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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

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Ahern 14.2 - The War Against Indents
Tom Ahern

September, 2013

In defense of the endangered indent



Will it go the way of the dodo? (Large flightless bird? Last seen in the 17th century?)


Will today's paragraph indent - decent, blue-collar, undemonstrative - disappear from direct-mail appeal letters in America ... gunned down by the ignorant?


It could happen, I am sorry to say. 


See below.


Stay alert. 


Ellen emailed her question


Ellen M. is a donor, a community activist. I like her.


Local nonprofits want her on their boards. She can write a good direct mail appeal.


And yet ... Ellen M. has a nemesis: a fellow board member who simply, defiantly, and, if need be, patronizinglyREFUSES to put his name on - or approve - any direct mail appeal ... if that letter uses indented paragraphs.


Now, I know you're wondering: Boards do governance; when did they get into letter formatting, too? 


Well, this is real life. Boards get into all sorts of things where they have no business. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. That was originally written about volunteer boards.


This guy ... and isn't it usually a guy? ... he's an engineer. Or a lawyer. Or a captain of industry.  That type.


"I don't like indents," he proclaims, his canines shining with wet heat. "Putting a double-space between paragraphs is plenty," he growls. (And, in truth, he's half-right.)


To him, indents are a matter of taste. And a matter sosmall that, even were he by some unlikely event to be wrong, well ... where's the harm?


I have relatives like this. You do, too, I bet.


"Is there science?" Ellen prayed  


Ellen hoped there would be some laboratory results somewhere that she could use to beat this mulish guy into submission. 


Not to my knowledge.


That lack could, I suspect, be because a competent researcher (Poynter, say; see sidebar item) wouldn't think to ask such a pointless question.


"Of course you indent paragraphs!" printed-page scientists would thunder. "Indents aren't eye candy. They're rungs in a ladder, stepping the reader down the page."


Our brains use indents in "pattern recognition." Pattern recognition is important, to keep reading speedy.


"He has the evidence right in front of him," I wrote Ellen M., "every time he reads a professionally produced newspaper (indented), a book (indented), or a magazine (indented). His brain, like mine and yours, is now highly trained to use indents as a 'reading crutch,' to plow through material faster."


But try telling some people anything they don't believe.


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