Paragraph spacing in Word

There’s no need to hit return multiple times to make a manuscript look nice. In fact the next person in the production line will probably be removing those hard returns as a first step toward producing the final product.

Whether you’re looking to make the manuscript easy on your editing eyes or following some style guide’s picky preference, MS Word has two easy ways to adjust this spacing globally and automatically:

  • the Paragraph Spacing button on the Design ribbon
  • the Spacing: Before/After setting in that Style’s paragraph options

Paragraph spacing button

With the file open, click the Paragraph Spacing button on the design ribbon and choose from one of the options. This changes the setting for the entire document, and it’s easy to change again!


  1. Place the cursor in a desired paragraph (or heading).
  2. Open the Style pane to see which style has been applied and then click the little down arrow on the Style’s name and select Modify Style from the menu that pops up.
  3. Click the Format menu at the bottom of the Modify Style dialog that pops up, then select Paragraph.
  4. In the Spacing area of the next dialog, set the space before and after a paragraph by measure in points. (There are 72 points to an inch.)
    Note: You can also just type a measurement in that field with “cm” or “in” and Word will convert it to pts when you click Ok!
  5. Click Ok.
  6. Save. Always save.

Instead of specifying the space between paragraphs in pts, you can click the Increase/Decrease paragraph Spacing buttons above the preview area in the Modify Style dialog. The preview and the measures summarized below it will update with each click.


When you finish editing, repeat the above steps to reset the spacing to the press’ or client’s preferences. Leave a note to yourself at the top of the file or the top of your drafted transmittal note to remind yourself to do this step.

If the Styles used are Word-standard ones like Heading 1 and Body, the next person who opens the file will probably see something different as their Normal template is assigned to the file. Custom Styles or a template that isn’t the Normal default are the only ways to get around this.

See this other post to remove all of the double hard returns (or more).

Got a gnarly Word problem? Submit your problem and we’ll try to answer it in the Q&A thread.

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© This blog and all materials in it are copyright Adrienne Montgomerie on the date of publication. All rights reserved. No portion may be stored or distributed without express written permission. Asking is easy!

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