No indentation of initial paragraphs?
May 18, 2005 2:28 PM   Subscribe

Page layout: not indenting first paragraph nor paragraphs after subheadings... who made this rule?

I just got a new job in a university's publications department, and I somehow "know" that when you do layout for a publication, you don't indent the first paragraph, nor paragraphs subsequent to headings and subheadings. I'm sure this is a Chicago or Turabian rule, but my Google-fu fails me, and this office doesn't have a copy of the Chicago Manual anywhere (is this a bad sign?)

Can someone please provide an authoritative source for this rule?
posted by CaptApollo to Writing & Language (9 answers total)
IIRC, Robert Bringhurst recommends this in his Elements of Typographic Style. I got in an argument about this with my boss the other day; she wanted me to indent. Interestingly a survey of academic press books at hand showed that not indenting after a heading isn't universal, though it does predominate.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 2:43 PM on May 18, 2005

Bringhurst, 1st ed.:
2.3.1 Set opening paragraphs flush left.

The function of a paragraph indent is to mark a pause, setting the paragraph apart from what precedes it. If a paragraph is preceded by a title or subhead, the indent is superfluous and can therefore be omitted, as it is here.
Only apply this if there is vertical space in-between the header and the body text (as in the example I quoted).
posted by grouse at 3:17 PM on May 18, 2005

I was taught that the only reason you indent is to indicate that a new paragraph has started. Directly after a subheading, it's obvious that it's a new paragraph, hence no indentation is necessary.
posted by schustafa at 3:52 PM on May 18, 2005

Damned if I can find it in the 15th ed. of Chicago, but the 14th ed. (18.21) states: "the first line of text following a subhead may begin flush left or be indented by the usual paragraph indention." This is actually a looser rule than I expected from Chicago -- I've always been strictly a NO WIRE HANGERS INDENTION AFTER SUBHEAD EVER!!!! type of editor.
posted by scody at 5:11 PM on May 18, 2005

schustafa is on the money. I think of this as a common sense typesetting rule, transcending styles. I've used AMA and APA in my publications, and none of them indent after heads. When a publication deviates from this rule, I tend to think of it as a layout/typesetting booboo, not a problem particular to any style. The reason you just "know" that this is the correct course is that you're probably well read, and you've internalized the rule without ever having read it in a source.

I'm not at work, where my typesetting guidelines live, but I'll check for you tomorrow in case you really need a reference to quote.
posted by melissa may at 5:55 PM on May 18, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks all! Glad I wasn't just crazy--after posting I went looking through APA, Chicago 15, and Turabian, and they all say indent all paragraphs, yet the manuals themselves follow the rule as I know it! mellissa may, I'd appreciate a reference, as I asked due an argument with my boss similar to IshmaelGraves'.

In fact, IG, after your comment, I brought Bringhurst to the attention of my usually reasonable boss. She claimed that since she'd never heard of him, it wasn't as true as, say, the APA.

And overall, regardless of style guidelines, it just looks better, dang it!
posted by CaptApollo at 7:19 PM on May 18, 2005

And overall, regardless of style guidelines, it just looks better, dang it!

While I agree with you, I've heard people say the same things about indenting the paragraph. Those people didn't exactly have the best eye for design.
posted by grouse at 11:39 PM on May 18, 2005

If your boss thinks the APA trumps Bringhurst, she's not qualified to micromanage design and typographical style decisions. Bah.

I have (on rare occasion) worked on documents where indenting under subheads was best. There are valid exceptions to the rule.
posted by D.C. at 5:51 AM on May 19, 2005

Best answer: OK. Bringhurst says it, our in-house rules for my APA publications say it, and my little Pocket Pal remains mute on the subject, but lays itself out in flush paragraphs after the heads just as God intended.

APA is meant to guide authors in manuscript prep, not to dictate to publications how to typeset their publications. That's why APA journals do not all look precisely the same. Authors do things in ms prep to make sure their intentions are crystal clear that are not necessary in a typeset piece. Plus, what looks better? What makes more sense? Rules should codify good sense or be chucked.

I wish I could provide you with an easier path to gravitas, but if you want to take this to the bitter end (please do!), go to the library and head over to the psych journals. Bring her back a random armload. If the ratio of journals using posthead paragraph indents exceeds 20%, feign death. If that doesn't do it, I don't know what will.
posted by melissa may at 8:21 AM on May 19, 2005

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