first-line indentsBetween one and four times the point size

A first-line in­dent is the most com­mon way to sig­nal the start of a new para­graph. The other com­mon way is with space be­tween para­graphs.

First-line in­dents and space be­tween para­graphs have the same re­la­tion­ship as belts and sus­penders. You only need one to get the job done. Us­ing both is a mis­take. If you use a first-line in­dent on a para­graph, don’t use space be­tween. And vice versa.

Typ­i­cally, a first-line in­dent should be no smaller than the cur­rent point size, or else it’ll be hard to no­tice. It should be no big­ger than four times the point size, or else the first line will seem dis­con­nected from the left edge. So a para­graph set in 12 point should have a first-line in­dent of 12–48 points. (Re­call that there are 72 points to an inch, so this works out to 0.17–0.67″.)

But use your judg­ment—con­sider the width of the text block when set­ting the first-line in­dent. For in­stance, nar­row text blocks (3″ or less) should have first-line in­dents to­ward the low end of this range. Wider text blocks should have big­ger indents.

The process server was denied entry
to the defendant's home in the gated
community known as Luxuria.
wrong
The process server was denied
entry to the defendant's home in the
gated community known as Luxuria.
wrong
The process server was denied entry
to the defendant's home in the gated
community known as Luxuria.
right

Don’t use word spaces or tabs to in­dent the first line—as you re­call from white-space char­ac­ters, that’s not what they’re for. Para­graphs in­dented with word spaces or tabs are hard to keep con­sis­tent and waste far more time than they save. Use the right tool for the job.

How to set a first-line indent

WordRight-click in the text and se­lect ParagraphIndents and Spacing. Un­der Indentation, from the popup menu la­beled Special, se­lect First line and en­ter the mea­sure­ment in the ad­ja­cent box.

Word­Per­fectFormatParagraphFormat. In the box next to First line indent, en­ter the measurement.

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