by Ilene Strizver
Indenting the first line of every paragraph is a habit most of us acquired in grammar school. However, for those daring souls who have always insisted on coloring outside the lines, it’s time to consider using a different style paragraph indent. There are more options than you might have realized!
The purpose of an indent is to create a visual separation between paragraphs. The most commonly used indent is the first line indent. There’s no hard-and-fast rule about how much to indent your first lines, but make sure the space is proportionate to the size and column width of your text. Feel free to omit the indent from the first paragraph, since there is no need to separate the beginning of the copy from anything else.
If you have lots of space and lots of copy, try a hanging indent, or outdent. This dramatic technique is actually the opposite of an indent, in that the first line extends out to the left of the paragraph. It’s a useful trick to liven up body text, especially when there are few or no graphic elements, such as photographs or illustrations.
For small amounts of copy, try something more decorative: use a dingbat or any simple graphic element to separate the paragraphs. Do this in one of two ways: either run the paragraphs into each other with only the dingbat (and added space around it) separating them, or place a dingbat between two paragraphs which are separated by a line space.
When you have room to spare and want a cleaner, more open look, separate the paragraphs with an extra line space instead of an indent. This style is often used in correspondence, and works well in long blocks of text when saving space is not a consideration.
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- Editor’s Note:Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects of typographic communication. She conducts Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. Read more about typography in her latest literary effort, Type Rules! The designer's guide to professional typography, 3rd edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.