carriage returnsOnly when you want a new paragraph

On man­ual type­writ­ers, the car­riage was the cylin­der that held the pa­per and scooted left­ward as you typed. At the end of each line, you’d push a lever to move the car­riage to the be­gin­ning of the next line. On elec­tric type­writ­ers, this lever be­came the car­riage re­turn key, which you’d use at the end of each line.

The ter­mi­nol­ogy has stayed with us, but on a word proces­sor, you only use a car­riage re­turn to start a new para­graph. (In HTML, you use a for­mat­ting tag to de­note a para­graph—a car­riage re­turn has no vis­i­ble effect.)

WordPagesHTML
carriage returnreturnreturn<p> … </p>

As with the word space, use only one car­riage re­turn at a time. It’s com­mon to see mul­ti­ple car­riage re­turns used to add ver­ti­cal space be­tween para­graphs. Bad idea. If you want ver­ti­cal space af­ter a para­graph, use space be­tween para­graphs.

But it’s so much eas­ier to type two car­riage re­turns.” I know. But in long, struc­tured doc­u­ments, ex­tra car­riage re­turns cre­ate un­pre­dictable con­se­quences as the doc­u­ment is edited. What­ever time you save with the short­cut will cost you later.

What if you get a doc­u­ment that’s al­ready lit­tered with dou­ble car­riage re­turns? Search-and-re­place works with white-space char­ac­ters too.

How to replace double carriage returns

Word Find and Replace (con­trol + f) → ReplaceMore. Use the Special menu to put two Paragraph Marks in the Find what box, and one Paragraph Mark in the Replace with box. (Care­ful: you don’t want the Paragraph Character, which de­notes the lit­eral ¶ sym­bol.) Click Replace All.

OS X Word EditFindAdvanced Find and ReplaceReplace → click tri­an­gle-shaped box in lower left to re­veal the Special menu, and then con­tinue as de­scribed above.

Pages This is aw­ful, but it seems to be the only way. Dis­play the white-space char­ac­ters with ViewShow Invisibles (or ⌘ + shift + i). In the doc­u­ment, se­lect two con­tigu­ous blue ¶ sym­bols and do EditFindUse Selection for Find. Then se­lect only one of the blue ¶ sym­bols, and do EditFindUse Selection for Replace. Then go to the Find panel (ei­ther EditFindFind... or ⌘ + f). You won’t see the car­riage re­turns you se­lected—don’t panic. Just click Replace All.

by the way
  • In email or other plain-text sit­u­a­tions, it’s fine to use mul­ti­ple car­riage re­turns to add ver­ti­cal space, be­cause there’s no other way to do it.