Learn How to Show Formatting Marks in Word

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If you are old enough to remember when WordPerfect ruled the roost when it came to word processing, you may also remember that one of the best features of that program was the ability to show all formatting marks in a document.

This feature allowed you to edit the document for format style and see exactly where any markup had been inserted in the page.

Word's answer to this feature was never as convenient or powerful as that found in WordPerfect. In fact, some believe that the lack of this feature is what allowed WordPerfect to stick around as long as it did while Word was taking over as the number one word processing program.

Today, Word has improved its show formatting features so much so that they rival the old WordPerfect method of being able to see all formatting marks in a document. Read on to learn how to make formatting a page in Word easier by showing formatting marks.

Why Show Formatting Marks in Word?

Before we look at how to show formatting marks, you may be wondering why you would want to show these marks in the first place. Well, it turns out that some of the formatting in a Word document can never be viewed so it can be frustrating to figure out how to make your document look the way you want it to.

For example, just looking at a document, it is impossible to tell whether there exists an indent, a tab stop, or simply a series of spaces whenever text is indented from the left. You'll never be able to tell, in fact, until you put your cursor on the area and play around with the formatting to see how it behaves.

By revealing the formatting marks in a document, you can instantly see what function in Word was used to create the layout. Sometimes the ruler at the top of document can help identify the formatting but that's not a convenient interface with which to create and edit a document's layout.

How to Show Formatting Marks

To show formatting marks in any Word document, begin by clicking on the Office Jewel in the upper left hand corner of the application and selecting the Word Options button in the bottom right hand corner of that window.

Word Options

In the left hand pane of the Word Options windows, locate and click on the Display option. In the right hand pane, locate the options titled Always Show These Formatting Marks on the Screen.

Always Show These Formatting Marks on the Screen

You'll notice that there exist the options to show tab characters, spaces, paragraph marks, hidden text, optional hyphens, object anchors, and even the option to show all formatting marks.

For now, let's choose the option titled Show All Formatting Marks and see what Word reveals to us. Below is an image showing what Word look like when you reveal all of the formatting marks in a document.

Example Show Formatting Document

You can now see where every paragraph begins and ends with the paragraph mark. Also, notice that you can see where every space appears in the document with a little dot between each word.

Having the spaces revealed in a document can make the page look cluttered but it does serve an important purpose. Notice that paragraphs 2 and 3 appear similarly indented from the left margin.

However, with formatting marks revealed, you can plainly see that paragraph 2 is indented with a tab stop and paragraph 3 is indented with a series of spaces. This kind of information is invaluable for a typesetter or editor trying to make sense of the usually invisible marks in a Word document.

You can, of course, go back to the options windows and pick which formatting marks you want revealed in your Word documents. Turning spaces off is probably a good idea and the rest serve their purpose depending on how you like to edit Word documents and how much information you can handle on the screen at one time.


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LAST UPDATED 6/15/2010