Understanding how MS Word Deals with Formats

Apr 2, 2015 by Reen Rose


Today when I was having coffee with a friend she asked me whether MS Word was just a weird program or whether she was missing something. I love Word as a program, but if you don’t understand how she thinks, she can be extremely frustrating to work with. You may notice that I assume Word must be female. I apologize if this offends anyone, but in my mind she is a strong minded woman. She does things in a way that seem logical to her, but if you trample on her while giving no thought to how she operates, she will give you no end of trouble.

The area of word processing that seems to cause the most frustration for Word users is formatting text.

To help you, imagine a set of different sized food storage containers in your kitchen. To store them more easily you may decide to store the smaller ones inside the larger ones. This is a good representation of how Word stores different types of format. The smallest containers are the individual characters in your document. Each character stores the font formats (colour, size, font style etc.) that you assign to them. You will find this type of format in the Font group of the Home ribbon.

The next sized container is the paragraph. Any paragraph formats (alignment, spacing, indents etc.) are assigned to all the text in that paragraph. You can’t left align half a paragraph and right align the rest. It is all or nothing for paragraph formats. You will find them in the Paragraph group of the Home ribbon. This type of format is stored in the paragraph mark at the end of each paragraph. You will only see this mark if you have your Show/Hide marks on (Home ribbon, Paragraph group.) Many people insist that they can’t work with these confusing marks cluttering up their document. Let me assure you that if you want to work peacefully with Word, you are going to have to get used to them. They will give you vital information.

The largest container is the Page or Section and this type of format (margins, columns, orientation etc.) is stored in the Section Break at the bottom of the document or end of a section. Word has an invisible section break at the bottom of every document to hold any of these types of formats. By adding more Section Breaks you can change page formats partway through a document. You may want to start with once column and then have text placed in two columns part way through.

Without an understanding of the way Word deals with formats you may well be ready to throw your computer out of the window in a frustrated rage. But learn to appreciate her way of doing things and life can be peaceful.