Word Processing Tips

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  • White-space
    Areas in your document where no text can appear. (Note that spaces, tabs, empty paragraphs are NOT white-space according to this definition! Spaces, tabs and empty paragraphs are text.)


Indentation is white-space that appears between the margin of the page and the text. It is generally expressed in inches (or, depending on your region, in centimeters).

There are four types of indentation:

  • left,
  • right,
  • hanging and
  • first-line.

Hanging and first-line indentation are special cases of left indentation.

A paragraph that is set to have 1" left indentation will have all text offset 1" from the left margin. A paragraph that is set to have 1" right indentation will have its text offset 1" from the right margin. Left and right indentation can be combined in the same paragraph.

First-line indentation will only offset the text in the first line of the paragraph, always from the left margin. One half inch first-line indentation will leave 0.5" of white-space before the first word in a paragraph. However, text in any line other than the first line will be flush with the margin.

Hanging indent can be considered the opposite of first-line indent: every line but the first line will be offset from the left margin. Hanging indent and first-line indent cannot be combined in the same paragraph, but it is possible to have a left-indent value combined with first-line or hanging indent.

Sample document showing indentation: Word 2007. The sample document shows all types of indentation and includes basic usage guidelines for each type.

Indentation vs. Spaces and Tabs

Too often, writers revert to typing 5 or 10 spaces to create the appearance of indentation. This method of offsetting text from the left margin is problematic during revisions.

Using a single tab instead of multiple spaces is a slightly better way of creating indentation, but it only works for first-line indent.

Always using indentation is preferred.

Line and Paragraph Spacing

Line and paragraph spacing are a common source of confusion because of the way they are expressed and some of the effects of using both at the same time. Both refer to vertical white-space (as opposed to indentation, which is horizontal white-space).

Line Spacing

Line spacing is generally expressed in multiples of 1 line. Single line spacing (or line spacing of "1") means that there is just sufficient vertical space to show one line of text. Double line spacing means that each line of text has vertical space to accommodate two lines of text, i.e. there appears to be one blank line after the actual line of text. Increasing line spacing from 1 to 1.15 generally makes large sections of text easier to read, without sacrificing too much space on the page.

Part of the confusion between line spacing and paragraph spacing comes from the fact that line spacing settings are found in the Paragraph dialog box in Word and that line spacing always applies to an entire paragraph at a time. In other words, all lines in the same paragraph will always have the same amount of line spacing.

Paragraph Dialog Box
Paragraph Dialog Box (Microsoft Office Word 2007). Settings in the red oval pertain to Paragraph Spacing and those in the blue oval pertain to line spacing.

Paragraph Spacing

Paragraph spacing refers to vertical white space that is added before and/or after the paragraph text; but not in between each line of text in the paragraph. Paragraph spacing is commonly used to ensure that there is a "blank" line before and after a heading, etc.

Paragraph spacing is not expressed in multiples (where the actual amount of white-space depends on the size of the font), but in an absolute measurement unit called "points." That is the same measurement unit used for font sizes. In order to create the appearance of a blank line after a paragraph, you need to first determine the font size used in the paragraph. Then, set the same value of paragraph spacing after.

Combining Line and Paragraph Spacing

Line and paragraph spacing can be combined, although it is not generally necessary. If you do combine line spacing with paragraph spacing after, you need to add up the amount of line spacing and paragraph spacing to determine how much white-space there really is after the paragraph.


There are several types of breaks: line breaks, paragraph breaks, page breaks and section breaks. The word "break" really refers to where a text element ends. So a line break is a where a line ends, a paragraph break is where a paragraph ends, and so on.

With the exception of paragraph breaks, most of the time, it is better not to create "hard" breaks. A hard break is a location where you tell Word that something should end. The opposite is a soft break, which is where Word decides that something doesn't fit on a line or page and automatically breaks it up.

Hint: Also avoid empty paragraphs. Empty paragraphs will create page layout problems if you add or remove text from the document later. They may also create what appear to be blank pages at the end of your document. If you need vertical white-space, you should use paragraph or line spacing instead.


Note: Microsoft Office Word 2007 has built-in bibliography features that may be suitable for undergraduate writing. More advanced forms of citations are not supported by Word and either have to be done manually or using third-party add-ins for Word.

Last Updated: 12/3/2012