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Initial Paragraphs - No Indentation?

In the comments from Sunday's post on manuscript formatting, Sharon asked:

I'm curious about the last entry under chapters...Why don't you indent the first paragraph of a new chapter?

Thanks for the question, Sharon! Gives me something to blog about.

The way I understand it, in writing, an indentation denotes the start of a new paragraph, a sort of pause, setting it apart from any preceding text. When a paragraph is preceded by a header or title, this sort of denotation isn't necessary. It's obvious where the paragraph begins.

That said, this is not a hard-and-fast rule AT ALL in creative writing. If you take a look at several books on your shelf, you'll find that some authors indent their initial paragraphs and some don't. Essentially, it comes down to a matter of style, and it's so inconsequential you needn't really worry about it. I doubt any agent or editor really cares which you do on initial submission, and if they do have a set preference, it's obviously an easy fix.

Does anyone else want to weigh in on this, or provide more concrete information?

(If you missed it, don't forget to check out today's writing tip, too!)


  1. Not indenting the first paragraph is the general rule, for exactly the reasons you have described.

  2. I like indent all, for the sake of consistency.

  3. Like Jm Diaz, I indent them all.

    I just grabbed three novels off my shelf. One indents and two don't.

  4. I think the big formatting issues are the ones that are a pain to fix later - like putting two spaces after periods or using a tab for paragraph indentations.

    At least that's what a friend who works as a copy editor tells me.

  5. Never, ever, ever even thought about this one....yikes.

    I think I am an indenter.


  6. I go whole hog and indent NOTHING. When I indent it makes me feel like I'm writing an essay for a high school English class. And I hate the double space after a period. I apparently buck all the rules, sigh.

  7. Thank you very much for this helpful information. I've long wondered why it is so, but followed it nevertheless.

  8. Thanks for all the comments and input, everyone!

    I often indent my initial paragraphs when I'm writing a draft (total habit!), but this is the way I like to go back and format.

    Paul, I grabbed three books off my shelf and got the exact same result. One indented and two didn't.


  9. I don't indent...to be consistent. Also, this protocol began with my business newsletters. I found that email changed formats during delivery on differing programs, and therefore changed the look of my newsletter. I expect those who read my writing either love it or don't. Besides I quite enjoy the many hats of teamwork. I push for the easy to move through and understand format.


  10. About "the many hats of teamwork" in my earlier comment. To further explain, "We all need the person we are submitting to...they an important piece in the teamwork puzzle. If they want to change the indentation...I welcome it...if not...I welcome it. I keep it simple and allow for their creativity and feedback to shine in every way also.

    Love ya! Michelle