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If I don't have "double linebreaks" between paragraphs, the A4 document automatically looks like a compact, uninviting wall of text. Even if I indent each paragraph, it still looks way too compact to my eyes.

Yes, I realize that the book I'm reading right now, and the previous one, and probably just about any book uses the "spaceless paragraph" style, and probably for good reasons as the book would be much thicker if they had a space between each.

I guess that's why indentation was created in the first place.

However, as I just established, it looks too compact and uninviting for a text I have written and which I want other, normal people to read. So, naturally, I use "double" linebreaks between paragraphs:

paragraph1

    paragraph2

    paragraph3

Instead of:

paragraph1
    paragraph2
    paragraph3

Even when I have the "air" between paragraphs, I still use indentation. Is this considered silly/ugly? Even though I justify the text, it looks a bit too "blocky" without the indentation.

Frankly, I wish I had never started caring about this, because now it's become an obsession and I simply don't know how to format my documents/texts anymore. I fear that the answers will all push their own "agenda", and that there is virtually zero agreement among scholars/designers/typographers.

I basically want to know how stupid I will look for using both indentation and "air" between paragraphs.

2
  • 4
    As you are using quotes on "double" linebreaks, I think you know that you should not use double line brakes, but a margin below the paragraph. I just want to make sure.
    – Rafael
    May 12 '20 at 21:15
  • Since the text looks too dense to you without extra space between paragraphs, have you considered extra space (leading) between lines to make it more airy, but no extra space between paragraphs?
    – prl
    May 14 '20 at 2:22
37

This is certainly a subject with many cultural and individual differences. I have a set of rules which guides me through the days, but I often see nice typography breaking those same rules. I'll give you my thoughts about this subject, but take it for what it's worth. (The examples are just quick sketches, don't pay too much attention to the aesthetics.)

Every design detail must have a function

I've been taught that everything you add to a design must have some function and serve to solve some kind of problem (in the widest sense).

We use periods and capital letters to create a mark between sentences. If sentences just come in one continuous stream it makes a long text unbearable to get through:

We add line breaks to break up the text into paragraphs:

So now we both have a line break and a capital letter, but it's still not quite enough to ensure a pleasant reading experience because we need to look at the right side of the column to find where to continue reading in the left side. Some last lines of paragraphs might even take up the entire line making them impossible to spot. We need to add one more marker. We can either create indents:

or spacing:

If we create both we have, in my opinion, created one too many paragraph marker. Seems a bit like pointing two arrows towards the same object when one would be enough:

The same logic dictates not having an indent on the very first paragraph following a header. It's simply not necessary for the reader to be able to find where the text begins. (I admit seeing many exceptions to this rule.)

Double line-breaks can make texts too fragmented

Double line-breaks (or rather having the same space between paragraphs as the leading) can be quite annoying to work with, in my experience. Firstly because it can make the text seem quite fragmented and secondly because it can be difficult to obtain balanced columns because the empty lines get in the way. Constantly they end up in the bottom of columns or they align across columns making confusing gaps in the design:

Books and multi-column magazines must use a baseline grid

In some documents, like advertisement flyers or reports with many headers, bulleted lists, tables etc., you can use any space between headers and paragraphs that works:

In books (particularly novels), multi-column magazines, and all documents where you see multiple columns of text side by side, I strongly recommend letting all styles relate to a baseline grid or you will end up with a very noisy and unbalanced look:

With a baseline grid you only have the choice between no space or any number of empty lines. Smaller space is not a possibility.

The space around headers must show a relation to the following paragraphs

A thing that often happens when a design uses double line-breaks is that the headers don't get enough space. I often see headers with no space at all:

or just a single line like between the paragraphs:

This is bad according to Gestalt psychology because it gives the impression that the header only belongs to the first paragraph or floats in the middle of nowhere.

Instead the space below the header must be at least the same as the space between paragraphs to indicate that the header tells something about all the following paragraphs, not just the first one. The space before the header must be even larger to make sure that it's closer connected to the following paragraphs than to the previous ones:

This perhaps also provokes a wider gutter between the columns (to guide the readers' eyes) and it all starts to get pretty airy.

