Monday, November 19, 2012

Indents, Outdents, Pilcrows, WTF?

[above] Half-inch indents are a holdover from 1960s-era typing classes, when kids were instructed to indent five spaces. They’re OK in a letter, but generally look bad in a book. Half-inch is Word’s default. The ‘proper’ indent is an aesthetic decision, and varies with typeface, type size, page size, margins and more. I generally use .3-inch for books with 12-point type.

Back when type was set from pieces of lead, an em quad was used to insert a blank space of the same width as an uppercase “M.” A one-em indent is generally safe for book text, but as far as I know an em indent is not an easy option if you are formatting with Word.

[above]  Missing tooth? Most paragraphs in most books will be indented, but I don’t indent a paragraph that starts parallel to the top of a graphic element, or the first line at the beginning of a chapter or section, or after a large white space, a chart, a diagram or a photograph. These are aspects of personal style, and can change from book to book. Do some experimenting, look at lots of books, and maybe ask for advice or hire a designer.
Keep in mind, however, that paragraph’s indent signals the beginning of the paragraph, so if the beginning is obvious without the indent, there is no need to indent.

A new paragraph can be introduced by a skipped line, an indent, an outdent, an initial cap or a symbol such as the pilcrow [above]. Although there is generally no need to use more than one indication, it is sometimes necessary to use a skipped line to provide space for an initial cap (which I'll discuss in a future blog) or a  decorative symbol.

Today's material is updated from my upcoming e-book, Typography for Independent Publishers


  1. Interesting, thanks. I never heard of an outdent or pilcrow before.

  2. Woot! I have got to remember pilcrow!