line spacing120–145% of the point size

Line spac­ing is the ver­ti­cal dis­tance be­tween lines of text. Most writ­ers use ei­ther dou­ble-spaced lines or sin­gle-spaced lines—noth­ing in be­tween—be­cause those are the op­tions pre­sented by word processors.

These habits are ob­so­lete type­writer habits. Orig­i­nally, a type­writer’s platen could only move the pa­per ver­ti­cally in units of a sin­gle line. There­fore, line-spac­ing choices were lim­ited to one, two, or more lines at a time. Sin­gle-spaced type­writ­ten text is dense and hard to read. But dou­ble-spac­ing is still looser than optimal.

Most courts adopted their line-spac­ing stan­dards in the type­writer era. That’s why court rules usu­ally call for dou­ble-spaced lines. On a type­writer, each line is the height of the font, thus dou­ble spac­ing means twice the font size. So if you’re re­quired to use a 12-point font, dou­ble line spac­ing means 24 points.

Cu­ri­ously, the so-called “dou­ble” line-spac­ing op­tion in your word proces­sor doesn’t pro­duce true dou­ble line spac­ing. Mi­crosoft Word’s “dou­ble” spac­ing, for in­stance, is about 15% looser, and it varies de­pend­ing on the font. To get ac­cu­rate spac­ing, you should al­ways set it your­self, exactly.

For most text, the op­ti­mal line spac­ing is be­tween 120% and 145% of the point size. Most word proces­sors, as well as CSS, let you de­fine line spac­ing as a mul­ti­ple. Or you can do the math—mul­ti­ply your point size by the per­cent­age. (The text in this para­graph has line spac­ing of 110%. It’s too tight.)

For most text, the optimal line spacing is between 120% and 145% of the point size. Most word processors, as well as CSS, let you define line spacing as a multiple. Or you can do the math—multiply your point size by the percentage. (The text in this paragraph has line spacing of 135%. It looks fine.)

For most text, the op­ti­mal line spac­ing is be­tween 120% and 145% of the point size. Most word proces­sors, as well as CSS, let you de­fine line spac­ing as a mul­ti­ple. Or you can do the math—mul­ti­ply your point size by the per­cent­age. (The text in this para­graph has line spac­ing of 170%. It’s too loose.)

Word proces­sors have a be­wil­der­ing num­ber of ways to set line spac­ing. Don’t be thrown off—it all comes back to the same thing.

How to set line spacing

WordRight-click in the text and se­lect Paragraph from the menu. Go to the menu un­der Line spacing. Exactly is best—en­ter a fixed mea­sure­ment. Single, 1.5 lines, and Double are equiv­a­lent to about 117%, 175%, and 233% line spac­ing, con­trary to what their names sug­gest. Don’t use these—they miss the tar­get zone of 120–145%. Multiple is also ac­cept­able—en­ter line spac­ing as a dec­i­mal. To get line spac­ing in the 120–145% range, use a Multiple value of 1.03–1.24. (Not 1.20–1.45—as noted above, Word uses pe­cu­liar line-spac­ing math.) Never use At least, be­cause that gives Word per­mis­sion to ad­just your line spac­ing unpredictably.

Word­Per­fectFormatLineHeight and Spacing. Line spac­ing in Word­Per­fect is the Height value mul­ti­plied by the Spacing value. (The ben­e­fit of this com­pli­ca­tion may be ap­pre­ci­ated by Word­Per­fect fans. It is lost on me.) I rec­om­mend al­ways leav­ing Spacing at 1.0 and just set­ting your line spac­ing with Height. Se­lect­ing Height lets you choose from Fixed or At Least. Use Fixed—en­ter a mea­sure­ment in the 120–145% range. Don’t use At Least.

by the way
  • Re­call that dif­fer­ent fonts set at the same point size may not ap­pear the same size on the page. (See point size for why.) A side ef­fect is that fonts that run small will need less line spac­ing, and vice versa.

  • Line spac­ing af­fects the length of a doc­u­ment more than point size. If you need to fit a doc­u­ment onto a cer­tain num­ber of pages, try ad­just­ing the line spac­ing first.

  • Some law­yers have sug­gested to me that courts should adopt Mi­crosoft Word’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of line spac­ing as the stan­dard. I dis­agree, for a sim­ple but se­ri­ous rea­son. Ac­cess to the courts is a fun­da­men­tal right. In­ter­pret­ing line spac­ing ac­cord­ing to the quid­di­ties of a com­mer­cial soft­ware pro­gram would im­ply that par­ties have to buy a li­cense to that pro­gram to com­ply with the rules and thereby gain ac­cess to the courts. But dou­ble line spac­ing in its tra­di­tional sense can be im­ple­mented with any type­set­ting program.

undock move Equity Valkyrie Century Supra Concourse Hermes Maia Triplicate buy font close