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Typewriter tradition (was Re: 5n vs 7n: is it an objective question?)

From: Dave Kemper
Subject: Typewriter tradition (was Re: 5n vs 7n: is it an objective question?)
Date: Tue, 11 Apr 2023 00:22:25 -0500

On 4/10/23, G. Branden Robinson <> wrote:
> At 2023-04-10T22:43:18+0200, Alejandro Colomar wrote:
>> Branden claimed that preferring 5n is subjective.
> It _is_ also traditional in English typography.

It's traditional on typewriters (which I presume is what you meant,
since the next sentence talks about grade-school typing class), but a
5n indent in typeset material would be unusually large.  Something
closer to 2n is more common.

This observation is largely irrelevant to man pages, which have their
own needs and conventions independent of typesetting conventions in
other realms.  And the rest of this email veers far off topic; none of
the below discourse on typewriter tradition is useful for man page

> But what the
> instructors did have to impart were formatting rules.  Half an inch, or
> 5 spaces (same thing at 10 pitch, i.e., 10 characters per inch).  Though
> I remember 4 spaces being preferred in some quarters.  I don't have
> citations for any of this; my copies of MLA 8th ed. and Chicago MoS are
> in storage.

The latest (17th) edition of CMoS (available online, but behind a
paywall) regards paper manuscripts as so obsolescent that they require
only seven sentences (section 2.6) to tell you everything you might
need to know about such a barbarism.  The paragraph indent doesn't
make the cut.  (Indeed, the only piece of page-layout advice this
section gives is to double space.)  Per section 2.12, an electronic
manuscript should not use spaces to indent a paragraph, but a tab
character or "your word processor’s indentation feature."

The 13th edition (1982) has a lot more to say on typewritten
manuscripts, but even in the level of detail given for basic typed
manuscript layout (sections 2.12 - 2.19), there is no guidance on how
much to indent a paragraph.

What both editions *do* give is an example of a typewritten page
marked up by an editor, so we can see what they expect a typical
typewritten page to look like.  Figure 2.1 in the 13th does indeed
show 5 spaces of paragraph indent; figure 2.5 in the 17th shows 6

But in general, a typewritten manuscript needs a lot of whitespace for
editors to come along and scribble all over it (hence the
double-spacing edict, also standard far beyond CMoS), so all these
rules are in service of the process that leads to typesetting, not
relevant to typesetting itself.

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