Give me some space!
Back in my early days as a copywriter, I worked on a typewriter like this.
But I don’t miss those days. I love my MacBook Air and fast 1Gb internet access to nearly infinite resources around the world.
These days, we can work from pretty much anywhere. We work faster and gather more information than we could have imagined back in the early ‘80s.
But not only have our efficiency and research changed, computers and word processing software have changed the way we structure our writing.
Take the paragraph space for example.
Back when we used typewriters, or wrote mostly with pen and paper, the structural convention was to add one line space after a paragraph, and a five space indent on the first line of the next paragraph.
Software like MS Word changed that. It’s easy to set paragraph breaks according to your line spacing and margins. So when you hit the return key, you automatically add a paragraph space of 1.5 or 2 times your line spacing.
Why do you care about paragraph spacing?
Because paragraphs, and the space between them, help you communicate more clearly.
I define a paragraph as a group of logically-related ideas. A paragraph as two primary parts:
- topic sentence – make a promise to your reader
- support sentences – deliver on that promise
The space between your paragraphs is essentially a moment of silence. It gives your reader time to pause, then move to your next set of ideas. And that pause is important. It helps give your writing pacing and rhythm in the same way periods, commas, and dashes do.
You could think of writing like music. One definition of music is: A combination of sounds and silences. Music needs the silence to enhance the sounds. Otherwise those sounds would be nearly impossible to listen to.
A paragraph doesn’t have to contain multiple sentences. You can use a one-sentence paragraph to transition your reader to a new perspective.
For example, when you want to show your reader an example of what you’re describing.
Take a look at Warren Buffett’s Shareholder Letters. You’ll see he often uses one- or two-sentence paragraphs in that way.
So, as you plan your next email, or report, or proposal, think about the ideas you want your reader to learn. And then give them some space.
The notes I play as well as anyone, it is in the silence where I excel.
Things we like.
Guitarist Pat Metheny has Zero Tolerance for Silence.
Things to ponder.
Modern English is written left to right. Arabic and Hebrew are written right to left. Chinese, Korean, and Japanese can be written vertically. Ancient Greeks wrote in all directions!