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The correct usage of the pilcrow sign "¶" (as I understand) is to begin a paragraph, or to indicate a paragraph on a page that is not laid out with ordinary paragraph line-breaks.

I'm writing a technical report and it happens that a page break coincides with a new paragraph, opening with a word that cannot be capitalized. The second page unfortunately appears to continue the preceding paragraph.

If I put a pilcrow sign in the text at the top left of the page, will readers understand that a new paragraph is beginning or will they just be confused?

Bonus question: Would it be helpful to put the sign in front of any uncapitalized paragraph following a table, diagram, or such?

Edit: This question is about comprehensibility, not about aesthetics. I'm asking whether the punctuation is so obscure that it might do more harm than good. (There's a close vote.)

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  • Who is the audience? I know you specified "a technical report", but that covers a lot of ground.
    – JEL
    Sep 5, 2015 at 5:17
  • @JEL More specifically, it will be published in open conference proceedings. The audience proper is the ISO standardization committee on a computer programming language. Rather literate crowd, but literacy in technical jargon is often completely independent of that in, ah, ordinary literature. Sep 5, 2015 at 7:04
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    What I've seen used in extreme cases, that is, where the wording cannot be changed and the style is blank line paragraphing rather than indented, is "[New paragraph]" (no quotes). The pilcrow would work only for a very limited subset of technical audiences, otherwise it's just going to confuse too many people, or be taken for a typographical glitch.
    – JEL
    Sep 5, 2015 at 7:07
  • @JEL OK, thanks. Isn't that an answer? (And, where do you recall seeing that?) Sep 5, 2015 at 7:09
  • I don't know. The question is a little out of line for an English Language and Usage forum...maybe a typography forum? a semiotics forum? Whatever--I'm here to find out stuff, and the questions present challenges I wouldn't and couldn't come up with for myself on my own. Where did I see that? I don't recall; I do recall seeing it more than once, but I've worked as an editor, writer, and general language maven for more than 35 years, and the particular instances of such an obscure bit of formatting don't stick in my mind.
    – JEL
    Sep 5, 2015 at 7:13

2 Answers 2

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The consensus seems to be that opening a paragraph with "¶" is archaic, or at best limited to niches like books of statutes (laws).

It's better to find some alternative — anything.

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  • It's probably more likely to be taken as a mistake or an error arising from incorrect character encodings, than to be taken as meaning "this is the start of a paragraph".
    – Stuart F
    Oct 27, 2021 at 15:32
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Short answer: maybe.

If you are concerned about comprehensibility, you could use the pilcrow sign as one of the endnote symbols. And, in the body text, use the pilcrow sign only to emphasize a paragraph break. One convention for footnote symbols is: asterisk, dagger, double dagger, section sign, parallel bars, pilcrow sign. ¶

If you are still concerned about comprehensibility, you can insert frontmatter explaining the endnote symbols. Long technical documents often have frontmatter that explains such things. Take, for example, the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece. Again, scientific and engineering reports often have frontmatter including "list of acronymns" and "list of units."

¶ Some alternatives:—



Use a dinkus, e.g.:

... Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

(page break)

* * *

and now for something completely different, that starts with a lower-case letter.



Use a horizontal rule, e.g:

... Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

(page break)


and now for something different (but not completely different), that starts with a lower-case letter.



Use an endnote, e.g.:

... Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.[42]

(page break)

and now for something different (but not really), that starts with a lower-case letter.

(more text)

Endnotes

[42] Here ends a paragraph. ("We apologise for the fault in the [formatting]. Those responsible have been sacked"—Monty Python and the Holy Grail opening credits).



Insert a figure, e.g.:

... Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur.

Figure 42.

(page break; the rest of the first troublesome paragraph now appears at the top of the next page instead of the second troublesome paragraph)

Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

and now for something different (but not really), that starts with a lower-case letter.



Perhaps try one of the techniques used (perhaps accidentally) in N2176. Some options follow.

  • Break the preceding paragraph into multiple paragraphs, e.g.:

parameter

formal parameter

(page break)

formal argument (deprecated)

  • Use a run-in header, e.g.:

ceiling of x: the least integer greater than or equal to x

(page break)

EXAMPLE [the body text of the example I am quoting is too complex to quote here.]

  • Decorate the body of the second paragraph in a manner distinct from the first, e.g.:

The function called at program startup is named main. The implementation declares no prototype for this function. It shall be defined with a return type of int and with no parameters:

(page break)

int main(void) { /* ... */ }

  • Number the paragraphs, e.g.:

9       NOTE 4 There is a separate...

(page break)

10       A release sequence headed...




Endnotes

¶ The pilcrow sign (¶) is used herein to indicate a paragraph break where a paragraph break may not otherwise be obvious. We might place the sign either immediately after the text of one paragraph or immediately before the text of another. We have also used it in an early part of the document to inform the reader of our usage of it.

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