Using white space: delineating paragraphs


The Mel’s Session by Difusa, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

A few weeks ago we spoke about keeping paragraphs together. Today’s post may seem contradictory as I am talking about keeping paragraphs apart!

The words that you write help readers know when a paragraph is ending and a new one is beginning as I have discussed here and here. But another thing that helps readers is white space. There has to be sufficient white space for it to be clear that a new paragraph is beginning, but not so much white space that your paragraphs seem disconnected. You need to look at your page and use your judgement about this. There are no hard and fast rules.

The defaults in newer software versions are usually a good choice. But remember that these default spacings are associated with the default font size and with single (or near single) line spacing. If you need to increase your font size or your line spacing because your supervisor or university requires it, the white space you leave between paragraphs will need to increase so that your paragraphs are clearly delineated.

So how do you control the spacing between paragraphs in your document? Rather than hitting the “enter” key more than once, you should use the paragraph styles to control the spacing of your paragraphs. This gives you an easy way to change all your paragraphs at once and keep them consistent. You can try different spacings until it looks right.

In Word, the paragraphs in your document will use the “Normal” style by default. You can change the space between paragraphs by right clicking on the Normal style in the Styles section of the Home ribbon (see below) and selecting Modify.


On the Modify Style window that comes up, select Paragraph from the drop down Format button at the bottom left.


Then you can alter the spacing between paragraphs by changing the figures in the  Spacing Before and/or After boxes.



If you are completely unfamiliar Word styles, see this blog for more details.


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