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Back in the good ‘ol days of typewriters, writers used a tab indent to show where a new paragraph begins. Back in the good ‘ol days of the early web (think 1993), browsers were setup to render paragraphs with a line of white space after. More recently (say 2007), Microsoft decided that both were a good idea, and set the default style of paragraph breaks in Word to have a line space and an indent. This is a waste of space and an odd choice, as it follows neither print nor digital conventions (but when has that stopped Microsoft?). These give you, a writer of digital content, a few options, especially now that CSS allows for the typewriter indents on the web. So, what should you use? See below for examples of the options.

Generally for print and online texts, I recommend the line of white space between paragraphs. The line of white space between paragraphs:

  • is more visually recognizable (which is even more important on smaller screens)
  • reduces eye strain
  • helps readers maintain their place in the text (also even more important on smaller screens)
  • is more visually attractive (adding white space to your page)
  • is less intimidating (a page with lots of lines of space is less intimidating than a page of text with a few indents)
  • follows the basic design rule of proximity (see Screen Space 7: Design 101 (Four Basic Principles))
  • emphasizes the paragraph break—the change in topic and movement to a new point
  • follows digital/web conventions (important for web and digital texts)
  • the tab indents look old-fashioned and outdated, which they are

While the line of white space is common online, it works well in print for these very reasons. So, unless you are writing a lit paper in MLA or following another style guide, I recommend the more modern and visually pleasing line of white space between paragraphs.

Examples (using Greeking):

Line of white space

Refoveo pecus, ludus wisi ut commoveo, in veniam consequat quadrum. Eum metuo ne vero sit ulciscor, iriure loquor. Abbas ad camur praemitto metuo odio saepius. Obruo augue, euismod decet nimis tincidunt, turpis diam ullamcorper illum consequat autem eum capio. Jumentum luptatum facilisi lenis vulpes jus voco natu decet, minim illum dolore.

Quis, minim indoles jumentum ventosus typicus consectetuer ymo facilisi fatua at in tation wisi. Epulae meus qui capto sed mara. Tincidunt sino ea praesent molior refoveo volutpat ea.

Tab indent

     Refoveo pecus, ludus wisi ut commoveo, in veniam consequat quadrum. Eum metuo ne vero sit ulciscor, iriure loquor. Abbas ad camur praemitto metuo odio saepius. Obruo augue, euismod decet nimis tincidunt, turpis diam ullamcorper illum consequat autem eum capio. Jumentum luptatum facilisi lenis vulpes jus voco natu decet, minim illum dolore.
     Quis, minim indoles jumentum ventosus typicus consectetuer ymo facilisi fatua at in tation wisi. Epulae meus qui capto sed mara. Tincidunt sino ea praesent molior refoveo volutpat ea.

Microsoft’s tab and line of white space

     Refoveo pecus, ludus wisi ut commoveo, in veniam consequat quadrum. Eum metuo ne vero sit ulciscor, iriure loquor. Abbas ad camur praemitto metuo odio saepius. Obruo augue, euismod decet nimis tincidunt, turpis diam ullamcorper illum consequat autem eum capio. Jumentum luptatum facilisi lenis vulpes jus voco natu decet, minim illum dolore.

     Quis, minim indoles jumentum ventosus typicus consectetuer ymo facilisi fatua at in tation wisi. Epulae meus qui capto sed mara. Tincidunt sino ea praesent molior refoveo volutpat ea.

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