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Paragraph Formatting Controls

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  • video.jpg Video 4.14

Now that you have started working with stories, there are more paragraph formatting controls that are handy to learn, such as working with spacing between paragraphs, indentation, and lists.

Drop Caps

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Drop caps are often used to make the introductory paragraph for a story stand out. The first few characters are increased in size and dropped down several lines into the paragraph. Although this effect might seem like a character format, it is actually a paragraph format that you can apply automatically through a paragraph style.

To start a paragraph with a drop cap (Figure 4.48):

  1. Using the Type tool, click in the paragraph to select it.
  2. In the Control panel, select the Paragraph Formatting Controls (paragraph-formatting-control.jpg), or show the Paragraph panel.
  3. Enter a value in the Drop Cap Number Of Lines field to specify how far the characters drop down.
  4. To drop multiple characters, for example when a paragraph starts with a quotation mark, you might want to drop the first two characters of the paragraph. In that case, increase the value in the Drop Cap One Or More Characters field.
Figure 4.48

Figure 4.48 Starting a story with a drop cap

Space Between Paragraphs

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Spacing between paragraphs is an important part of typography and page layout. Correct spacing can help capture the relationship between different text elements and add harmony to the design.

For example, the space between a heading and the rest of the text is important. If the space is too large, the bond between the heading and the following body paragraph could disappear. If the space is too small, it will be less eye-catching. Getting the spacing just right makes it clear to the reader that the heading and body paragraphs form a unit.

The most effective way to control the space between paragraphs is to use the space before and space after paragraph formatting controls.

To add space after a paragraph (Figure 4.49):

  1. Using the Type tool, click in a paragraph to select it, or select a range of paragraphs.
  2. In the Control panel, select the Paragraph Formatting Controls.
  3. Enter a value in the Space After field or click the arrows next to it.
Figure 4.49

Figure 4.49 Adding a small amount of space after the heading and between the different paragraphs makes the heading more noticeable and the individual paragraphs distinguishable.

Like Space After, the Space Before option is equally useful. Take a look at the subhead in Figure 4.50. The subhead seems squashed between two paragraphs, and it is not immediately clear that it goes with the paragraph after it. Adding some Space Before the paragraph gives a clearer visual relationship between the subhead and the following body paragraph (Figure 4.51).

Figure 4.50

Figure 4.50 The subhead is squashed between two paragraphs.

Figure 4.51

Figure 4.51 Space added before the subhead solidifies its relationship with the text that follows.

Indents and Tabs

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Indents move paragraph text away from the left or right edge of a column. If you have a textbook handy, flip through the pages. How can you distinguish one paragraph from another? Maybe the first line of each paragraph has a small indent? Using a first-line indent rather than space before or space after a paragraph is another way to distinguish one body copy paragraph from another.

In addition to body paragraphs, does the book have any numbered or bulleted lists, or maybe a bibliography at the back of the book? Do lists use different indent values for the first line compared to the remaining lines in the paragraph?

Specifying Paragraph Indents

InDesign offers four indent controls, each of which determines how paragraph text moves away from the left or right edge of a column (Figure 4.52).

Figure 4.52

Figure 4.52 Various paragraph indent settings in the Control panel

  • Left Indent: Moves all lines in a paragraph away from the left side of the column.
  • Right Indent: Moves all lines in a paragraph away from the right side of the column.
  • First Line Left Indent: Affects only the first line of the paragraph, moving it away from the left side of the column.
  • Last Line Right Indent: Moves the last line of the paragraph away from the column.

Indenting the first line of a paragraph—as you were likely taught to do by pressing the Tab key when you learned to type—is a common technique for visually separating body paragraphs. To apply a first-line left indent (Figure 4.53):

  1. Select the paragraphs with the Type tool.
  2. Increase the value in the First Line Left Indent field in the Control panel or Paragraph panel.
Figure 4.53

Figure 4.53 Visually separating paragraphs using a first line indent

Using a left and right indent together can help draw attention to an inline quote in a story (Figure 4.54).

Figure 4.54

Figure 4.54 Drawing the eye to a quote with a combination of left and right indent, space before and after, and increased leading

Creating Hanging Indents

To create a hanging indent, start with a Left Indent value, which is applied to all the lines in the paragraph, for example 1p5. Then, set a separate—but negative—First Line Left Indent value, which is only applied to the first line of the paragraph, such as –1p5 (Figure 4.55). This is how you “pull back” that number or bullet at the beginning of a list.

Figure 4.55

Figure 4.55 A numbered list with a hanging indent. The First Line Left Indent field has a negative value to move that line back.

Setting Tabs

With tabs, you can align lines of text within a column. When you press the Tab key, the text jumps to the right. The text stops on a tab stop, set by default or by you. For example, table of contents entries are followed by a tab then a page number. Tabs are paragraph formats, so they apply to all lines in a paragraph.

