7 Ways the Word Paragraph Formatting Tools Can Enhance Your Document Design

AUTHOR:  JASON MORRELL 

Jason Morrell

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Paragraph formatting in Word is all about the paragraph positioning, paragraph alignment and paragraph spacing as well as line spacing, indentation and hanging text.

I'm not talking about individual letters or words, but a paragraph, as a block of text. 

A paragraph could be several lines long, or indeed one line or even one word. A paragraph ends with a paragraph marker, which looks like a backward P.

In this post you'll discover how to accurately control your paragraph formatting.

1. Context & Overview

In this post I tackle paragraph formatting which covers paragraph alignment, positioning, indentation, line spacing, paragraph spacing and hanging text. 

RELATED POST:

Word formatting tools to make TEXT look fantastic

How to format individual characters and words.

RELATED POST:

Headers, Footers and other useful PAGE Settings

Look at things from a document level rather than individual words and paragraphs.

2. Setting the paragraph alignment in Word

The text of your paragraph may be lined up with:

  • the left margin (called left-alignment)
  • the right margin (called right-alignment)
  • both margins (called justified) or
  • the centre of the page (called centred)

To align your paragraph:

1.  Place your cursor anywhere in a paragraph.

2.  Select the Home tab, if necessary.

3.  Click one of the alignment icons in the Paragraph group.

Left-align the paragraph in Word

Align the paragraph to the left margin.

Centre the paragraph in Word

Centre the paragraph text.

Right-align the paragraph in Word

Align the paragraph to the right margin.

Justify the paragraph in Word

Justify the paragraph text. This aligns the text to the left and right margins and spaces out the words on each line equally.

3. How to set the indent distance in Word

Indenting text from the margins

To indent a paragraph:

1.  Place the cursor anywhere in the paragraph.

2.  Select the Home tab, if necessary.

3.  Click the Indent icon in the Paragraph group to increase the indent distance.

4.  Click the Outdent icon in the Paragraph group to decrease the indent distance.

Using the Paragraph Formatting toolset, click the indent or outdent buttons in the Paragraph group of the Home ribbon (Word)

Standard indents occur at 1.27cm increments (1.27cm = ½ inch), so with every click of the icon, the indent increases by 1.27cm.

You can also change the indent manually by clicking-and-dragging the indent marker (upward-pointing marker) on the ruler to a new position. 

Indenting text from the margins

INTERESTING POINT

Many of the conventions used in Word originate back to the original printing press. For example, you will often see measurements of 2.56cm or 1.27cm which are metric conversions from imperial measurements. 2.56cm = 1”. 1.27cm = ½ inch. 0.l64cm = ¼ inch.

You will also see ‘pt’ used throughout Microsoft Office. ‘pt’ is short for point. There are 72 points in one inch. If you are using font size 12, there are 6 lines of printed text per inch (because 6 x 12 = 72).

Why this convention is used today is anybody’s guess. It’s a historical thing.

4. How to space out the lines in a paragraph

You may also space out the lines within a paragraph. You don’t specify a measurement here, just a unit.

1.  Place the cursor anywhere in the paragraph.

2.  Select the Home tab, if necessary.

3.  Click the Line & Paragraph Spacing icon in the Paragraph group.

4.  Select a number option from the Line Spacing drop-down list.

Spacing out the lines in a paragraph

5. How to control spacing between paragraphs

To increase the amount of space between your paragraphs:

1.  Place the cursor anywhere in the paragraph.

2.  Select the Home tab, if necessary.

3.  Click the Line & Paragraph Spcing icon in the Paragraph group

If the before or after paragraph spacing are zero, the available options are:

  • Add Space Before Paragraph or
  • Add Space After Paragraph
Spacing out your paragraphs

But if the before or after paragraph settings are not zero, the available options are:

  • Remove Space Before Paragraph
  • Remove Space After Paragraph or
Spacing out your paragraphs
  • It is often a mix of the two
Spacing out your paragraphs

6. How's it hanging?

Back in the old days, a school essay would be written with the first line of each paragraph indented and the rest in line with the margin, like this …

How's it hanging?

To do this, set the first line indent:

1.  Click the little launcher symbol in the bottom-right of the Paragraph group.

How's it hanging?

2.  Choose the Indents and Spacing tab, if necessary.

3.  Locate the Indentation section:

4.  Choose First Line from the Special drop-down list.

5.  Set the size of the indent in the By box.

How's it hanging?

Sometimes you want the first line to be on the margin and all subsequent lines indented, like this …

How's it hanging?

This is called a hanging indent.

1.  Click the little launcher symbol in the bottom-right of the Paragraph group.

2.  Choose the Indents and Spacing tab, if necessary.

3.  Under the Indentation section,

4.  Choose Hanging from the Special drop-down list.

5.  Set the size of the indent in the By box.

How's it hanging?

7. Using the Paragraph Formatting dialog box

The paragraph alignment, indentation, line spacing, paragraph spacing and hanging settings can all be set from one single dialog box.

Click the little launcher symbol in the bottom-right of the Paragraph group to display the Paragraph dialog box. 

From here, all the paragraph settings can be changed in one place.

Using the paragraph setting dialog box
Using the paragraph setting dialog box

8. Key Takeaways

  • Paragraphs may be aligned to the left margin, right margin, centred or justified.
  • Text may be indented from the left or right margins to make it stand out.
  • The lines within a paragraph may be spaced out
  • Paragraphs may be spaced apart from each other.
  • Text within a paragraph may be hung in 2 different ways or not at all.
  • The Paragraph group on the Home ribbon contains all the tools to manipulate paragraphs.
  • The Paragraph dialog box brings every paragraph setting into a single place for easy manipulation. To display the Paragraph dialog box, click the XXX symbol on the bottom-right corner of the paragraph group.

Please feel free to post any questions you have into the comments below. And before you leave this page, I want to give you one quick little action item! 

ACTION ITEM: Comment below with ONE thing you picked up from this post and share how it has helped, or will help, you. It's good to share your successes because it encourages others and provides an instant boost.

Enjoy the rest of your day!

Jason Morrell blog signature
About Jason Morrell

About the author

Jason Morrell


Jason loves to simplify the hard stuff, cut the fluff and share what actually works. Things that make a difference. Things that slash hours from your daily work tasks. He runs a software training business in Queensland, Australia, lives on the Gold Coast with his wife and 4 kids and often talks about himself in the third person!

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