Manuscript Preparation, Copyediting, and Proofreading

Q. Regarding indenting paragraphs, the online consensus seems to be that the first paragraph of text is formatted flush left, and only subsequent paragraphs are indented. Does Chicago have an opinion on this? Thanks!

A. Our opinion aligns with the consensus. In a book or other type of work that otherwise features paragraphs with first-line indents, the first paragraph in a chapter or other section normally begins flush left. This is a convention more than a rule (and not mentioned in CMOS), but most publishers today, including Chicago, tend to follow it.

Such paragraphs usually follow a chapter or other title or a section heading. The first line would also begin flush left in a paragraph that follows a section break signaled by extra line space (often in conjunction with asterisks or the like; see “Space Breaks in Fiction” at Shop Talk for an example).

Paragraph indents help readers identify new paragraphs in books and other types of works that don’t rely on extra line spacing between paragraphs to do the same thing. But after a heading or other such break, it’s obvious where the next paragraph begins, so the indent isn’t needed.

Authors can follow the convention for published works in their manuscripts, but they don’t have to. Decisions about indents and other matters of layout are usually up to a book designer or other design professional.