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11 About Paragraph Breaks and Tabs

tick.jpg Before You Begin

arrow.jpg See Also

1.gif Set Word Options

13.gif Apply Paragraph Formatting

4.gif Type Text into a Document

10.gif About the Rulers

Understanding exactly how Word treats paragraphs is the first step in understanding Word’s formatting capabilities. Knowing exactly where a paragraph begins and ends is not always obvious. For example, in the next figure, it appears that the document has three paragraphs.

If you glance at the screen or print the document, three paragraphs certainly appear to be there. As far as your readers are concerned, the document does contain three paragraphs. Nevertheless, as far as Word is concerned, this particular document contains only a single paragraph! Clicking the Nonprinting Characters button on this particular document shows nonprinting characters, which reveal that this document contains only a single paragraph, as the following figure shows.

You can press Shift+Enter to insert a soft return (as opposed to a hard return that occurs when you press Enter), end one line, and start another without actually initiating a new paragraph. A newline nonprinting character appears when you turn on nonprinting characters to indicate that a paragraph break has not occurred but only an early line break. Without the nonprinting characters appearing, it looks as though the document will have multiple paragraphs.

You’ll generally never create an entire document without paragraph breaks. If you are typing a section of text that is more than one paragraph, and you want to format that section differently from the rest of the document, one way to do so is to place the text together in one paragraph. You’ll press Shift+Enter to give the lines the look of multiple paragraphs, but Word will see them as being only one. Then, any paragraph formatting you apply to the text—either from the ruler (see 10.gif About the Rulers) or from the Paragraph formatting dialog box (see 13.gif Apply Paragraph Formatting)—applies to all the text in that section. You won’t have to format more than one paragraph individually.

This multiparagraph trick using Shift+Enter is wonderful to remember for the times when you have a couple or more paragraphs that you may need to adjust formatting for later. If, however, you have several paragraphs to format differently from surrounding text, or even a page or more of text, you may be better off creating a new section for that text. You can then easily change the formatting of all the paragraphs in that section without affecting the surrounding text. 14.gif Set Up Page Formatting discusses sections in more detail.

You’ll find tab stops to be extremely useful in documents. Tab stops enable you to align values consistently across multiple lines. Also, when you use a tab stop, you don’t have to press the spacebar many times to move to the right on a line. Tab stops enable you to start paragraphs with an indented first line. Word supports five kinds of tab stops, as detailed in Table 3.1.

Table 3.1. Word’s Five Tab Stops

Tab Stop


Left tab

Sets the start of text that continues to the right of the tab stop as you type.

Right tab

Sets the start of text that continues to the left of the tab stop as you type. In other words, as you type, the text moves left toward the left margin, against the tab stop. A right tab stop is useful for page or chapter numbers in a list because it ensures that the right edges of the numbers will align with each other.

Bar tab

Inserts a vertical bar at the tab position but does not adjust the position of any text. (Not to be confused with the invoice you get at Cheers before paying.)

Decimal tab

Ensures that a column of numbers aligns at their decimal point. After you press Tab, the insertion point jumps to that tab stop and the numeric values you then type will position themselves so that the decimal points all align vertically.

Center tab

Sets the start of text and continuously adjusts the text so that what you type remains centered on the stop’s location.

To set a tab stop, use either the ruler or the Tab dialog box. You can click the Tab selection button on the ruler to select which tab stop you want to place. Every time you click the Tab selection button, the symbol changes to a different kind of tab stop. When you then click anywhere on the ruler, that kind of tab appears on the ruler where you click.

To delete any tab stop, drag it down from the ruler and Word removes the tab stop from that location.

To use the Tab dialog box, double-click the ruler at any tab stop or select Format, Paragraph to display the Paragraph dialog box. Click the Tabs tab to display the Tabs page.

Table 3.2 describes each of the options in the Tabs page.

Table 3.2. The Tabs Page Options



Tab stop position

Enables you to enter individual measurement values, such as 0.25″, to represent one-fourth of an inch. After you type a value, click Set to add that value to the list of tab settings. To clear an existing tab stop, select the value and click Clear. Click Clear All to clear the entire tab stop list.


Determines the type of tab stop (such as a left tab stop) you want to place.

Default tab stops

If you set no specific tab stops, the measurement here determines how far forward your text insertion point moves forward every time you press Tab.


Sets the leading characters you want to appear, if any, in the gap left by pressing Tab. The fill character forms a path for the eye to follow across the page within a tab stop. For example, a fill of dotted lines often connects goods to their corresponding prices in a price list.

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