The In­ter­net is fierce with polemics about one-space-or-two-after-the-period. Bah, lightweight stuff. What about all those poor peo­ple you see mak­ing MS Word docs look a lit­tle more spa­cious by in­sert­ing an ex­tra emp­ty line be­tween para­graph­s? There is a bet­ter way! But the Of­fice UI (on Mac at least) is heinous, so here’s a step-by-step.

Be­hold two para­graphs of tex­t, crushed un­kind­ly against each oth­er.

two paragraphs, too close to each other

What you want to do is tell Word to hence­forth leave a taste­ful amount of space be­tween all your para­graph­s, with­out you hav­ing to mo­ron­i­cal­ly double-Enter.

You pull down the “Format” menu and se­lect “Style”, for rea­sons which are ob­vi­ous if you un­der­stand how Word thinks about the pre­sen­ta­tion units that it man­ages for you.

Format=>Style in Microsoft Word

Which gets you this en­tire­ly opaque screen.

Style in Microsoft Word

Once again, if you were able to mind-meld with a sea­soned Of­fice de­vel­op­er in Red­mond, you’d un­der­stand that there’s a rea­son for each and ev­ery lit­tle morsel in this smor­gas­bor­d. You may not have thought that “No List” or “Theme Body” were im­por­tant to your writ­ing; sil­ly you! Any­how, ig­nore all that crap and just hit the “Modify…” but­ton in the low­er cen­ter, to tell Word that you want to fix up the ren­der­ing for the “Normal” style, soft­ly high­light­ed in the left-side win­dow.

Hm, that soft se­lect sug­gests that you could hard-select “Normal” by click­ing on it. But don’t, be­cause I can’t be re­spon­si­ble for the con­se­quences. Or even double-clicking; I betcha some­thing hap­pen­s. I wonder… no, let’s go back to “Modify…”; it’s your friend. And peo­ple who take a wrong turn in the Of­fice style di­alogs are in Gandalf-and-Mirkwood ter­ri­to­ry: Leave the path and the gi­ant spi­ders are wait­ing.

Modify Style in Microsoft Word

Now we’re get­ting some­where. Here are lots of in­ter­est­ing things about the “Normal” style, which is what you’re us­ing in Word when you’re not us­ing any­thing else. And this screen is just the tip of the ice­berg.

It’s help­ful­ly high­light­ed the style’s name in case you want to change it; af­ter al­l, you might not be feel­ing Nor­mal that day. But for now we just want some white space. Many brave wom­en and men have faced this screen, seen no path for­ward, and their courage has failed them. But I’m here to help. It turns out that what you want is the bottom-left con­trol la­beled “Format”. Mind you, ev­ery­thing else on this screen is all about for­mat too; In ef­fect it’s the We Must Go Deep­er menu.

Modify Style Format Pulldown in Microsoft Word

Look at that! All the Aris­totelian Cat­e­gories of WYSIWYG, preg­nant with el­lipses. Wel­l, ex­cept for “Shortcut key…” which you have to feel a lit­tle sor­ry for, strand­ed as it is among stranger­s.

Since we’re try­ing to space out para­graph­s, you might be in­spired to think that the “Paragraph” en­try in this pull­down would be your tick­et to hap­pi­ness. And you’d be right!

Paragraph Style dialogue in Microsoft Word

Real­ly, Word is a pretty-full fea­tured doc­u­ment pre­sen­ta­tion sys­tem, if you’re up to the dialog-navigation chal­lenges.

Any­how, it turns out that to achieve the de­sired ef­fect you use the “Spacing” group, third from the top  —  you can see that I’ve hit the “After” set­ting which help­ful­ly jumped to a sug­gest­ed 6 pt of para­graph sep­a­ra­tion. And 6 pt isn’t ter­ri­ble but I nor­mal­ly pre­fer a lit­tle less, 5 or 4. The ef­fect is way more pol­ished than just hit­ting En­ter twice af­ter each para­graph. OK, so hit “OK” al­ready.

Back to the Style dialog in Microsoft Word

You’re pret­ty well done, but now you have to es­cape this maze of twisty lit­tle di­alogs, which is not as straight­for­ward as you might think.

A close look re­veals that the di­a­log in front with the “Apply” but­ton doesn’t ac­tu­al­ly have fo­cus, the one be­hind it does. I’m not sure ex­act­ly how this hap­pen­s, but it’s re­al­ly easy to get in­to a mode where you mash away at the Ap­ply but­ton and Word just isn’t hav­ing it, sneers at your at­tempts to Ap­ply your am­a­teur ty­po­graph­i­cal no­tion­s. Then you have to bring the oth­er di­a­log for­ward and hit the “OK”. Or maybe I have that back­ward. And it doesn’t al­ways hap­pen. But with a lit­tle per­sis­tence and af­ter say­ing “Make It So, Num­ber One” to a va­ri­ety of subtly-3D blue but­ton­s, the di­alogs will all be gone, leav­ing your prose vault­ing air­i­ly over grace­ful open space from para­graph to para­graph.

