Saturday, November 04, 2006

Double line spacing in Dissertations

It is standard practice to require dissertations to be double-spaced. In the age of word processors, one wonders why this practice persists. This must surely be a legacy from the days when dissertations were typewritten and students were allowed to make corrections in situ rather than re-print. Word processors have eliminated that problem. Double-spacing might also be suitable for drafts which require annotation for editing, but final copies of dissertations are not used in this way and modern techniques such as commenting do this job.

(Primo Levi's 'Chromium' in 'The Periodic Table' has several great examples of the way solutions to old probelms hang around even when the problem not longer exists.)

I have seen readability expressed as another reason for double-spacing. It's not easy to track down the evidence for this. Kruk and Muter(1984) report "single spacing produced reading that was 10.9% slower than that produced by double spacing" on a 'video' screen. Weller (2004) reports on a previous study that "It was discovered that single spacing of text requires more eye fixations per line and therefore fewer words are read per fixation, which increases reading time (Kohler, Duchnicky & Ferguson, 1981)." But Mills and Weldon (1987) report that this same study showed a 2% slowing of reading rate, hardly convicing evidence.

Other writers express the view that this convention is out-moded e.g. the author of the Tex manual : link

Princeton University now accepts single-spaced printed copies although ProQuest (an online dissertation repository) still requires double-spacing for the electronic copy ( and hence all printed copies therefrom). It is claimed that this improved on-line readability.

A PhD Student in the US has calculated that 20,000 reams of paper would be saved if ProQuest accepted single-spaced.

Double-spacing is often mandated in legal practice but even here the convention is challenged.


Marcus Lynch said...

Hi Vchris,

I accept what you are saying about wasting paper, but an important feature of double line spacing is the ability to write comments between the printed text - very useful for marking or editing purposes.

Late to the discussion - just catching up on web 2.0 which led me here.

chris wallace said...

Hi Vmarcus

In my experience students would prefer electronic annotated documents using the comment facility in Word for example. A single blank line never seems enough room to write much of a comment anyway. However I am talking here about final versions, not those used in providing feedback to students.