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The difference between Line Breaks and Paragraphs and why it matters




In most rich text editors such as the one Cascade uses, Microsoft Word, and the editor you use to edit faculty pages, there is a built-in feature to distinguish a line break from a paragraph. What is the difference and why does it matter so much for web pages?

A paragraph is just that. You may think of a paragraph as a couple sentences separated by some spacing followed by another paragraph containing more sentences, just like in newspapers and magazines. The same is pretty true for web pages as well, and a paragraph is created by simply hitting the ENTER key on your keyboard. This is also called a "hard return". However there's no rule that says a paragraph has to contain multiple sentences, you could technically hit the ENTER key three times in a row and now you've created 3 paragraphs that contain nothing, but they are still there.

A "line break" or a "new line" on the other hand is a method of moving your text cursor down one line. You can do a line break or new line by holding down the SHIFT key and pressing the ENTER key. A line break does not create a new paragraph. This is very important because a lot of the features in rich text editors work only with paragraphs, such as aligning, indenting, and bulleted lists. The confusing part about line breaks is that two consecutive line breaks looks very similar to a paragraph's spacing. I've illustrated in the image below how you can tell the difference between the two, how to test to see if your paragraphs are separated correctly, and how to fix it:

line break and paragraph spacing screenshot

See how hard it is to tell the difference in spacing between the 3 paragraphs? Technically, there are only 2 paragraphs in the example because the second and third paragraph are only separated by two line breaks, thus the second paragraph begins with the words "Now I am" and ends with the words "space back in". They would be treated as the same paragraph if I tried to align, indent or created a bulleted list.

As I said in the example, to fix this you should put your mouse cursor at the beginning of the third "paragraph" and backspace twice to delete the two line breaks, and then hit ENTER once to insert a real paragraph between the two. After that is done, they will be treated as individual paragraphs and I can align one of them without having the other paragraphs be affected.



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