Separated paragraphs in Microsoft Word

OK, 80% of you prob­a­bly knew this al­ready, and I have learned over the years that peo­ple cheek­i­ly double-tapping the “Enter” key be­tween para­graphs rarely ap­pre­ci­ate be­ing told that There Is A Bet­ter Way. Espe­cial­ly when I start fill­ing their screen with di­alogs.

Back to your regularly-scheduled pro­gram­ming.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: George (Mar 01 2017, at 01:07)

I'm an 80 percenter but it was still worth reading for the humour and snark and a reminder of how whack these dialogs are.


From: Philip Storry (Mar 01 2017, at 04:59)

This will sound terrible, but I must say it...

I feel sorry for the team working on Word.

I have done ever since the OOXML debacle. It showed how clearly they are held to a legacy code base that, in all likelihood, nobody understands anymore. Over the past few releases there are signs that they've begun to free themselves of that legacy code base, thankfully.

But there's always another horror lurking in Word. Work like the Ribbon makes it look like there's been massive progress, but then you get into the dialogues and realise that there's so much more work to be done.

So I really do feel sorry for the folks on the Word team. They've done a good job - it's a much better product than it was a decade ago - but there's so much more to do...


From: Matěj Cepl (Mar 01 2017, at 05:13)

And then you finally see the light, switch to some plain text format (Markdown, reStructuredText, LaTeX) and then you press RETURN twice again ;).


From: Joe Clark (Mar 01 2017, at 05:41)

Except that any text you intend to be taken seriously must look like all the text you ever read that intended to be taken seriously: Paragraphs following paragraphs get indents and no blank lines intercede between them.


From: Liam Quin (Mar 01 2017, at 09:49)

I’ve always preferred a small amount of extra space between sentences - it can help disambiguate from an abbreviation followed by a capital letter. But not enough extra space to make visible and distracting holes.

I haven’t used Microsoft Word in the past 15 years at least; LibreOffice/OpenOffice has been fine when I needed a word processor, even for writing a book.

On the Web, a blank line or half-line between paragraphs can work better than an indent at the start in cases where the line length is unpredictable and there may be intrusions into the start edge (e.g. left side in English) that disrupt the even line. Block-direction space isn't at such a premium as in print. But if you're using Word you're probably writing for print.


From: Michael Zajac (Mar 01 2017, at 12:28)

I’ve been using styles since the 1980s. The minute you share a document to collaborate with someone, it will all go to hell.

Since Word 4 for Mac, the interface has been getting steadily worse. is imperfect, but at least it's simpler.


From: Tom Magliery (Mar 01 2017, at 13:01)

1. The process in Word 2007 on Windows is similar enough that this would get an intrepid person through it. The actual Modify Style dialog is practically identical.

2. I'm sad that I know this.

3. I have written plain, old, ordinary business letters in XML using XMetaL.


From: Rob (Mar 01 2017, at 20:16)

Ah, real perfectionists do not accept default line spacing, let alone default paragraph spacing, and yes, Word lets you express your fine sensibilities there too! You can probably even custom font your kerns and whatnot.

But you know what Word is REALLY good at? Mail merges. The mail merge system is truly a marvel of engineering. It once and for all time definitively solved the world's mail merge problems, so much so that you never hear anybody around the office office complaining about setting up professional looking mass mailouts anymore. Quite possibly Redmond's greatest achievement. Lord knows they put enough effort into it. For the longest time in the last century it was the star of every sales demo.


From: Tim (but not THE Tim) (Mar 01 2017, at 20:49)

It's often the time spent looking for things like this which cause people to use the "double enter" method. My wife writes for a living, her patience with the learning curve for styles is used up, usually, by deadline pressures.

I'm of those mainframe folk who used IBM's Document Composition Facility with its GML markup (SGML-based, I believe) and while it wasn't WYSIWYG, I often miss the clarity of just putting markup somewhere to tell it what to do, with coding outside the document to tell it what the markup did.


From: Mike Sokolov (Mar 02 2017, at 03:25)

Now if only you could elucidate this too: how to operate a text editor that produces lines with line breaks (and double lines for paragraphs) (like emacs tends to), and then import that text into word, or markdown editors, in such a way as to avoid having to manually remove all the line endings,I will forever dying your praises.


From: J. King (Mar 02 2017, at 07:25)

Similar to Tom Magliery I have in the past used Prince (in combination with my favourite text editor of the day) to style documents for printing.

Word's style facility is for the birds. It's less useful than level -one- of CSS; when I tried to learn Word styles (having extensive experience with CSS), I was so frustrated by my inability to cascade rules (and inspect how rules are applied) that I quickly gave up.

I wish it were not so: asking people to learn HTML (or XML) and CSS just to lay out a document properly is a tall order---but so is asking them to use Word styles, because they suck terribly.

I'm going to sound like a really old fart, now, but even Word's styles, if combined with format inspection like WordPerfect had way back in the DOS days, would be acceptable. The combination of poor expressiveness, poor user interface, and dismal control, though, makes what we have in Word, in 2017, useless. Unless Word does have format inspection and I've never found it, after a decade of searching and even trying to get familiar with the Word DOM?


From: Paul Boddie (Mar 03 2017, at 14:41)

Maybe Microsoft Word's style features will eventually catch up with the Impression document processing software I used on the Acorn Archimedes back in the early 1990s.


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