Pierre Igot took my little text-wrapping gaffe from the other day,
and proceeded to turn it into what he ostensibly called “ href="http://www.latext.com/pm/betalogue?id=P1056">constructive
criticism” as to why people might want to use manual line breaks.
Frankly, it looks a lot more like flame bait than constructive
criticism, particularly in that his criticism is based on obfuscating
the distinction between knowing why someone might want to use a
text-wrapping break and knowing how many people would actually want to
use one in practice. Moreover, saying that I don’t know how many people
would want to use manual line breaks (Win Word actually uses the term
“text-wrapping break”) doesn’t even mean that I think the number would
likely be small. After all, if I thought the number of potentially
interested users was small, I wouldn’t have bothered to blog about it
in the first place.
Normally I’d just let this sort of thing roll off my back, but in
his rush to offer criticism through the vehicle of a
couple of contrived examples, Pierre actually manages to offer some bad
advice. He cites three cases where people might want use a manual line
break, but two of them are predicated on people doing something
stylistically bad in the first place: having a title or a heading
that’s too long to fit on one line or accommodate page numbers in a
table of contents entry.
In both cases, you’re probably better off trying to rewrite the
offending title or heading than trying to force a line break to make it
look nice. The TOC entry suggestion is particularly bad, because you’re
inserting a break within a field. Should you later decide that
rewriting the offending heading is necessary, your manual line break in
the TOC entry will get blown away when you update the table of contents
field. A far better solution would be to modify the font size of the
appropriate TOC styles in order to get the offending heading to
Pierre’s throw-away example, poetry, is the one example where
inserting a text-wrapping break makes sense, because it follows the
general rule for using manual line breaks, i.e. where the content
itself requires that lines be broken at specific locations while still
maintaining paragraph semantics across those lines. It’s a throw-away
example, because, well, there just aren’t all that many poets out there
who are likely to be in any way concerned about the difference between
line breaks and paragraph breaks.
None of this means that manual line breaks aren’t useful for a
number of different users. In fact, one of the more common instances
might be where one wants to include some explanatory text for an
individual item within a list without breaking the list. It might look
something like this:
- This is a list item.
You might want to insert what looks like a
paragraph within a list of items. You can achieve this effect by using
a manual line break between the text of the list item and the explanatory text in
- This is also a list item.
- This is the last item.
Using a manual line break between the text of the list item itself
and the explanatory text keeps the list intact without having to mess
with continuing a previous list or adjusting the indents of the
explanatory paragraph to match the beginning of the text in the list
item. It also has the benefit of keeping everything aligned properly
should you wish to indent the list to another outline level.
Another case where I’ve seen people use manual line breaks is with
technical documents that get indexed and cross-referenced within a
document management system. Quite often, cross-references, i.e.
pointers to other documents within the document management system, are
inserted to refer to specific statements within a paragraph. A common
way to insert these cross-references is to sandwich them between two
manual line breaks, and mark everything between the line breaks, and
the line breaks themselves, as “Hidden” text, or, better yet, mark the
text with a user-defined character style that includes the “hidden”
attribute. If someone wants to see the cross-references, they simply
click on the Show/Hide ¶ button, and the manual line breaks help the
cross-references to stand out from the paragraphs that contain
Note that both of the examples I’ve cited follow the same general
rule that applies to poetry and the programming code examples: the
content requires that lines be broken in specific locations while still
maintaining paragraph semantics. Neither of Pierre’s two contrived
examples follows this rule. So take Pierre’s advice with a grain of
salt, and keep this rule in mind as you use manual line breaks. If you
find yourself wanting to use a manual line break for reasons not based
on the actual content, then consider other means to resolve the problem
before using a manual line break.