How to format paragraphs clearly

Coloured lockers. How to format paragraphs correctly.
Photo by moren hsu

Learn how to format paragraphs clearly and consistently. Your text will look more professional, it will be easier to read and you will get higher marks.

To complicate the issue, there are two different systems of paragraph formatting: indented or block.

Indented paragraphs are more common in printed fiction texts while block paragraphs are very familiar from internet texts. This website, for example, uses block paragraphing.

Whichever system you choose, make sure to apply it consistently and clearly. Read on to learn more about how to format paragraphs clearly.

1. Indented paragraphs

Indented paragraphs signal the beginning of each paragraph with an indentation. This is where you start the first line of each paragraph a short distance from the left-hand margin. The width of two fingers is about right for an indentation.

No lines are blank when using indented paragraphs and the indentation happens even when writing dialogue. See the example below from chapter 8 of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel Jane Eyre.

One of the main benefits of this system is that it saves space. If you write lots, and saving space on the exam is important, then this is the system for you.

2. Block paragraphing

Block paragraphs signal the beginning of each paragraph with an empty line. This is where you leave an empty line between each paragraph.

Be consistent. Avoid the common mistake of forgetting to leave an empty line because starting a new paragraph immediately after the previous paragraph, as some students do, will confuse your reader as they will struggle to see quickly where new paragraphs begin.

Furthermore, even if your paragraphs are very short, such as in dialogue, you should leave an empty line between each paragraph. Here is the same section from Jane Eyre with block paragraphing.

Text from Jane Eyre showing block paragraphs.

3. Paragraphing when typing

If you type your exam, you will need to check if the word program is formatting paragraphs for you automatically.

Microsoft Word, for example, adds paragraph gaps by default when you press enter at the end of the last paragraph. However, the default settings can be changed and other word programs behave differently.

So, as you type, check how the program is behaving and make any necessary edits. You may need, for example, to press enter twice at the end of paragraphs. Or, you may not. Keep your eyes open!

4. In conclusion

Think of your reader. Your examiner is working under intense time pressure and isn’t being paid handsomely.

If your writing is presented with clarity and consistency, your examiner will be able to read and understand your text at speed. They will be grateful to you for making their life just that little bit easier. They will also be able to offer you good marks for technical accuracy.

So there’s nothing to lose in learning how to format paragraphs clearly. Keep up the good work and good luck!

Published by Edward Mooney

I am a highly qualified and experienced English tutor based in the UK. I founded this site in 2019 to help students of GCSE English learn how to reach their full potential.

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