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How to indent paragraphs

Far too many of us learned to format our writing using paper and a pencil. Remember learning to write in kindergarten – or maybe first grade? My teacher taught us to put our index finger at the left border of the paper, then to start writing beside it.

When I took typing in high school, my teacher told us it press the space bar 5 times, and then begin typing. If we were using one of the fancier typewriters, there might be a tab key. It automatically skipped forward five spaces…
Far too many of us learned to format our writing using paper and a pencil. Remember learning to write in kindergarten – or maybe first grade? My teacher taught us to put our index finger at the left border of the paper, then to start writing beside it.

When I took typing in high school, my teacher told us it press the space bar 5 times, and then begin typing. If we were using one of the fancier typewriters, there might be a tab key. It automatically skipped forward five spaces.

News Flash!


Your computer is not a sheet of paper -- and it is not a typewriter. However, most of us use the same procedures that we used way back then to format our writing on a computer!

However, just as our writing tools have changed, our procedures for writing need to change. Grab your favorite newspaper and take a look. I suspect the editor did not use a finger width or five spaces to indicate a new paragraph. Take a look at your favorite computer book. I would bet that there is no indention to mark a new paragraph. Instead, I suspect they have skipped a line between paragraphs. Check out a novel, a business letter, a brochure, and a magazine.

Today, the way writing is formatted depends on its purpose. Instruction manuals tend to have wide margins. Novels and newspapers seem to want to cram as much text as possible on each page. Business letters seem to emphasize readability. Brochures tend to have more white space.

So how should you format your writing? For the most flexibility, you should first put your thoughts down. Then when you are satisfied with what you want to say, turn your attention to how it will appear on the paper. In other words, choose your font, text size and paragraph style after your text is written down.

Why? In most cases, presentation is very important. How your words look on the paper is important. If you have just a bit to say, you can use larger borders, fonts that use more horizontal and vertical space, and even more space between paragraphs to make the document more pleasing to the eye.

If your words occupy just a small space on the second page, it might be better to have smaller margins, use a font that uses less horizontal and vertical space, or use a different paragraph scheme to squeeze those last few words on to one page.

If you make formatting decisions at the end of the writing process, it will take less time and effort to make your documents look “good.”

Marking paragraphs


There are three basic paragraph styles, block, indent, and hanging indent.

The Internet has popularized the block style. There is no indent in the first line. Each paragraph is set off with a blank line. A good example is this blog.

block_indent

In indent or “normal” style, the first line of each paragraph is indented. The typical indent is .5”, but it can be modified to a different size to make space. Typically, there is not a blank line between paragraphs, but some writers do include a line. Purists say that it is wrong to leave a blank line between paragraphs if you are going to indent them. Take a careful look at formatting examples to make your own decision.

Normal_indent

The hanging indent style is not as widely used, but it occasionally appears.

Hanging_indent

While the procedure will differ for each word processing program, the basics are all the same. For the purpose of this blog post, I am going to show you how to format text using TextEdit.

In order to have the fullest range of editing options, begin by going to Preferences, located in the TextEdit menu:

TextEdit_Preferences

Make sure that Rich text and Wrap to page are selected. This would also be a good time to choose your font and text size. Now begin your document, because these changes only apply to your next document.

If you do your writing and then do your formatting, your text might look like this:

unformatted text

Notice that the only time I used the Return key was when I wanted to begin a new paragraph. Also notice that I did not add an extra line between paragraphs. To add the formatting, select all of your text. Then go to the document toolbar and choose Spacing. Pull down to Other…

Spacing

In the dialog box that appears you can make several choices. The one that I prefer to use is Paragraph spacing - after. Click on the up arrow to increase the number of points. What number you choose is really up to you and the amount of space that is pleasing to your eye--or the space that you need to fill.

In general, I prefer a number between 12 and 16, but I usually scroll to the end of my document and check to see where the last line falls. If I have only one or two lines on the last page, I will choose to either decrease the size of the text or I will choose a different font that is slightly narrower. If there is more text on the last page, I will try to make it fill at least half of the page by increasing paragraph spacing or increasing the text size or choosing a font that is larger.

Spacing_other

If you prefer to use an indent at the beginning of a paragraph, you should select all of the text, and then use the icons on the ruler. The triangles pointing to the right are used to set tabs. Since they can get in the way, begin by dragging several of the triangles up on the ruler to make them disappear.

Tab_marks

The first icon on the ruler is actually two separate icons. Drag the T-shaped icon to the right, away from the down-pointing triangle. You will see that the first word of each paragraph moves to the right, indenting it.

Indent

If you would like to use a hanging indent, move the down-pointing arrow to the right.

Indent_hanging

Choosing the amount to indent, once again, should be determined by the space needed to make your document visually pleasing.

While it is often easier to continue doing things the way you have always done them, using this method of paragraph formatting gives you the most flexibility. It also can prove to be much faster.

If you have never learned how to really use a word processing application, perhaps a one-on-one tutorial would be of value to you. At Bob LeVitus Consulting, we can not only help you fix a computer problem, we can also provide remote tutoring. Using our special software, we can not only “see” your computer, we can also control your keyboard and mouse.
Give us a call at 408 627-7577 or send us an email at urgentrequest@boblevitus.com to learn more about our services.

--Pat