Conventional wisdom says either indent paragraphs or have a space between them but don't do both. The argument is that since the point of both methods is to show where one paragraph ends and another begins, either way is sufficient.

Sufficiency doesn't win the aesthetic argument, though; nor does what applies to typing on paper necessarily apply to displaying words on a screen. Personally I think a spacing of 12px between paragraphs of 11.5pt Times, each indented by 35px and with an internal line-height of 1.45, looks highly inviting. But how does such a combination rate for user experience?

Edit: I found this site, which gives 12 examples of paragraph typography. The format I'm asking about is no.4.

  • When I was in high school, I took a typing class with real mechanical typewriters which were prevalent then. After each paragraph, we gave two carriage returns, then an indent. I don't recall if the indent was the tab key or some number of spaces (I want to say five but not sure). So not doing both is not "conventional wisdom" to me. – Rob May 8 '20 at 10:16

Apart from font size, line height is also dependent on the length of your paragraph.

More specifically if a paragraph is short in length it can get away with a tighter line height. The longer you go though (and you should never go too long) then the more you need to increase line height to improve legibility.

In terms of length the ideal paragraph is 50-60 characters long. That length is highly affected by the size of your font of course which in turns affects your line height.

You can see this in great effect in modern article websites like Medium. Medium constrains its text based on the above rule and the line height is just right at a happy 33px based on a 21px font size.

I am a big fan of the mathematical golden ratio for paragraphs.

When it comes to designing text for web I also use this calculator (based on the article above) that gives me immediately the ideal values for line-height that make text as legible as possible.

  • Thanks, but how do you feel about combining indentation with spacing between paragraphs? – user96407 Sep 1 '17 at 12:01
  • It is used in editorial design all the time. See some examples here: fonts.com/content/learning/fontology/level-2/text-typography/…. I think with the right paragraph length, line-spacing and font size it can work really well and aid legibility. Especially if you have a large number of paragraphs and you wish to further draw distinction between them. – Socrates Kolios Sep 1 '17 at 13:29
  • Where are there examples of such a combination on that site? It specifically warns against them: "Note that it is unnecessary, and considered poor typographic form, to use both added space and an indent, as it is redundant and visually jarring." This is the standard view that I am questioning. – user96407 Sep 1 '17 at 14:18
  • Indentation often works as a type of punctuation. It invites the reader to pause briefly before she starts reading. I don't believe that there are hard set rules about spaces used with indentation. It all depends on the pacing and the context of your text. If you have long text, there might be parts where you want to draw that distinction between one paragraph from the next. They help provide pacing dependent on the flow of your text. This is particularly relevant if you are dealing with long stories or articles and you want to draw that separation without starting a new chapter. – Socrates Kolios Sep 1 '17 at 14:32
  • My suggestion would be to experiment, depending of the type of text you are dealing with, and see what works well for you. – Socrates Kolios Sep 1 '17 at 14:32

Indentation breaks the text alignment - the straight imaginary contour that is created by the beginning of the lines. Therefore in most cases, it creates a stronger disruption than a paragraph space (which breaks the rhythm; depending on other parameters).

You should ask whether a paragraph space and an indentation together is not a disruption which interferes with readability. You can test on yourself how much your eyes "want to go" to the beginning of the paragraphs. Personally, I find it too much and wouldn't do it to gain aesthetic values (which are arguably there).

That said, if the disruption is desired, for example, you expect the reader to scan the paragraphs rather than actually read them, it might be one valid solution.


Like Omri said, both methods (indentation amd line spacing) create a disruption. But both are only a disruption along one straight line, which makes it feel more artificial, and thus is standa out more.

Combining the two makes it a more natural shape, similar to a rivermouth/delta. Thus it stands out a bit less, making it less effective as a paragraph separator.

This is just a gut feeling however, and I don't have any evidence backing it up - but I figured it might give a new perspective.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy