A minor pet peeve of mine. See, the purpose of indenting a paragraph in a book is to set it off from the line above it, so that the reader knows a new paragraph is beginning. (Incidentally, this is also why you don't indent the first paragraph in a chapter or article; there's nothing above it to set it apart from.)

In HTML, a paragraph (<P>) tag will create a double line break to accomplish the same thing without indenting. So indenting after a double line break is functionally redundant.

Double line breaks are preferred because they're easier to spot when scanning a page. On the Web, all the double line breaks in the world won't cost the publisher a penny in printing costs. In the print world, however, it can eventually add up to hundreds of pieces of paper per print run. In that case, indenting is more cost-effective.

Besides, it's non-standard. Indenting paragraphs in a Web page just looks... funny, after six years of double line breaks. Where design is concerned, a certain amount of conformity is a Good Thing.

This has been a public service announcement by the
Nitpicker's Guide to Good Type Design. Thank you
for your cooperation.

This goes for outside of HTML too--most on-screen text can benefit from the "space, don't indent" ideology.

Anyone who's been on mailing lists or newsgroups awhile has probably run into messages like this:

Foo wrote:
> Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, et adipiscing...
  Amet!! Quiam dolor neniu ipsum, dolorem quia est.
Hamin qua other gibberish just to take up space!  The
nerve of him!  Lorem ipsum flame flame flame.
  And more of the same, with other gibberish included
just to take up space.

This gets to be inherently unreadable, even more so because people who type like this tend to have irregular quoting methods as well--imagine that the > in the above message was left out--and it becomes, at worst, an interminable struggle to discover who wrote what, as well as being very uneasy on the eyes. Compare this:

Foo wrote:
> Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, et adipiscing...

Amet!! Quiam dolor neniu ipsum, dolorem quia est. 
Hamin qua other gibberish just to take up space!  
The nerve of him!  Lorem ipsum flame flame flame.

And more of the same, with other gibberish included
just to take up space.

Do everyone a favor: save your indents for print media. Space your paragraphs for the screen.

The major thing to consider in HTML (and thus all web pages) is that it is important for the browser to do the rendering - not the writer.

Accessibility is a key point for web pages. It is quite possible that there are individuals who are visually impaired and use a browser that reads the text out-loud rather than displaying on the screen. In such a browser, the <P> tag is 'rendered' as a full pause.

If an individual wants a paragraph indented (as in the old style of print media), it is up to that individual to do so on his or her browser - not in the pages that he or she writes. Many browsers that are being developed now have a 'user style sheet'. This is most obvious in the browser named 'Opera'.

Within Opera (the example used is 4.0 for linux. YMMV)

  1. File menu - preferences
  2. Left hand icon bar - Document
  3. Appearance tab - User CSS
  4. /u/m_turner/.opera/styles/user.css
This file allows you to override the browser defaults (and even web page defaults if you wish to do so). Inserting the text below will cause it to indent all paragraphs by half an inch.
P
{
    TEXT-INDENT: 0.5in
}

The fact that your browser may not have the capability to allow customization of the style sheet is no excuse to violate HTML standards.

Section 9.3 Lines and Paragraphs - HTML 4.01 Specification

Authors traditionally divide their thoughts and arguments into sequences of paragraphs. The organization of information into paragraphs is not affected by how the paragraphs are presented: paragraphs that are double-justified contain the same thoughts as those that are left-justified.

The HTML markup for defining a paragraph is straightforward: the P element defines a paragraph.

The visual presentation of paragraphs is not so simple. A number of issues, both stylistic and technical, must be addressed:

  • Treatment of white space
  • Line breaking and word wrapping
  • Justification
  • Hyphenation
  • Written language conventions and text directionality
  • Formatting of paragraphs with respect to surrounding content


9.3.5 Visual rendering of paragraphs

How paragraphs are rendered visually depends on the user agent. Paragraphs are usually rendered flush left with a ragged right margin. Other defaults are appropriate for right-to-left scripts.

HTML user agents have traditionally rendered paragraphs with white space before and after, e.g.,

At the same time, there began to take form a system of numbering,
the calendar, hieroglyphic writing, and a technically advanced
art, all of which later influenced other peoples.

Within the framework of this gradual evolution or cultural
progress the Preclassic horizon has been divided into Lower,
Middle and Upper periods, to which can be added a transitional
or Protoclassic period with several features that would later
distinguish the emerging civilizations of Mesoamerica.
This contrasts with the style used in novels which indents the first line of the paragraph and uses the regular line spacing between the final line of the current paragraph and the first line of the next, e.g.,
     At the same time, there began to take form a system of
numbering, the calendar, hieroglyphic writing, and a technically
advanced art, all of which later influenced other peoples.
     Within the framework of this gradual evolution or cultural
progress the Preclassic horizon has been divided into Lower,
Middle and Upper periods, to which can be added a transitional
or Protoclassic period with several features that would later
distinguish the emerging civilizations of Mesoamerica.
Following the precedent set by the NCSA Mosaic browser in 1993, user agents generally don't justify both margins, in part because it's hard to do this effectively without sophisticated hyphenation routines. The advent of style sheets, and anti-aliased fonts with subpixel positioning promises to offer richer choices to HTML authors than previously possible.

Style sheets provide rich control over the size and style of a font, the margins, space before and after a paragraph, the first line indent, justification and many other details. The user agent's default style sheet renders P elements in a familiar form, as illustrated above. One could, in principle, override this to render paragraphs without the breaks that conventionally distinguish successive paragraphs. In general, since this may confuse readers, we discourage this practice.

http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/struct/text.html

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.