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Paragraph Justification and Line Spacing

You don't need me to tell you what a paragraph is — it's a block of text that ends with a "hard return" you insert by pressing the Enter key. In Microsoft Word, paragraph formatting covers such attributes as justification, indentation, line spacing, and what WordPerfect calls "block protect" (called something else by Word, but we'll get to that later).

Our first lesson in paragraph formatting focuses on justification and line spacing. Some of these instructions will be familiar to anyone who's worked with a Windows word processor before, but here's how you can set each of these attributes in Microsoft Word:

Justification/Alignment

Justification (some prefer the term "alignment") refers to how the paragraph is aligned horizontally.

  • Is it flush against left margin with a ragged right edge? It's left-justified.
  • The opposite (aligned with the right margin with a ragged left edge)? It's right-justified.
  • Is each line centered between the left and right margins with ragged edges on the left and right? It's centered.
Examples of left, right, center and full justification

Examples of left, right, center and full justification (top to bottom, respectively)

And it's super easy — here's how you do left-justify, right-justify, center, and full-justify in Microsoft Word (either with your mouse or your keyboard).

Using the Ribbon

Paragraph formatting is controlled by the Paragraph section on the Home tab of the Ribbon:

You can control justification/alignment of a paragraph by clicking on the following buttons:

Left-Justify - leaves a ragged right edge to the paragraph (like a typewriter would)

Center - centers the text on each line

Right-Justify - aligns the text even with the right-hand margin

Full-Justify - gives paragraphs an even left and right margin by proportionally spacing the text

Using the Paragraph dialog box

More paragraph formatting commands (including those we'll be talking about below) are contained in the Paragraph dialog box. To open the dialog box, click the launcher (the small arrow in the lower right-hand corner of the Paragraph section of the Home tab of the Ribbon):

That will bring up the Paragraph dialog box. The justification settings are near the top, in a drop-down box:

Line spacing

Setting line spacing is easy, too, and you've got the same options here: Ribbon and keyboard.

Setting line spacing on the Ribbon

There are two places on Microsoft Word's Ribbon that you can adjust line spacing. You can either use the drop-down in the Paragraph section of the Home tab:

... or you can click the dialog launcher arrow in the Paragraph section of the Layout tab (called the Page Layout tab in Word 2010) to bring up the Paragraph dialog box:

Word 2016

Word 365 (online version)

If you choose Multiple (see the area inside the red square above), you can use any positive number for the "at" value (the area inside the blue square above), and Word will adjust the spacing based on the number of lines ("3" would be triple-spacing, for example). If you need to be more precise, choose "Exactly" and use points, centimeters, or inches as your unit of measurement in the "at" box.

Setting line spacing with the keyboard

You speed typists out there can use the following shortcut keys for these standard line spacing options:

Press this ...

... to do this:

CTRL-1

Single spacing

CTRL-2

Double spacing

CTRL-5

1.5 line spacing

Space Before/After Paragraphs

In addition to setting line spacing <em>within</em> a paragraph, you can add extra space between paragraphs. This option comes in especially handy in a couple of situations:

  • In a letter, even though your text may be single-spaced, you can put extra space after each paragraph to avoid having to put two hard returns (pressing the Enter key twice) to start each new paragraph. For example, if your font is sized 12 points and your text is single-spaced, you could insert 12 points of space after each paragraph to leave one extra line's worth of space between paragraphs.
  • You can set space before and after headings to give each section of your document a bit more "breathing room" and create a more aesthetically pleasing layout.

This, by the way, is the feature that's often behind this complaint: "I chose single spacing, but I still see extra spaces between my paragraphs!" If you run into this predicament, you'll soon know how to check (and correct) this setting.

Again, you can access these settings via either the Ribbon or the keyboard. On the Ribbon, you can use the spinner (a field with up and down arrows on the side that enable you to change the value in the field up or down) in the Paragraph section of the Layout tab (called the Page Layout tab in Word 2010 and Word 365).

You can also adjust these values in the same Paragraph dialog box shown above.

That check box for "don't add space between paragraphs of the same style" deserves a special mention. It's handy when you're working with headings (you want space before and after a two-line heading, but not space between the first and second lines separated by a hard return).

Where that check box becomes a bit of a pain in the neck is when it's checked for regular text paragraphs. Don't get frustrated if you reset before/after paragraph spacing and it doesn't seem to "take". Select all of the text that doesn't seem to be behaving properly, then head into the Paragraph dialog box (click the launcher arrow in the lower right-hand corner of the Paragraph section of either the Home or Layout/Page Layout tabs) to make sure this box isn't ticked.

Let's Review

Here's what we've covered in this tutorial:

  • check
    Justifying/aligning text in a paragraph — left, center, right and full justification — using either the Ribbon, the keyboard or the Paragraph dialog box
  • check
    Setting line spacing using the Ribbon or the keyboard
  • check
    Including extra space before and/or after paragraphs
  • check
    Checking the "don't add space between paragraphs of the same style" box to troubleshoot line spacing.

This was kind of a long lesson! Thanks for hanging in there with me.

The next tutorial in this series will cover ...

Paragraph indentation and tab settings. See you then!

4 Taming naughty footnotes, pt. 1

If you have a brief, etc., in Word 2007 in which a footnote drops down to a subsequent page (the number mark within the main text is on p. 2, but all or part of the footnote text keeps dropping down to p. 3), here’s how to fix it:

  • Click the Office Button (top left-hand corner)
  • Click Word Options (at bottom of menu)
  • Go to Advanced
  • Scroll all the way down until you see Compatibility Options
  • In the drop-down next to “Lay out this document as if created in:” choose Microsoft Office Word 2007 (like illustration below)
Compatibility Options in Word 2007

Compatibility Options in Word 2007

Your footnote should now appear on the correct page.

(You’re welcome.)

1 Block protect – why two types & what’s the diff?

Unless otherwise noted, all instructions and screenshots are from Microsoft Office for Windows version 2016.

In WordPerfect, block protect is block protect -- you highlight a block of text and protect so it all shows up on the same page.

Is Word that simple?  Oh, no.  Microsoft had to come up with TWO different versions of block protect: Keep Lines Together and Keep With Next (accessible from the Paragraph dialog box):

Click this launcher arrow to get to the Paragraph dialog box ...

... then choose one or both of these options.

So, what's the diff?  And how do you know when to use one or the other?

Keep reading →

17 Why your pages break in weird places

Unless otherwise noted, all instructions and screenshots are from Microsoft Office for Windows version 2016.

We have this recurring problem where I work.  I bet you have it, too.

Sometimes, our Word documents (particularly when they've been generated by our time & billing software) leave huge gaps of white space between a heading and the text that's supposed to go right under it by mysteriously breaking the page right after the heading.

Except, there's no page break!  No one's inserted a hard page break anywhere -- the document's just stubbornly refusing to put text that will clearly fit on page 1 on page 2.

What's going on?

Keep reading →

1 How to Squeeze It All on One Page

Have you ever had a document that you had to get all on one page, but there seemed to be just a little too much text to make that happen?

I assume you’ve already tried reducing the font size or making the page margins smaller.  But have you tried any of the following?

Keep reading →