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In memoir, when I run

\documentclass{memoir}
\begin{document}
\showthe\parindent
\end{document}

I get:

17.62482 pt

My questions are :

  1. Why that value? This number seems to capture something with high precision. Was it adjusted manually? If not, how do memoir or LaTeX compute it?
  2. Is there a reference on what are "good-looking" values for parameters like parindent, parskip, etc? What values are typically used/recommended?
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The class itself sets those values and they are already set for what is considered "good-looking", but you can adjust them as desired. –  Peter Grill Mar 30 '12 at 22:08

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The memoir class sets the \parindent to 15pt in one-column mode at 10pt size, to 17pt at 11pt size, to 1.5em (based on the default Computer Modern font) at 12pt size. In two-column mode the \parindent is always set to 1em (again based on the default Computer Modern font).

Usually 1em corresponds approximately to the font design size, so you get (slightly less than) 18pt in this case. Computer Modern em is a bit less than the design size at 12pt (Knuth's decision), but it's exactly 10pt for cmr10.

It's a designer's decision. For example, the parindent is smaller in two-column mode, to compensate for the reduced column width.

If you want to change it based on the actual font used in the document, the right place to do it is just after \begin{document}, unless you prefer an absolute dimension. But 1.5em or 1em can be considered standard.

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For documents using the article class, the default values of \parindent depend on the size option and whether a twocolumn option is passed to the document class:

|      | single | two     |
| size | column | columns |
|------+--------+---------|
|   10 | 15.0pt | 1em     |
|   11 | 17.0pt | 1em     |
|   12 |  1.5em | 1em     |
|------+--------+---------|

These dimensions are set in files size10.clo, size11.clo and size12.clo which are located in the LaTeX source directory.

Why some are specified in points and other in ems is a mystery to me.

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The usual value of \parindent is 1em (as used by memoir in some cases), with the intention of creating (considering line distances) a "visual square" of empty space.

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