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I have often heard of the advice that "use a style that works best in your situation".

In regard to paragraph styling for an ebook, there are a few options:

  1. A single space (between paragraphs) and with the first sentence/line indented
  2. Same as (1) but with no indent of the first sentence/line
  3. No space between paragraphs and with the first sentence/line indented.

I am wondering if there is a preferred method.

Personally, I find Option 1 very reader-friendly as the paragraphs are separated by a space (i.e. not clustered together) and the first line is indented (which gives it a traditional feel).

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This may also help you: writers.stackexchange.com/questions/3152/… –  Craig Sefton Jun 19 '13 at 6:13
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A "space" appears between characters in a line, not between lines and certainly not between paragraphs. What many people refer to as a "blank line" between paragraphs is actually padding. You should control this with the style sheet (css file) that determines the presentation of your text from the HTML file. You would specify the indent on the first line of each paragraph in the same place. The thing that you MUST NOT DO is hit the enter key a couple of times. That does not "move the next para down a bit"; it creates an empty paragraph which can upset e-readers. –  Fortiter Jun 19 '13 at 6:17
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@Fortiter The OP may not be specifically referring to HTML/CSS styling. –  Craig Sefton Jun 19 '13 at 7:08
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Note for paper print option 3 is more common simply because increasing text length drives cost of the print up - more paper used up. Options 1 and 2 are more common with electronic media. –  SF. Jun 19 '13 at 14:04
    
I think part of this question is: are there any style guides specifically for e-book publication, and if so what do they say about this?. Style guides for paper publication aren't necessarily helpful; as @SF. notes, print and bits are different. –  Monica Cellio Jun 19 '13 at 16:08
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4 Answers 4

up vote 1 down vote accepted

As others have noted, if you're writing for a magazine or someone else's website or a publisher who adheres to a specific style guide, then they'll probably reformat anything you submit to their style anyway and it's a moot point.

If you're self-publishing or it's otherwise up to you, I don't know that one can say much more than: use a style that you find attractive and readable and that is not likely to confuse your readers, whether it's about paragraph breaks or any other point of formatting.

My thoughts:

  1. If you're using software that lets you create style sheets -- like HTML or MS Word and many others -- use the style sheet to control the paragraph breaks. If you've manually added blank lines between every paragraph or typed in spaces at the front of the first line of each paragraph or whatever, and then you change your mind, you have a ton of work to change them all. But if you did it with a style sheet, you can reformat an entire book with a few keystrokes.

  2. I avoid using both indenting and blank space between paragraphs. Use one or the other. Using both is overkill.

  3. An advantage of using indenting to show a new paragraph is that you can then use a blank line to show a slightly bigger break. Like in a novel, you can use a blank line to show a break between scenes.

  4. A bit of practicality: Using blank lines takes more space and thus makes the total length of the printed document longer. So if you need to pad your document, for example if you're writing a book and after you say everything you want to say it's only 100 pages and you think this just looks too thin and unimpressive, one thing you can do to pad it out is to put blank lines between paragraphs. Other things would be to add more chapter breaks, as this gives you an excuse to leave more blank space at the end of each chapter; always start new chapters on an odd-numbered page, which means you'll sometimes have a blank page between chapters; use a larger font; etc. Conversely if your book is too fat, like you think 400 pages just looks too intimidating for your target audience, then remove blank lines from between paragraphs, etc, to reduce the page count.

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"If you've manually added blank lines between every paragraph or typed in spaces at the front of the first line of each paragraph or whatever, and then you change your mind, you have a ton of work to change them all." No, you do a Search and Replace and pay attention. It's not as quick as a style sheet change, but it's a whole lot faster than doing each instance individually. –  Lauren Ipsum Jun 19 '13 at 14:21
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As you imply by "and pay attention", there are many possible gotchas to doing a search and replace. For example, if you try to remove blank lines by searching for occurrences of two carriage returns in a row, you may have lines with spaces between the carriage returns, or you may have blank lines in the text for other reasons that you want to preserve. So an S&R would still require looking at every instance, and looking for instances not caught by your first search. I define that as "a ton of work". –  Jay Jun 20 '13 at 12:44
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If you adopt a particular style guide, e.g. Chicago Style, then the first rule is to adopt the preferred method for that style. Almost all style guides will indicate their preferred method.

If you're going for pure readability/usability, and style rules be damned, then I would recommend: opening paragraphs are flush left; subsequent paragraphs are indented; you use a good line height/spacing to introduce a decent gap between each line; and, finally, gaps between each paragraph that are at least double the spacing between your lines.

