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Formatting Information — An introduction to typesetting with LATEX

Chapter 2: Basic structures

Section 2.7: Ordinary paragraphs

After section headings comes your text. Just type it and leave a blank line between paragraphs. That’s all LATEX needs.

The blank line means ‘end the current paragraph here’: it is not (repeat: not) for creating a blank line in the typeset output.

Multiple blank lines

Leaving multiple blank lines between paragraphs in your source document does not create extra white-space. As we saw in the note ‘Four rules for spacing in LATEX documents’ above, all extra blank lines are ignored by LATEX: the space between paragraphs is controlled only by the value of \parskip.

The spacing between paragraphs is an independently definable quantity, a dimension or length called \parskip. This is normally zero (no space between paragraphs, because that’s how books and articles are normally typeset, but see below), but you can easily set it to any size you want with a \setlength command in your Preamble — like the \setcounter command we saw in § 2.6.1 above it takes two arguments: the name of the length, and the value to set it to:


This will set the space between paragraphs to 5mm. See § 1.10.1 above for details of the various size units LATEX can use.

Most books and articles are set with no space between paragraphs (and indentation at the start of them). If you want to use the popular office-document style of having space between paragraphs (and no indentation), use the parskip package, which does it for you. It also makes adjustments to the spacing of lists and other structures which use paragraph spacing, so they don’t get too far apart.

White-space in LATEX can also be made flexible (what Leslie Lamport calls ‘rubber’ lengths). This means that values such as \parskip can have a default dimension plus an amount of expansion minus an amount of contraction. This is useful on pages in complex documents where not every page may be an exact number of fixed-height lines long, so some give-and-take in vertical space is useful. You can specify this in a \setlength command:

\setlength{\parskip}{1cm plus4mm minus3mm}

Paragraph indentation can also be set with the \setlength command, although you would always make it a fixed size, never a flexible one, otherwise you would have very ragged-looking paragraphs.


By default, the first paragraph after a chapter or section heading follows the standard Anglo-American publishers’ practice of no indentation. Subsequent paragraphs are indented by the value of \parindent (default 18pt). You can change the value of \parindent in the same way as any other length.

In the printed version of this document, the paragraph indentation is set to 10pt and the space between paragraphs is set to 0pt. These values do not apply in the Web (HTML) version because not all browsers are capable of that fine a level of control, and because users can apply their own stylesheets regardless of what this document proposes.

Exercise 2.8 — Start typing!

By now you know enough about LATEX’s basic commands to write a whole document.

  1. Give a title and your name as author (and a date if you want) and don’t forget the \maketitle (see Figure 2.1 above)

  2. Add an Abstract if you need to (see § 2.4 above).

  3. Start with a \chapter (for books or reports) or a \section (for articles) with the title of the chapter or section.

  4. Type your text in paragraphs. Leave a blank line between each. Don’t bother about line-wrapping or formatting — LATEX will take care of all that.

  5. Use the geometry package to change the margins and size of the text body.

To turn off indentation completely, set it to zero (but you still have to provide units: it’s still a measure!).


If you do this, though, and leave \parskip set to zero, your readers won’t easily be able to tell where each paragraph begins!

  1. Paragraph spacing and indentation are cultural settings. If you are typesetting in a language other than English, you should use the babel or polyglossia packages, which alter many things, including the spacing and the naming of sections, to conform with the standards of different cultures, countries, and languages.