Is an indentation (Tab button in Word) needed for a new paragraph when you start one? I was told to do that a long time ago but 3 years after I stopped doing it and have done it since.

Are you meant to indent when you start a new paragraph?

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    Just have to add that "indentation by tabbing" is so wrong. You use a paragraph style (of paragraph styles) for that. ;-) – Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 16 '11 at 10:18
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    @jae: And what about using Word? That's not wrong? – SamB May 3 '11 at 1:18
  • Nope, Word is at least okay. ;-) – Jürgen A. Erhard May 3 '11 at 10:25

I'm not an expert here but I thought I would illustrate two different styles of paragraphs:

alt text

The first pair of paragraphs are not indented, there is line-space between them.

The second pair of paragraphs are delineated by indenting the first line. Typically one would use double line-spacing with indentation, I show them compacted to better illustrate the difference.

What's important isn't which is more appropriate than the other (though there certainly are situations where one would be required over the other). The important thing is that the reader is able to distinguish where one paragraph ends and the next begins.

If you were to use both line-spacing and indentation of paragraphs, that would simply be redundant.

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    The second example looks ugly, because both are only two lines. Paragraphs-marked-by-indent need to be longer to look nice. – Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 16 '11 at 16:56
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    @jae: Not necessarily: that indent is huge, and a more appropriately sized indent would look just fine. – Jon Purdy Feb 6 '11 at 19:40

What's important is that it's clear to your reader where paragraphs begin and end, and that the text is laid out in a way that's easy to read. Often if you're writing for a publisher, newspaper or magazine, there will be a house style that will dictate the layout. If you're writing for yourself you're free to choose what you prefer.

Indents were (and to some extent still are) much more common in printed material; this may be due to space restrictions and the cost of paper. Most articles I read on the internet - even very formal ones - use gaps to delimit paragraphs, and this does not strike me as "wrong" or "informal" in any way.

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It used to be mandatory to indent the beginning of every paragraph, along with double spacing after periods. Now, whether you start with an indentation is just a matter of personal/corporate preference.

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  • So now double spacing after sentence-ending periods is not mandatory? I suspected as much, but I had no official confirmation from someone knowledgeable (such as a moderator on this site) :) – JakeParis Nov 1 '11 at 13:37
  • @JMC - that question is answered at How many spaces should come after a period/full stop? TL;DR version: If you're using a typewriter and a monospaced font, then two spaces make sense. Otherwise, no. – Dori Nov 1 '11 at 19:07

This is entirely a matter of style. A clear typesetting would make sure that the separation of paragraphs is clear to the readers. This can be achieved by vertical spacing, or by indentation at the beginning of paragraphs.

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