Early one recent morning I got a phone call from someone whose name, let’s say, was Adam. Adam called because he and a coworker were having a disagreement about whether paragraphs should be indented in email.
I said, “No, paragraphs are not indented in email. You can indent bullet points, or you can block indent text to set it off, but paragraphs aren’t indented.”
It was immediately clear which side Adam was on when he said, “But could you indent paragraphs in email if you wanted to?”
I responded, “No one indents paragraphs in email. It’s just not standard.”
Adam countered, “But people used to think the world was flat.”
I could not argue with that historical truth, so I ended the call.
But the issue of indenting paragraphs in email has not ended. Twice in the last week class participants have submitted email samples with indented paragraphs.
Do three people who want to indent paragraphs set a new standard? No. But I am beginning to wonder where this idea is coming from or going.
Yes, indenting paragraphs is still done in books and magazines. And it’s still done in handwritten notes. In these cases, the indenting helps readers identify where a new paragraph begins, since there may be little space between one paragraph and the next.
But in email the blank line before a new paragraph clearly signals the paragraph change. Indenting doesn’t make sense. It takes time we don’t have, and it looks old-fashioned.
If you live outside the U.S. and indented paragraphs are common in email in your country, please let me know. The world we knew as round has become flat, again. I need to know if email is changing too.