LawProse Lesson #87
What are the rules on indenting? ANSWER: The first rule of indenting is to change your word-processor’s default tab setting. Half-inch tabs are a sure sign of a dysfunctional layout. They jump out at you as soon as you pick up a document and see “A.” half an inch from the left margin, followed by another half inch before the text begins. The problem builds when writers use cumulative indents, especially for headings. After a few levels of hierarchy we get a pile-up: lines of boldface heading crammed in toward the right margin followed by flush-left text. So start by setting your tab stops for a quarter of an inch. The second rule is to learn how to create proper hanging indents for numbered and bulleted lists. The number or bullet is to the left of the copy (though not necessarily on the left margin–the whole list can itself be indented). Just to the right of the number or bullet is the text in the list, with all lines indented to the same point. The third rule of indenting is to avoid cumulative indents by limiting the levels of hierarchy in your headings: two or three should do it. Even then, you can create a better-looking page by keeping all headings flush left and using other typographical elements to show the hierarchy–as demonstrated on pages 308-11 of The Winning Brief. Sources: Garner’s Modern American Usage 271 (3d ed. 2009). The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style 81-82, 84-85 (2d ed. 2006). Matthew Butterick, Typography for Lawyers 94-96 (2010). The Winning Brief 308-11 (2d ed. 2004).