MS Word Tips #4: Paragraph Formatting Features

Document Vs Paragraph Formatting

All the formatting information for the document is stored with the final character on that document. That final character is not visible, but you can see it with MS Word’s Show-Hide feature (3-MS Word Tips: The Show-Hide Feature) turned on. It appears as the final paragraph symbol on the document. Only the final paragraph symbol contains the document formatting information.

When you create a new document, the final paragraph symbol contains all the formatting information from the template. Got that? I’ve said it four times for emphasis, not because I didn’t edit this piece carefully.

When you change the settings for the document (the paper size and orientation and margins) the new information replaces the template settings on the new document, but the template remains the same. This is why when you create a new document, its formatting will not be the same as the final result of the last document you saved. I know I’m repeating myself again, but it’s important that it’s clear that changing a document’s formatting does nothing to the template used to create the document.

The video below illustrate how to change two aspects of a document from the template’s preformatted settings—the line spacing within and between paragraphs.

While the document formatting information is stored with the final paragraph symbol, each other paragraph symbol also stores formatting information, but that information is limited to the paragraph formatting, such as whether the first line is indented, the paragraph is bulleted or part of an outline, or the paragraph is double spaced. Knowing how to change the spacing within and between paragraphs is only part of what you should know.

Most important to understand is that when you press the return key to create a new paragraph, all the paragraph formatting information from the previous paragraph is copied to the new paragraph. This is why it is possible to begin a bulleted list and continue with the next bullet by pressing return at the end of the line. This is also why it may seem troublesome to get the bullets to stop appearing when you have no more items for the list.

To see why it’s important to understand where the paragraph formatting is stored, let’s look again at the sample paragraphs from an earlier post (3-MS Word Tip: The Show-Hide Feature).

Because the Show-Hide feature is on, it’s possible to see that the indentations and spaces within and between paragraphs are all the same. If the cursor is anchored at any place within this document, any new paragraph created by pressing the return key will have the same format—double spaced, first line indented 1/2 inch, and no extra space between the paragraphs.

In contrast, positioning the cursor at different spots in the following example will have very different results.

See the chart below to see how the following paragraph will be formatted when a return is typed at each of the insertion points indicated above.

Insertion PointNew Paragraph Formatting
ADouble spaced, no indent at left unless manually entered
BDouble spaced, no indent at left unless manually entered. In addition, the spaces and tab to the right of Point B will be carried over to the end of the next paragraph.
CDouble spaced, indent of 1/4 inch at left. The spaces and tab following Point C will be carried over to the end of the next paragraph.
DSame as C—Double spaced, indent of 1/4 inch at left, but without the extra spaces and tab being carried over to the end of the next paragraph.
EDouble spaced, no indent at left unless manually entered
FDouble spaced, no indent at left unless manually entered, with the two tabs being carried over to the end of the next paragraph.
GSingle spaced, no indent at left unless manually entered.

When printed, all six paragraphs in this example appear double-spaced and with a 1/2 inch indentation at the left margin. Yet, no two new paragraphs created at the seven insertion points will be formatted the same as the others. That fact makes it difficult for line editors or copy editors to make recommended changes because what appears next may also need to be edited for formatting rather than for language.

The best way to ensure all paragraphs within a document are formatted the same, so that any new paragraph created by pressing the return key will also be the same, is to highlight all the text and then reset the paragraph formatting as you want. The result may initially appear to be a mess, but it’s better to fix things before going further. Then, with the Show-Hide feature turned on, use the Find and Replace feature to find all instances of unneeded tab characters or sequences of spaces and delete them.

Categories: Writing and EditingTags:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.