Successful documents spacing

Set up your documents for success: spaced out

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Setting up your document for success: line spacing and paragraphs

In the last blog post I looked at fonts, or typefaces as they are also known, and suggested a few tips for ensuring that your written text looks good and has a consistent style. Another important consideration is spacing, both between the individual lines in a paragraph and between the paragraphs themselves. Lack of consistency, or using inappropriate methods to achieve a style, is an issue that I come across frequently when proofreading academic writing. The most common error is to use the ‘hard return’ otherwise known as the ENTER key to create a space between two paragraphs. This is generally considered to be bad practice as it can affect the flow of text from one page to another within a document. It is also not uncommon to find that some paragraphs have been written with say, 1.5 line spacing and others with 1.15. The more subtle the difference in size, the harder it is to spot. These errors often creep in when the document has been assembled from several pieces of writing (I’ll share a tip to avoid this at the end, so keep reading).

What’s the default position?

It’s easy to set up the amount of space between lines and between paragraphs before you start. In Word 2013 the default positon is line spacing of 1.08 cm between lines and 8 pt space between paragraphs. Presumably this is what the Microsoft designers decided was the most frequently used and easy-on-the-eye style. The default also aligns the text to the left – this means that there is a straight edge down the left-hand margin and a raggedly edge on the right. Now, anyone who knows me will know that I’m a bit OCD about justified margins – this is where the text is razor sharp down both sides and the words are spaced to deal with it. In fact, you’ll never catch me writing a document with a left-aligned margin, even though I often have to proofread them!

Set the line spacing

Paragraphs nicely spaced
                    Setting paragraph spacing

As with all style decisions, first check whether your institution or journal publisher has any special requirements. Many dissertations and theses require double line spacing and this is a style often used for writing that needs to be edited on paper as it allows plenty of space between the lines for writing in corrections. Word offers a couple of ways to access the Paragraph dialog box, either by clicking on the little arrow in the right-hand corner of the Paragraph pane on the Home Tab, or with a right mouse-click and select Paragraph. The main choices for line spacing are single, double, 1.5 or the multiple option that allows you to select the size. The most common here are 1.08 (the default) and 1.15. Alternatively, if you want to set the spacing in points, use the ‘at least’ or ‘exactly’ options.

Paragraph spacing

If you’re not restricted by any set rules on spacing then have a think about how you’d like your document to look. Pleasing to the eye and easy to follow, no doubt. Do you even want space between the paragraphs? Most books will be styled such that the first paragraph of a chapter is ‘full out’ – that means the text starts at the margin, and the second and subsequent paragraphs are indented with no space between the paragraphs. However, most academic work seems to favour some space between paragraphs, so I’ll focus on how to set this up.

As with the line spacing options, bring up the Paragraphs > Indents and Spacing dialog box. Next to the line spacing options you can change the spacing before and after the paragraphs (in point sizing) and also choose not to have any space between paragraphs if you prefer. Simply make the changes as you wish, click OK and you’re away.

Quick tips: check out Mr Pilcrow

Show and hide the paragraph spacing
Show and hide the paragraph spacing

Earlier I promised to share an easy tip for ensuring the text all matches when you’re busy cutting and pasting a couple of documents together. If you are using the cut and paste icons, when you come to right-click and add the new text you’ll see that there are three options in the Clipboard: (from left to right) Keep source formatting; Merge formatting, or Keep Text only. If you choose to keep the source formatting or just the text, there is a risk that the styles of the two documents may be different, and this is where inconsistency can creep in. Always choose Merge Formatting and then the text will be styled as the new compilation document.

If you want to check what’s actually going on style-wise then my favourite trick, and one that I use every day, is to click on the Show/Hide button. This symbol is known as Pilcrow. You can find Mr Pilcrow’s icon in the top right-hand corner of the Paragraph icon. A quick click will show you all of the formatting symbols – look out for the backwards P which illustrates the paragraph end. If you’ve styled the text using spacing between the paragraphs there should not be any of these in the spaces.

I hope that these few tips are helpful – any questions or comments, I’d be pleased to hear from you below.