numeral 2. Hit “find next,” not “replace all.” Essentially, the first value within parentheses becomes 1, and the second parenthetical value becomes 2.


Be careful as you go through the results of this search: it will turn up every string of a period, a space, and then a capital letter. That’s why you won’t be using “replace all,” which would apply this rule indiscriminately, in the wrong situations:

  • after ellipses (three spaced periods), as in “. . . [And then the next sentence starts]”
  • between initials and between initials and last names (“R. A. Somebody”)
  • with some locator numbers, as in “art. II” of the Constitution
  • between elements in reference lists

It may take some time to move through your whole document. You’ll be pressing “replace” when the period, space, and capital letter represent the end of one sentence and the beginning of another. In every other case (such as the ones above), you’ll be hitting “find next” instead. If you misclick, go to your document window and undo that last move (Edit > Undo; control + z, on a Windows machine; or command + Z, on a Macintosh).

At the end of all this, you’ll know that you’ve upheld APA style with respect to spaces between sentences.

Ready for Other Applications for Wildcards?

If you want to find all instances of a period and a space followed by any number or letter, use ([0-9A-z]) as your second term instead of just ([A-Z]). Similarly, if you just want instances of a period and a space followed by a number, go with ([0-9]). If you want to turn up all instances that end in a lowercase or capital letter, do ([A-z]). Catch the pattern?

If you want a more thorough introduction to powerful find-and-replace techniques, including a complete list of wildcard operators, grab this free guide over at the Editorium. (The document is written for writers and editors alike.)

Now your document is in closer conformity with the operative style guide. Following style preferences allows the gatekeepers—acquisitions editors, peer reviewers, and editorial boards—to imagine your manuscript in their catalogs and journals. If you’ve mastered the spaces between sentences, next try choosing a typeface (usually one with serifs) that matches or emulates what you see previous works published by your target outlet.