English
3880

Writing for Business and Industry

Summer
2014

 

Paragraph formatting

The rules for paragraph content are the same in business and technical documents as for academic documents. Each new topic gets a new paragraph.

Most business and technical documents are not double spaced, like academic papers. Actually, you'll find that the only time you'll double space documents is if they are going to an editor. Instead, the paragraphs should have:

Line spacing

Leading refers to the vertical space between lines of text within a paragraph. All word processors let you adjust the line spacing in small increments. You've probably used double or 1.5 line spacing, but that is too much for a normal document. Sometimes a bit of extra white space between lines can make text more readable or improve the visual look of the page. Slight changes in the leading can allow you to fix widows or orphans. (It also gives you a way to make a 5 page paper into a 6 page paper. But I'm sure you wouldn't do that. :-)

Some reasons to increase/decrease the line spacing from the default value.

Very small changes in line spacing can have large effects on document length. Without making it noticable, you can add almost an entire page to a 5-6 page report.

All these paragraphs contain the same text, the only difference is the leading. Notice how the extra space makes the text visually more attractive. Of course, too much leading becomes a distraction as the lines of text become too far apart

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Text justification

Justified text is set flush with the left and right margins. Justified blocks of text create solid rectangles, and block headings are normally centered for a symmetrical, formal-looking document. In print, justification is achieved by adjusting the space between words and by using word hyphenation. Page layout programs use a hyphenation dictionary to check for and apply hyphenation at each line's end and then adjust word spacing throughout the line. But even with sophisticated page layout software, justified text blocks often suffer from poor spacing and excessive hyphenation and require manual refinement.

Centered and right-justified text blocks are difficult to read. We read from left to right, anchoring our tracking across the page at the vertical line of the left margin. The ragged left margins produced by centering or right-justifying text make that scanning much harder, because your eye needs to search for the beginning of each new line.

Left-justified text is the most legible option for Web pages because the left margin is even and predictable and the right margin is irregular. Unlike justified text, left justification requires no adjustment to word spacing; the inequities in spacing fall at the end of the lines. The resulting "ragged" right margin adds variety and interest to the page without interfering with legibility.

There are four options for justifitying the text in a paragraph.

Justified left, ragged right.

This is the normal writing and is the easiest for people to read.

The brokern right edge helps the eye remain oriented. It also gives the page a distinct shape help with later refinding information.

Full justification.

This lines up both the left and right margins.

Although most books use this, people find it easier to get lost that with a ragged right margin. It fails to give the page a distinctive shape for later refinding information.

Also, most word processors (Word especially) are very bad a full justification. Notice the rivers of text which flow through the example. This is distracting to the reader.

Ragged left, justified right.

This should only be used for a special effect. It's very hard to read blocks of text..

Centered.

Often used on flyers and other short sentences. Only use centered text if each line can stand alone.

Avoid it for long blocks of text since it makes them harder to read.

Line length

The best reading occurs when a line is about 2 alphabets (52 characters) long. However, with the varying length of each font, there is no actual length, such as 4.3 inches that is best.

The problem with a line that is too short or too long is that the eye gets lost on the "fly back" (returning to the next line). With a short line, the eye spends too much time doing the fly back. If the line is too long, the eye gets lost.

If you have to use long lines of text, use a generous line spacing, which helps keep the eye oriented.

As a side note, the default line length in Word significantly exceeds 52 characters in most fonts. It also give another reason to indent the text under the heading.

Indenting the paragraph text

Paragraphs can either be flush with left margin or indented 1.5 to 2 inches. (The white space is called a scholar's margin since it gives room for notes and glossing.) Remember from the work on fonts that a line about 52 characters long is the best length for reading. Adjusting the indent lets you set optimize the line for reading.

Having all the paragraphs block indented 1.5 to 2 inches works especially well for documents where the reader will be scanning the heading. The indented paragraphs eliminates having to skip over text to see the headings. However, this style increases the page count. A major reason to use it depends upon how the reader uses the document:

As a note, if you have to have long lines of text, then increase the leading (line spacing). This makes it easier for the eye to jump back to the beginning of the next line.

 

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