With today's word processors and page layout applications it is possible to precisely control the amount of space between paragraphs. There is no longer a need for the old typewriter style of putting double hard returns to separate paragraphs (in computer terms that would be the equivalent of using the enter key to add space between lines).
With typewriters the only way to increase the space between lines of type was to put two or more hard returns at the end of a line. Typically, double hard returns were used at the end of paragraphs to set one paragraph apart from the next. It put a blank space, the equivalent of one line of type, between each paragraph.
Desktop publishing software and modern word processors use paragraph formatting to more precisely control spacing between paragraphs. But old habits die hard. One sign of a beginner in desktop publishing is the use of hard returns between paragraphs.
Paragraph formatting allows the user to specify an amount of space to be placed before or after a paragraph. With paragraph formatting, spacing can be controlled in smaller increments in order to achieve the best appearance based on the font, leading, and other elements of the design.
In the example at the top of the sidebar both columns use the same font size and leading (line spacing). However, the text on the right uses spacing after each paragraph that is slightly less than double hard returns would allow. Additionally, the subheading has a small amount of space added before it, to set that section apart from the preceding text without leaving the excessive empty space found on the left where triple hard returns are used.
TIP: Although readability and appearance should be your overriding concerns, using paragraph formatting instead of hard returns can help you fit more text on the page. It's one way to cheat at copyfitting, if applied consistently throughout a document.
The Bottom Line: Professional typesetters, designers, and desktop publishers should use paragraph formatting to put space between paragraphs. Save the hard returns for typewriting, email, term papers, personal correspondence, or manuscript submissions that specify typewriter-style formatting. For everyone else, do whatever makes you feel good.
"Right and wrong do not exist in graphic design. There is only effective and non-effective communication." — Peter Bilak - Illegibility
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