The Hermit Hermit's Free Library  MS-Word

This article covers margins, word-wrap, and spacing before, after, and inside paragraphs. It distinguishes between lines and paragraphs, and dynamic and manual line breaks. It shows how to use Space After as part of a Style and how manual line breaks can be used to modify Space After in lists and mailing addresses.

Margins, Word-Wrap, and Paragraph Spacing

Page Margins

Settings for margins, line spacing, and Space Before and After paragraphs all effect the white space in a document and can be used to control document length.

Margins are the white space at the top and bottom and left and right-hand sides of printed documents. When present, headers and footers appear within the top and bottom margins.

MS-Word's default margin settings call for one inch of white space all around. One inch margins work well for longer documents and are also standard for MLA and APA-style research papers.

Wider margin settings (and greater line spacing) can be used to spread text more equally over pages in shorter documents. Single page documents benefit especially by such treatment.

Depending upon requirements, either of two methods can be used to adjust margin settings in MS-Word:

  1. Margin menu of the Page Layout tab's Page Setup group
  2. Margin tab of the Page Layout dialog box

The Page Setup group's margin menu offers the convenience of seven pre-set margin layouts to choose from.

For increased flexibility, use the Margin tab of the Page Layout dialog box, which can be launched by either a) using the Custom Margins button in Page Setup's margin menu, or b) by clicking the Page Setup group's dialog launcher.

The Page Layout dialog box's Margin tab gives total control over individual margins and can also be used to set the Gutter. The gutter is extra white space in the left margin of odd (right-hand) pages and the right margin of even (left-hand) pages. Gutter compensates for lost inside margin space when pages are bound.

If you regularly change Word's default margins, consider changing the default - it's easy.

  1. Open a new document based on the Normal template (File >New >Blank document)
  2. Launch the Page Setup dialog box and use its Margin tab to set margins to the new default
  3. Click on the Set as Default button in the bottom, left-hand corner of the Page Setup dialog box
  4. Click Ok

This sets the chosen margin settings as the new default for documents based on the Normal template. Perform the same steps in documents based on other templates to modify their default margins.

Note that Page Setup options, including margins, cannot be changed by modifying a style because styles include only text and paragraph settings, not page.


The Enter key on a typewriter is used to begin both new lines and new paragraphs.

In a word processor, the Enter key inserts a paragraph symbol (Paragraph Boundry Icon) to end the current paragraph and begin a new one. The job of beginning new lines within a paragraph is usually left to word-wrap.

Word-wrap is the feature that automatically adjusts the length of lines to fit inside our margin settings. Word-wrap's line (and page) boundaries are dynamic because they are automatically adjusted by word-wrap to compensate for added and deleted text.

Using Enter to make new lines turns every line into a paragraph, defeating the good work of word-wrap. So, generally speaking, let word-wrap take care of lines and only hit Enter when you want to a) begin a new paragraph, or b) create a list of items with each item on its own line.

Although Word-wrap's automatic, dynamic line boundaries are just what we want 99.9% of the time, occasionally they get in the way. Fear not. There are ways of making word-wrap bend to our needs.

For example, if there are two words that you want kept together, instead of using an ordinary space between them, use a non-breaking space that says "hands off" to word-wrap. To insert a non-breaking space, press Ctrl-Shift-Spacebar instead of Spacebar.


Space Inside Paragraphs

Line spacing within paragraphs sets the tone for a document's overall whitespace. Along with margins and font size, line spacing has a major effect on a document's length.

Single line spacing is rather crowded, while one-and-a-half line spacing is somewhat "airy". For general use, 1.15 line spacing is a happy medium.

Double-spacing is the standard for most academic papers because it leaves enough room for hand-written corrections and comments.

Tip: Line spacing is a paragraph format, so it is unnecessary to select a paragraph to apply a line spacing setting, just position the insertion point anywhere in the paragraph.

Like all paragraph formatting settings, line spacing is controlled most effectively by using styles.

Spacing After Paragraphs

Extra whitespace separating paragraphs makes it easier to scan a document and to keep one's place.

A common mistake is to create this extra whitespace using empty paragraphs. Spacing After is a far better way because it is automatic and offers greater precision in selecting the amount of white space. Also, as part of a style, it can be changed globally.

The amount of Spacing Before and After is set in points. Six points of space works well for single- and 1.15 line spacing.

Check: At double-spacing and greater, First-line indentation works better than Space After to delineate paragraphs.

Spacing After (and Before) is found in the Paragraph dialogue box, which is launched from the Paragraph group of the Home tab.

The context-sensitive menu is a good shortcut:

Using the short-cut menu adds Spacing After as direct formatting. This is ok for quick "touch-ups", but Styles offer a much better method because they make it possible to globally adjust the amount of Spacing After.

Check: a new paragraph inherits direct formatting from the previous one, so Spacing After applied directly to a paragraph gets passed on to new paragraphs as they are added.

Spacing After Paragraphs as part of a style

One problem with applying Spacing After as direct formatting as described above is that if it becomes necessary to change the amount of Spacing After it must be done at each and every individual location.

Skillful users apply Space After as part of a Style. That makes the setting dynamic and capable of being adjusted globally. This saves time and also makes it easy to experiment.

Here's one quick and easy method to add or modify Space After for a Style:

  1. Right-click on the Normal Style in the Style Gallery on the Home Tab
  2. Click Modify on menu
  3. Click the buttons >Format >Paragraph
  4. Set Space After
  5. Click on OK, and on OK again.

For a more complete discussion of using styles, see " Formatting with Styles".

Manual Line Breaks

Spacing After can be awkward in some situations: after lines of an inside address, for example. In such cases, substitute manual line breaks for new paragraphs. A manual line break (Manual line break icon) begins a new line without beginning a new paragraph and thus avoids Space After.

To insert a manual line break in MS-Word, press Shift-Enter instead of Enter. (In MS-Excel, press Alt-Enter).

Inside address using paragraphs (Enter):

Richard CreightonParagraph boundry icon

5422 14th StreetParagraph boundry icon

Washington, DCParagraph boundry icon

The same address using manual line breaks (Shift-Enter instead of Enter):

Richard CreightonManual line break icon
5422 14th StreetManual line break icon
Washington, DCParagraph boundry icon

For another example of using manual line breaks instead of Entering new paragraphs, see Manual Line Breaks in Bulleted Lists.