This section of the Home tab on the Ribbon deals with Paragraph-Level Editing Changes:

Paragraph Level Changes

Top row:

  • Bullet List: Make a list like this one.
  • Numbered List: Make a list which is automatically numbered.
  • Multilevel List: Choose different types of numbered/lettered lists;
    have different bullets and numbers on each tabbed level of the list.
  • Decrease/Increase Indent: Move paragraphs to the left and right by 0.5" jumps
  • Sort (Descending): If you select more than one paragraph (as in a list),
    this feature will arrange the paragraphs in alphabetical order:
  • Show/Hide Invisible Characters: spaces, tabs, and "Enter"s will become
    visible as dots, arrows, and "¶" marks.

With the list features, the main button will simply turn the features on or off; there is, however, a small arrow button on the right of each control, which allows you to see options:

The bullet list allows you to choose special bullets with the option at the bottom of the list, Define New Bullet..., which lets you choose from a symbol, a pre-existing image, or an image you choose on your computer.

When you sort, it is usually a multi-paragraph selection. After clicking the Sort button, you will get a dialog box which is usually set to (1) sort by the beginning letters of each paragraph; (2) sort by text, as opposed to numbers; and (3) sort ascending (usual) or descending.

The result may look like this:

Show/Hide Invisible Characters means that spaces, tabs, and "Enter"s will become visible as dots, arrows, and "¶" marks.


On the Bottom row of the Paragraph section:

  • Alignment: Left, center, right, or justified
  • Line Spacing: Choose the amount of spacing between lines
  • Shading: Choose the color background behind the characters (like highlighting); this is usually a Table feature, but can be used with regular text.
  • Borders: Choose the border to surround the text; this is usually a Table feature, but can be used with regular text.

The last two features--Shading and Borders--are usually used with Tables. In regular text, they are character-level changes.


You can also click the dialog box button (lower right) to get this dialog box:

Under General, you can set the Alignment of the paragraph(s) you selected. The options are:

  • Left: lines appear straight on the left;
  • Center: lines match from the center and are not even on either side;
  • Right: lines match up on the right side; and
  • Justified: both sides line up--but create extra spaces between words to make this happen.

Note that in academic essays, left paragraph alignment is required except for titles. Most asian-language versions of Word are set to "Justified" alignment by default.

Under Indentation, you can set the distance of the text from the margins. The choices are:

  • Left: indents the entire paragraph selection a distance from the left margin;
  • Right: indents the entire paragraph selection a distance from the right margin;
  • First Line: indents the first line of selected paragraphs a distance from the left margin;
  • Hanging: indents the every line except the first line in the paragraph selection a distance from the left margin.

Note that the body paragraphs of academic essays should have a first-line indent of 0.5 inches. The Works Cited entries in academic research papers should have a hanging indent of 0.5 inches.

Under Spacing, you can set the distance between paragraphs or between lines. The choices are:

  • Spacing - Before/After: Create extra space at the top and/or bottom of a paragraph. If you do not use indents to show a new paragraph, the extra spacing before or after a paragraph will do the same thing. This is often called "block style."
  • Line Spacing: Control the exact spacing between lines of text. In an MLA-format essay, lines should be double-spaced. There are a few extra spacing options:
    • At Least: Creates a line spacing which can become bigger if there are larger characters in the line
    • Exactly: Creates a line spacing which will not change, no matter what size characters exist in the line
    • Multiple: Creates spacing "x" times the font size

Note: Some paragraph-level changes can also be controlled from the Layout tab in the Ribbon, in particular, within the "Paragraph" section:

The "Indent" control is only for all lines in the paragraph; the "Spacing" is only for paragraph spacing (not line spacing) before or after the whole paragraph.

In the "Line and Page Breaks" tab:

The most important feature:

  • Widow/Orphan Control: In English typing, if a paragraph starts on one page and continues to the next, it is considered bad style if only one line of the paragraph appears on one of the pages. See the example below:

If there is a single line at the end of one page, it is called a "widow." If there is a single line at the start of a new page, it is called an "orphan."

If you turn "Widow/Orphan Control" on, then MS Word will automatically correct this situation.

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