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If you open a book, almost any book of fiction, you'll find the first line indented and no spaces between paragraphs. As far as I know, that's the "official" formatting for a book of fiction. Non fiction, like essays and such, should have no line indent and spacing between paragraphs. Or at least that's what I've been told is the proper formatting.

I myself, however, love the combination of both - paragraph spacing and indenting, I find it more readable (and books are actually formatted like that in my country). It all depends what's it for. If it's a book that'll be paper published in English, I think you would have to go with indent and no space. If you're self-publishing on Smashwords, their style guide DEMANDS indent and no space for fiction, and space and no indent for non-fiction. If you're posting it online, then I think going with both line spacing and indent would be best, we all hate reading big walls of text online - but only if the indenting is handled by the web page itself - putting, for example, four spaces on every first line in my post here just to have it look indented would be ridiculous. I wouldn't gain anything with that, and also, plain HTML removes extra white spaces, so it wouldn't even work. If you were to make a PDF document, however, then a combination of line spaces and indents would be doable.

Edit: Just to add, don't ever handle the formatting by adding spaces or tabs and empty lines. If you edit it in word processor and export it to PDF, for example, use Paragraph settings to set the spacing between paragraphs and line indenting. If you post it online, use CSS styles. This way you can easily change it when ever you want, without having to delete extra lines or tabs and spaces. Unless you're posting fiction on sites like Wattpad or DeaviantArt, where you can't choose your own styles, then you don't have a choice. If you don't put a paragraph spaces when posting on DeviantArt, it will look like one big wall of text and odds are people won't read it solely because of that. Walls of texts are scary ;) (Wattpad automatically puts paragraph spaces, so it doesn't leave you much choice. Most sites go for paragraph spaces without indents because it's the easiest way to display writing online, indenting is rarely done in CSS but paragraph spacing is easy.)

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Particularly, I hate non space between paragraphs because they make the text really confusing. I use one and a half line between them but, as you said, the normal rule should be no space. –  Psicofrenia Jun 19 '13 at 7:45
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"If you open a book..." - yes, but the norms for print and digital might be different. –  Monica Cellio Jun 19 '13 at 16:04
    
@MonicaCellio: That's why I said, it all depends what's it for. Smashwords will reject it if it doesn't follow their style guide. Kindle has it's own formatting rules - for example, the first line is indented automatically, whether you want it or not. But if it's for his own, what's the proper term, distribution? If that's the case, he has the freedom to do what ever he wants, and indents + paragraph spaces may not be "correct", but might just be easiest on the reader. –  Tannalein Jun 19 '13 at 22:30
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Normally I don't care much about text formatting since I always use plain text (Latex or Markdown) and is the final style that will define what details like paragraph spacing should be handled, since content is split from formatting since the beginning.

In any case, I normally use a space between paragraphs in my manuscripts because it's better to read, but that doesn't means it's the rule. On the contrary, the rule seems to be no space at all. Just to confirm that, I went to three different sites:

  • Format Your Novel for Submission

    Half-inch paragraph indentations (five spaces) (this tab is pre-set in MS Word) for the first line of each paragraph. Double space; no extra spaces between paragraphs

  • Manuscript Formatting

    Do not hit 'enter' again at the end of a paragraph. All your spacing should be consistently double-spaced. New paragraphs should be indicated by indents. Use your 'tab' key for this. You can set the indent to where ever you choose, as long as the paragraph is clearly indented from the left margin.

  • Six rules for manuscript formatting

    Mark a new paragraph by indenting the first line; don’t leave an empty line between paragraphs. Each new paragraph, or line of speech should be indented. Again, there’s an option to indent the first line of each paragraph automatically in the paragraph formatting options: don’t use the tab key to do it. Leaving a complete blank line between paragraphs is something you’ll see when reading online, including on this site but, has no place in text documents.

So, it's pretty clear to me that the paragraphs should have no black line between them. Besides, as Tannalein said, "If you open a book, almost any book of fiction, you'll find the first line indented and no spaces between paragraphs. As far as I know, that's the 'official' formatting for a book of fiction". I think she is right

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Doubling spacing applies for printed material with an expectation of annotation/editing. In that situation, triple spacing for paragraph breaks would probably be seen as wasting viewing area. As you noted, submission format can be different from the format the reader sees. With html-based ebooks, the reader may even be empowered to choose a preferred formatting, overriding any style provided by the writer or publisher (though such is likely too much effort for most readers). –  Paul A. Clayton Jun 19 '13 at 13:59
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