In this post in my Technical eBook series, I talk about text indents.
Take a look at the following image and think about which one looks best to you.
On the left side, you see how paragraphs, bullets, and other items align nicely on the page. On the right, you see the use of so-called first-line indents. In this author’s humble opinion, the left-side looks much better than the right.
The first line indent is great for your typical work of fiction. It helps break up the page and informs the reader they are moving on to a new paragraph.
In technical books where you are using bulleted lists, numbered lists, images, and other formatting options, I believe the first line indent is far too noisy, making the pages harder to read.
For the remainder of this post, I will explain the approach I use to address the issue of first-line indents.
What you see is not always what you get
In most word processors, text aligns to the left, meaning there is no first-line indent. You either type the tab key or use styles to create a first-line indent. However, that is not necessarily how your eBook reader will display the text.
Even if you never use a first-line indent, many eBook readers will create one for you, like it or not.
Fixing the indent problem
Oddly enough, the easiest way to fix the indent problem is to create an indent. What you will do is create an indent that is nearly imperceptible to the eye. The eBook reader will assume you are overriding the default indent and use your new one instead.
As discussed in a previous post regarding fonts, you should always modify the word processor’s styles for your eBook, not each and every paragraph. In other words, do not select all the text in your book and just apply the fix. Implement the indent fix to the styles you are working with.
Modify the indent in Microsoft Word
Modify the indent in Apple Pages
Note: Apple Pages has the option to output to ePub. The ePub will not show an indent on the first line. However, if you convert the Pages (or ePub) file to Kindle, you might encounter the indent issue, so I recommend you follow these steps.
Modify the indent in Google Docs
Google Docs does allow you to modify the first-line indent however I do not recommend you use this approach. Unlike Apple Pages and Microsoft Word, the first-line indent is only available as a user interface element that indents too far. For Google Docs, I recommend you modify the css after the fact.
Note: Google Docs has the option to output to ePub. The ePub will not show the first-line indent. However, if you convert the Google Doc (or ePub) file to Kindle, you might encounter the indent issue. If you do, then I suggest you modify the css file to support it.
Modify the css
One method to keep your text from unwanted indents is to edit the css file of your eBook. I will not get into the detail steps here but you can click here to read my eBook css article.
Here is a quick code snippet that shows how the 0.01″ translates into a css file. Add a text-indent line with a value of .7pt like the following example.
Is that all?
The more styles you use, the more you will want to determine if they need adjusting. Any time you use a new style, I recommend you output to ePub and Kindle to see if it is indenting. You can modify the new style following the same instructions I provide here in this post.
The whole point of the indents is to make an eBook more readable by breaking up the paragraphs. By removing the first-line indents, your paragraphs may look like they run together. For this reason, I suggest you modify the before or after spacing setting of the style you are working with (more on this in another post).
If your technical eBook uses more than just text, like bulleted lists, numbered lists, images, and captions, then you probably want to remove the first-line indent.
Different eBook readers display your eBook differently. For example, as of this writing, when I start with a blank Apple Pages document and save it to ePub, the first-line indent never shows (great!). However, if I convert that ePub file to Amazon Kindle, it might add a first-line indent (not great!).
Using this hard-coded approach to forcing a tiny little indent is a good practice so you know your eBook will look great on as many devices as possible.
If your book is destined for print and eBook, do not worry because the .01″ indent is nearly imperceptable. Of course, if you want your print book to look pristine, you can always modify the styles after you have output your eBook files.