carriage returnsOnly when you want a new paragraph

On man­ual type­writ­ers, the car­riage was the part on top 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 press 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.)

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

WordFind and ReplaceReplaceMore. 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.

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

PagesOpen the Find panel (ei­ther EditFindFind... or ⌘ + f). In the first box, type \n\n, and in the sec­ond, type \n. (\n is a spe­cial code rep­re­sent­ing one car­riage re­turn; \n\n rep­re­sents two.) Click the right-point­ing ar­row in the lower right of the Find panel. Click Replace All.

by the way
  • A com­mon non­sense ob­jec­tion to one space be­tween sen­tences is “mus­cle mem­ory”: roughly, I learned to type on a type­writer us­ing two spaces, and my habit is too strong to change. Of course, these same peo­ple suc­cess­fully changed their habit of typ­ing a car­riage re­turn af­ter each line, as type­writ­ers re­quired, to only typ­ing one af­ter a para­graph. Whatever.

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