Many students ask me if they should indent the first sentence in a paragraph for IELTS writing task 1 and task 2. Let me explain …
In the old days, before the days when most people used computers, it was common to leave a space at the start of each paragraph. This helped the reader to know which sentence is part of a new paragraph and which is not. Nowadays, however, we don’t use this practice.
Currently, when writing by hand or typing on computers, you should leave one line empty between each paragraph rather than indenting. So, when you write your IELTS essays or your writing task 1, just start your sentences at the beginning of the line and when you have a new paragraph, miss one line.
Leaving one empty line between paragraphs is the easiest way for examiners to see your paragraphs. If the examiner can’t see your paragraphs, you will get a lower score because 25% of your marks (Coherence & Cohesion) relates to the use of paragraphs.
Can I indent and leave a line between paragraphs?
It is not necessary. Just aim to leave one line empty and don’t indent.
Will I lose marks if I indent my paragraphs?
No. It’s not wrong to indent but it’s better to leave one line empty instead. The key is making your paragraphs very clear for the examiner and having one empty line is much clearer.
Do I need paragraphs?
Yes, you need paragraphs. Your score will be reduced if you don’t use paragraphs.
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Questions about when to indent paragraphs may constitute typographic minutia, but getting it right is important nonetheless, especially if you intend to produce writing that will be professionally published.
Many people believe that every single paragraph in a piece of text should be indented. This is actually unnecessary. You should use indentation to indicate a new paragraph. Given the fact that it is pretty obvious that the first paragraph is a new paragraph, there is absolutely no need to indent it at all.
Robert Bringhurst, author of The Elements of Typographic Style, describes it as follows:
The function of a paragraph indent is to mark a pause, setting the paragraph apart from what precedes it. If a paragraph is preceded by a title or subhead, the indent is superfluous and can therefore be omitted.
His wise words are backed up by the “fount of all knowledge,” Wikipedia: “Professionally printed material typically does not indent the first paragraph, but indents those that follow.”
Of course, as usual with these things, not everyone is in agreement. There are some style guides that say you should always indent the first paragraph in a written document. Take the Associated Press style guide, for instance. They dictate that all paragraphs should be indented. However, do bear in mind that these style guides are intended for newspapers and what is useful for a newspaper may not be appropriate for your written document.
As with many issues of style, it is all about consistency. If you really do insist on indenting the first paragraph, make sure you do so every time.
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