In the example here, we add a tab before each of the words Yes, No, and Maybe. Once the tabs are added, you are ready to focus on the alignment:

  1. If necessary, choose Type > Show Hidden Characters so you can see the tab characters in your text. (Make sure the Screen Mode is Normal.)
  2. Using the Type tool, press the Tab key immediately before the word you want to align. Press Tab only once—you will properly position one tab rather than using two tabs.
  3. To position and align the tabs, first select the paragraphs with the Type tool (Figure 4.56).

    Figure 4.56

    Figure 4.56 Distributing and aligning the Yes, No, and Maybe options using center-justified tabs

  4. Choose Type > Tabs to display the Tabs panel.
  5. Click one of the tab alignment icons on the tab ruler. This controls how text aligns on the tab stop. For example, after a table of contents entry, the page number is usually aligned to the right of the tab stop so that all the page numbers are aligned with the right edge of the column.

    • Left-Justified Tab aligns the left edge of the text immediately following the tab character to the tab stop.
    • Center-Justified Tab center aligns the text equally on either side of the tab stop.
    • Right-Justified Tab aligns the right side of the text to the tab stop.
    • Align To Decimal (Or Other Specified Character) Tab aligns the text on the decimal point or another character you specify.
  6. Click just above the ruler in the white bar to insert a tab stop, then drag it to the right location. Or, with the tab stop selected, enter an exact position in the X field.
  7. Click the close box on the Tabs panel when done.

Bulleted and Numbered Lists

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The InDesign Bulleted & Numbered Lists feature enables you to automatically add bullet characters or sequential numbers to paragraphs. Lists often make information easier to read and more accessible. Use numbered lists when the order or sequence of steps needs to be captured. Use bulleted lists to reflect a relationship among items without a specific sequential order. In a cookbook, for example, the ingredients might be in a bulleted list and the instructions might be in a numbered list.

To create a numbered list (Figure 4.57):

  1. Select the paragraphs to number with the Type tool.
  2. In the Control panel, click the Numbered List icon. You can also choose Type > Bulleted & Numbered Lists > Apply Numbers.
Figure 4.57

Figure 4.57 Creating a numbered list

To change the numbering format (Figure 4.58):

  1. Select the paragraphs to number.
  2. Select Bullets and Numbering from the Paragraph panel menu. You can also Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac OS) the Numbered List icon in the Control panel.
  3. In the Bullets and Numbering dialog box, select an option from the Format menu in the Numbering Style area.
  4. To change the hanging indent for the list, enter values in the Left Indent and First Line Indent fields. Click OK.
Figure 4.58

Figure 4.58 Changing the numbering format for a numbered list

To create a bulleted list (Figure 4.59):

  1. Select the paragraphs that will make up the bulleted list.
  2. In the Control panel, click the Bulleted List icon, or choose Type > Bulleted & Numbered Lists > Apply Bullets.
Figure 4.59

Figure 4.59 Creating a bulleted list

To change the bullet character used (Figure 4.60):

  1. Select the paragraphs.
  2. Select Bullets and Numbering from the Paragraph panel menu. You can also Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac OS) the Bulleted List icon in the Control panel.
  3. In the Bullets and Numbering dialog box, click Add.
  4. In the Add Bullets dialog box, select a Font Family that has bullet characters, such as Webdings or Wingdings.
  5. Click a bullet character to use and click Add. Continue to add bullet characters you might want to use, and then click OK to return to the Bullets and Numbering dialog box.
  6. Click the bullet you want to use in the Bullet Character area.
  7. To change the hanging indent for the bulleted list, enter values in the Left Indent and First Line Indent fields. Click OK.
Figure 4.60

Figure 4.60 Changing the bullet character format for a bulleted list


Hyphenation causes words that do not fit at the end of a line to split across two lines, with a hyphen appearing at the end of the first line. The use of hyphenation is a design and editorial choice. Enabling hyphenation assists in creating more even word spacing within a paragraph; for paragraph text that is justified, for example, enabling hyphenation could help reduce the word space variations.

Disabling and Enabling Hyphenation

To disable hyphenation for a paragraph (Figure 4.61):

  1. Using the Type tool, click to select the paragraph.
  2. In Control panel or in the Paragraph panel, deselect Hyphenate.
Figure 4.61

Figure 4.61 Disabling hyphenation for a left-aligned paragraph

Enabling hyphenation can improve the overall look of text, preventing the appearance of gaps that can appear in narrow columns of left-justified text (Figure 4.62).

Figure 4.62

Figure 4.62 Justified text with hyphenation disabled (left) and enabled (right)

Customizing Hyphenation

To control the number of consecutive hyphens and other hyphenation settings (Figure 4.63):

  1. Select the paragraphs.
  2. Select Hyphenation from the Paragraph panel menu.
  3. In the Hyphenation Settings dialog box, fine-tune the following settings:

    • Hyphen Limit controls the number of consecutive hyphens.
    • Words With At Least specifies the number of characters a word must have to be considered for hyphenation.
    • After First and Before Last control the minimum number of characters that must remain before and after a hyphen, respectively.
    • Additionally, there are options to hyphenate words with capital letters, last words of a paragraph, or as words break across columns or pages.
    Figure 4.63

    Figure 4.63 Hyphenation Settings dialog box

  4. Click OK to apply the settings.

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