spacing (composition)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

"Use white space" is one of the recommendations of the Plain English Campaign. "Many people work hard on their writing style yet pay little attention to how their words appear on the page. They don't realize, for instance, that pages dense with body text are very off-putting" (quoted by David Crystal in Making a Point, 2015). (RunPhoto/Getty Images)


Spacing is a general term for the areas of a page left blank—in particular, the areas between words, letters, lines of type, or paragraphs.

White space (also called negative space) is a term used in printing for the parts of a page left free of text and illustrations.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

From the Latin, "area, room, distance"

Examples and Observations

  • "Imagine space as the sandbox that encourages visuals and typography to play well together. Beginners often make the mistake of forgetting to account for space. Too much space, and visuals and type get lost or don't talk to each other. Not enough space, and they start to fight with each other. . . .

    "There's an old saying: 'White space is nice.' Amateurs tends to pack every nook and cranny of space with visuals and type. Don't. White space is not your enemy."
    (Kim Golombisky and Rebecca Hagen, White Space Is Not Your Enemy: A Beginner's Guide to Communicating Visually Through Graphic, Web and Multimedia Design. Focal Press, 2010)
  • Uses of White Space
    A visually inviting style can result from several uses of white space:
    - Ample margins and short lines, with extra leading between lines
    - Blocks of print indented off the left margin with headings outdented
    - Short paragraphs, with space breaks between paragraphs
    - Bulleted or numbered list structures where appropriate
    (Edward L. Smith and Stephen A. Bernhardt, Writing at Work: Professional Writing Skills for People on the Job. NTC Publishing, 1997)
  • Spacing as Punctuation
    "Spacing is not that important in conventional prose, but you should at least be aware that words on paper possess graphic qualities that affect meaning. . . .

    "You may indicate major divisions by leaving spaces. The simple presence of such divisions implies order and design--sometimes more than is present. If the divisions are several, and if you want to identify them in some more particular way, use Roman numerals, Arabic numbers, or headings. In narrative writing, spacing or other punctuation can be used to suggest the passage of time; in expository writing, a change of tone or point of view. . . .

    "You may emphasize the importance of items in a series by ordering them in vertical columns. Usually the items are indented and identified by numbers, letters, or preliminary dashes (useful but seldom seen marks)."
    (Winston Weathers and Otis Winchester, The New Strategy of Style. McGraw-Hill, 1978)
  • Spacing for Emphasis
    "The white space on a page can also be used to influence the meaning of words. Consider this:
    She had come at last to the end of her marriage. Stan was not coming back, and though she'd known that for months, she knew it now at a deeper level. This feeling that had been growing on her had at last pierced the marrow, and as she stood staring dumbly into an empty bureau drawer that once held his socks and shirts, she gave it a name.


    She was lonely, and for the moment there was nothing; nothing in the world that could end it.
    What could be lonelier than one word all by itself on a line?"
    (Gary Provost, Make Your Words Work. Writer's Digest Books, 1990)
  • The Rhetoric of Spacing
    "White space includes the spacing of symbols, words, sentences, even letters at times; the spacing (or 'leading') of lines; paragraph and other indentions, space left at paragraph ends, and extra space sometimes left between paragraphs; space to the right and left of centered lines; and blank or partly blank pages. The rhetorical value of white space--a matter clearer to printers than to most teachers and writers--appears by absence when words are unspaced, when the page is crowded to the edges, or when matter which ought to be in half a dozen paragraphs is set as an unbroken phalanx paragraph. White space judiciously employed makes communication easier and more pleasurable. It is for this reason that publishers use so much paper for well-proportioned margins, and that advertisers pay heavily for space which they do not fill with words. White space may be considered in three aspects: as a removal of obstructions, so that the reader may read; as a means of indicating transitions, e.g. from paragraph to paragraph; and as an important element in typographical design."
    (George Summey, Modern Punctuation: Its Utilities and Conventions. Oxford University Press, 1919)