Formatting Paragraphs





Formatting Paragraphs

Formatting a paragraph usually entails changing its shape. You may be squeezing it in with indents or stretching it out with additional line spacing. Other kinds of formatting change a paragraph's very nature, like adding a border or making it part of a numbered or bulleted list. The Paragraph formatting group (Home Paragraph) is right next door to the Font group (Figure). You don't need to select text to format a paragraph; just make sure the insertion point is in the paragraph you want to format. However, if you want to format several paragraphs at once, select them all before you apply a command.

Figure. Paragraph formatting commands are in the Home Paragraph group. Left to right, from the top, you find buttons to add bullets and numbers, apply indents, sort paragraphs, show the paragraph mark, align paragraphs, adjust line spacing, change the background color, and add borders.


Aligning Text

It's easy to apply alignment to text. With your insertion point in the paragraph you want to change, click one of the alignment buttons in the Paragraph group on the Home Tab. For example, Home Paragraph Left sets the current paragraph's alignment. As shown in Figure, you have four choices when it comes to aligning your paragraphs:

  • Left (Alt+H, AL). Aligns the lines in the paragraph flush on the left side and ragged on the right. Left alignment is standard for letters, reports, and many business documents.

  • Centered (Alt+H, AC). Centers each line in the paragraph, leaving both left and right margins ragged. This setting is appropriate for headings and short chunks of text, as in invitations and advertisements. Avoid using centered text for long paragraphs, since it's hard for readers' eyes to track from the end of one line to the beginning of the next when the left margin is uneven.

  • Right (Alt+H, AR). Aligns the lines in the paragraph flush on the right side and ragged on the left. This unusual alignment is most often used for setting captions or quotations apart from the main text.

  • Justified (Alt+H, AJ). Adds space between letters and words so that both the left and right sides of the paragraph are straight and flush with the margins. Justified margins give text a more formal look suitable for textbooks or scholarly documents. If your justified text looks odd because big gaps appear between the letters or words, try using a long linethat is, putting more characters per line. You can do this by extending the margins (Alt+P, M) or by changing the size of your font (Alt+H, FS).

Figure. Set the alignment of your paragraphs using the buttons on the ribbon. Four settings are available: Left, Centered, Right, and Justified.


Indenting Paragraphs

One of the most common reasons for indenting a paragraph is to set off quoted text from the rest of the document. Usually, you move the paragraph's left edge in about a half inch from the left margin. Word makes it easy to indent text in this way. Just use the Increase Indent button on the ribbon (shown back in Figure) or the shortcut Alt+H, AI. If you change your mind and want to remove the indent, use the companion command Decrease Indent (Alt+H, AO).

The ribbon buttons handle most everyday indentation chores, but what if you need to customize your indents? To do that, open the Paragraph dialog box to the Indents and Spacing tab (Alt+H, PG), and you see the Indentation tools in the middle of the tab (Figure).

Figure. The Paragraph box is divided into four sections. From the top you see: General, Indentation, Spacing, and Preview. As you adjust your paragraph formatting using tools from the first three groups, you see the changes take place in an example paragraph in the Preview window.


The indentation tools in the Paragraph box let you set indents with much more precision than the simple Increase and Decrease buttons. For one thing, you can indent your paragraph from both margins using the Left and Right text boxes. Type a number in the box or use the arrow buttons to make an adjustment. Look in the Preview window at bottom to get a sense of the changes you're making.

Novels, short stories, and other manuscripts often indent the first line of each paragraph. To set up this format, click the Special drop-down menu, and then choose "First line." Type a number, in inches, in the By box on the right. A quarter inch (.25") is usually an attractive first-line indent.


Tip: By the way, don't hit Tab to create a first-line indent. For one thing, it creates an amateurish, typewriter-like half-inch indent. And you lose all the benefits of paragraph formatting. For example, when you press Enter to start a new paragraph, Word automatically carries your settings forward, with a perfect first-line indent just like the paragraph above. If you use the Tab key, you have to remember to hit it at the beginning of every paragraph, and there's the danger of messing up your indents if you change the tab settings (Section 3.5).

For the reverse of the "First line" indent, choose the hanging indent where the first line extends to the left margin, while the rest of the paragraph is indented the amount shown in the By box. This kind of indentation makes great looking glossaries, bibliographies, and such.

Spacing Between Paragraphs

For documents like business letters or reports that use block-style paragraphs, there's usually a little space between each. You can adjust this spacing between paragraphs to set off some blocks of text from the rest.

Use the Paragraph dialog box (Figure) to adjust the distance between paragraphs. On the left, you can enter numbers to set the space before the paragraph and the space after. With body text paragraphs, it's good to set the same, relatively small distance before and aftersay, three points. For headers, you may want to put a little extra space before the header to distance it from the preceding text. That space makes it clear that the header is related to the text beneath it. Generally speaking, the more significant the header, the larger the type and the greater the spacing around it.

Spacing Between Lines

In the Paragraph box, to the right of the paragraph spacing controls, you find the "Line spacing" tools. Use these controls to set the distance between lines within paragraphs. You have three presets and three custom settings:

  • Single keeps the lines close together, with a minimum amount of space between. Single spacing is usually easy to read, and it sure saves paper.

  • 1.5 lines gives your text a little more breathing room, and still offers a nice professional look.

  • Double is the option preferred by teachers and editors, so there's plenty of room for their helpful comments.

  • At least is a good option if you have a mix of font sizes or include inline graphics with your text. This option ensures that everything fits, as Figure illustrates.

  • Exactly puts you in control. Type a number in the At box, and Word won't mess with that setting.

  • Multiple is the oddball of the bunch. Think of Multiple as a percentage of a single line space: 1=100 Percent; .8=80 percent; 1.2=120 Percent; and so on.

    Figure. Line spacing controls the space between lines within a paragraph. These examples show the same paragraph, with two different settings. All the type is set to 11 points except for the word "by," which is 24-point type.
    Top: Using the "At least" option with 12 points entered in the At box (see Figure), this setting adjusts so that the oversized word fits.
    Bottom: Selecting Exactly from the "Line spacing" drop-down menu with 12 points in the At box, the b and y get clipped off.


Inserting Page Breaks and Line Breaks

Some things just look wrong, such as a heading at the bottom of a page with no text beneath it. That heading should be at the top of the next page. Sure, you could force it over there with a page break (Ctrl+Enter), but that can cause trouble if you edit your text and things move around. You could end up with a page break in some weird spot. The solution is to adjust your Line and Page Break settings so that headings and paragraphs behave the way you want them to.

On the Paragraph box's Line and Page Breaks tab (Figure), you can adjust how paragraphs handle these breaks. The behavior becomes part of the paragraph's formatting and travels with the text no matter where you move the text or breaks. The keyboard shortcut to get there is Alt+H, PG, Alt+P. You can use four settings:

  • Widow/Orphan control. Single lines abandoned at the top (widows) or bottom (orphans) of the page look out of place. Turn on this checkbox, and Word keeps the whole family, er, paragraph together.

  • Keep with next. Certain paragraphs, like headings, need to stay attached to the paragraph that comes immediately after them. Choose the "Keep with next" option for your headings, and they always appear above following paragraph.

  • Keep lines together. Sometimes you have a paragraph that shouldn't be split between two pages, like a one-paragraph quote or disclaimer. Use this option to keep the paragraph as one unit.

  • Page break before. Use this command with major headings to make sure new sections of your document start on a new page.

Figure. Use the Line and Page Break settings to control the appearance of your text and to avoid awkward transitions between pages.




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