Conclusion

Reading my answer again made me realize that not only do I advise against using both indents and double line-breaks, but I also advise against using double line-breaks at all. Feel free to argue against this.

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  • Spacing is by far my preferred method, both to use and to consume. I consider it the easiest on the eyes, as it always gives a distinct "anchor" for the eyes, especially if you quickly try to scan a text for a relevant section.
    – MechMK1
    May 13 '20 at 13:27
  • @MechMK1, I agree that it can be easier to read. Especially for some kinds of text. But it comes with the drawbacks I mentioned above.
    – Wolff
    May 13 '20 at 17:35
  • What about having a half-line grid? What makes text look uneven in the grid-less example is the fact that some lines on one side are just slightly below those of the other. Having lines that are staggered by exactly half a line wouldn't create such imbalance.
    – supercat
    May 13 '20 at 22:01
  • @supercat, that's right. It's better than having those slight shifts. I use that trick sometimes, but you need a little luck to get an even or uneven number of paragraphs in all columns or they won't align in the bottom.
    – Wolff
    May 13 '20 at 22:49
  • 2
    Don't overlook the origin of the indentation: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilcrow#Modern_use.
    – chepner
    May 14 '20 at 16:50
6

Best I can answer is it depends.

It depends upon the nature of the layout.

Indentation is always a good idea...

In a book, then no space between paragraphs may be best. Don't reinvent the wheel. If a something is seen as "standard" breaking away from that will make your document stand out.

In other forms of text documents some space between paragraphs is fine, or even preferred at times.

Why you may be struggling -- A double-linefeed is generally way too much space. But that depends upon what software you may be using for the text (if there's an option to use less space), the font being used, and the nature of the document.

With more informative or data driven text such as scientific papers, or for fonts which may be monospaced, or sans serif, more space between paragraphs may be okay. For more narrative text, or serif fonts, less space can be more conducive to reading.

I, personally, use space between paragraphs, combined with indentation often for sales related narrative text. I won't use a double line feed, I'll use half a line, maybe 3/4 a line. (6-9pts for 12pt type) between paragraphs via "space before" or "space after" options for paragraph styles.


Most of the time, the goal of any text layout is to create a fluid rhythm for the reader. A rhythm without any hiccups or areas where tracking the next line is a hurdle. To this end, not enough space or too much space can both be an issue. There are no rules specifically for this. It's up to the layout artist to determine what spacing options best allow readers to find and track the next line. Hopefully, without consciously thinking about it. If a double-linefeed does that in your estimation, then I'd say it's fine.

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Your approach is definitely not wrong, especially if you have reasons to like this more spread out text flow. Most books are quite compact in their typesetting to save on paper space, but if that's not a concern with your content, go for it.

There's also plenty of 'experimental' typography where you can pretty much do whatever you want as long as it makes sense to the reader, so no need to follow a 'traditional' text flow.

0

tl;dr Ask your writers. There are long-standing answers to your question about paragraph breaks that vary between disciplines. You don't have to reinvent this, neither should you try.

For what it's worth, there are numerous style guides developed over centuries of bookmaking that specify how to handle paragraph breaks.

Fiction, often printed on cheap paper, has uniform line spacing. The person setting the type indents the first lines of paragraphs to set them off. The reason for the uniform line spacing is this: when books are printed on cheap paper, they're easier to read if the printing on one side lines up exactly with the printing on the other side. The printer's ink bleeds through, very slightly, from one side of the paper to the other and makes the pages look a little dirty. That's obviously not a problem for online text display. That doesn't mean "don't use a grid," it just means that the original purpose of the grid is obsolete.

If your writer and audience are part of a particular discipline like journalism or academe, your best bet is to consult that discipline's style manual for instructions on paragraph separation. Keep in mind that readers are trained, by long experience, to read material that follows various style guide.

Journalism: a good example style guide is The New York Times Manual of Style.

Academic writing: The Chicago Manual of Style is widely used.

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