In a WYSIWYG editor for forum posts, should there be vertical margins between paragraphs? In other words, should the enter key produce a vertical space?

Either way, the other style can be simulated (Ctrl+enter inserts linebreak; pressing enter two times inserts a space).

Arguments for the space

  • It encourages writing in paragraphs vs. randomly inserting newlines
  • Inserting a paragraph with space is easier (1 key press vs. 2 key presses)
  • It prevents lots of empty paragraphs (more a technical aspect that is not noticed by the users, but defeats the semantics of HTML)
  • Most web WYSIWYG editors follow this behaviour, as it is the default

Arguments against the space

  • People may not know Ctrl+Enter (and want to use it, e.g. for a greeting)
  • LibreOffice and at least old versions of MS Word do not have paragraph margins by default
  • Many forums in the web don't have a WYSIWYG editor, so you need to press enter two times for a space there

What would you suggest? The users have various levels of technical skill, and it should be ok for all of them.


Typically (or ideally anyway), you'd want the wysiwyg to style the text the same way as it renders on the site once things are posted: same font, font size, color, margins, everything. Else it is, simply put, not wysiwyg.

If you go that path, methinks the problems you raise all fix themselves. Users who aren't aware of Ctrl+Enter live without it until they discover it. If a user pastes from a word processor, he'll see the problems immediately. And the switch from using a non-wysiwyg to a wysiwyg is very much immediate.

Aside: be very mindful of the security implications related to allowing anyone to post HTML to your site.

Reply to the comment: Sure, some users might want to insert a line break here or there and be at a loss as to how to do it. Here's the thing, though: they'll ask or Google it if they really need to. In my very humble opinion, there's absolutely nothing wrong with users not being fully and immediately aware of extras that they can — potentially, maybe, perhaps, conceivably — use one day or not.

(As an example, if I run ls -l /usr/bin/ | wc -l on my system I get over 1k entries and I can guarantee you I've absolutely no idea what most of them will do in spite of my having been a *nix user for longer than I can remember.)

  • If course, we'll respect the WYSIWYG principle and style it the same in the editor as in the final view. But users still might want to insert linebreaks, but don't know Ctrl+Enter just because they don't need it in Word/other forums. – Yogu Apr 26 '14 at 15:57
  • I amended the answer. – Denis de Bernardy Apr 26 '14 at 16:04

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