Eliminate Paragraph Breaks at the End of Every Line With This Find & Replace Sequence

Remember that satisfying gear-wind and ding of shoving the carriage return back to the left of the page at the end of every line? Some writers do! But Word is not a typewriter. There should be a little pop-up confirmation box when a writer tries to hit the return key at the end of every line. And if they try to hit it twice to create double spacing, a captcha should pop-up, asking if they really want to insert two manual paragraph breaks.

Unnecessary manual line breaks wreak havoc in editing because the words don’t reflow automatically, and you end up with weird mid-sentence paragraph breaks. And treating Word like a typewriter makes it impossible to change the font or margins, page size, headers and footers, or a myriad other attributes without messing up all the alignment.

But you don’t have to fix these with brute force: hunting and destroying each errant line break one at a time. Find and replace will fix this globally, throughout the document.

It just takes a few steps to do this well. First, figure out what you’re dealing with:

  1. Reveal non-printing characters by clicking the ¶ icon on the Home ribbon.
  2. Examine the manual formatting: Is there a ¶ or a ⏎ at the end of each line? Are there two ¶ between each line, creating double spacing? Are three ¶ used to create paragraph breaks? Is there a space before each manual break (•¶)? Is there a tab mark (→) at the start of each paragraph? Are the first lines indented on the ruler instead?

The following steps work for lines that end in ¶¶ without a space before the break, and where ¶¶¶ is used between paragraphs. Additional or different steps are required for other situations.

The blue, non-printing characters reveal the many ways that Word was used as a typewriter in this random text Google translated into Afrikaans.

PRO TIP: Before you do these steps, start recording a macro and save it for use next time. Then, in future, you’ll just have to run that macro rather than doing this 16+ step Find & Replace sequence.

Now, search and destroy

  1. Open the Find & Replace panel by keying ctrl + H. This is the same on both Mac and Windows computers.
  2. Type ^p^p^p in the Find field.
  3. Type ^l in the Replace field.*
  4. Type ^p^p in the Find field.
  5. Type a space in the Replace field. It will look blank but you can move the cursor across the space to verify that it is there.
  6. Click Replace all.
  7. Repeat the previous step until Word says that zero replacements were made.
  8. Type ^p^p in the Find field.**
  9. Type a space in the Replace field. It will look blank but you can move the cursor across the space to verify that it is there.
  10. Click Replace all.
  11. Repeat Step 10 until zero replacements are made.
  12. Type ^l in the Replace field.°
  13. Type ^p in the Find field.
  14. Click Replace all.
  15. Repeat Step 14 until zero replacements are made.
  16. Save!

*Steps 2–3 mark the paragraph breaks and Steps 5–7 replaces them with a manual line break.

**Steps 8–11 consolidate paragraphs.

°Steps 12–15 turn the line breaks (from Steps 5–7) into proper paragraph breaks.

As a final step, you could replace all two-spaces with just one space, in case some ¶ marks were, in fact, preceded by a space. You might also want to replace all tab marks (^t) with a space (and then check for two spaces again).

Troubleshooting

Save the original file as a backup! You may need to refer to it in places that get messed up (e.g., lost paragraph breaks or manually set tables).

To start each paragraph with an indent, set the ruler (or change the Style).

To get more space between paragraphs, don’t place two paragraph breaks, set the spacing for that Style instead.

If there were even more ¶ marks, you might have to again replace all ^p^p with just a single ^p, as a last step.

book cover cropped to banner size
For more tips on working with Find and Replace, start on p. 47 of the book.


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