Paragraph Formatting

Paragraph Formatting

Paragraph formatting consists primarily of:

  • Alignment
  • Indentations
  • Line spacing
  • Widow/Orphans


In conventional book typesetting the spacing between words is adjusted so that the text extends to the end of each line producing paragraphs with straight left and right-hand side edges. The disadvantage of justified typesetting is that the spacing between words is unequal and can look quite untidy. The default justification in Word 2010 can be improved by ‘borrowing’ the method used in WordPerfect 6.x for Windows, which changes the spaces between letters rather than the words. This not a perfect solution so make sure in the editing stage that you check for irregular spacing.


File → Options → Advanced → scroll all the way to the bottom → Layout Options → select  “Do full justification the way WordPerfect 6. x for Windows does” → Ok




The only practical alternative to justification is to align the text with the left-hand side margin leaving a ragged edge on the right-hand side but equal spacing between the words.

Right-hand alignment is useful in specific situations such as adding a date to a letter heading or information in a header/footer. Centred alignment is useful when positioning titles and headings.

Ribbon → Home → Paragraph → Indents and Spacing → Alignment (normally Justified) → Outline level (normally Body Text)



Fiction typically has the first line of each paragraph indented except for the first paragraph of a chapter, which is not indented. Indentation is necessary because fiction writers as a rule do not place a gap between paragraphs. The indentation should be equal to the line space so that a 10 pt font with 12 pt spacing will have a 12 pt indentation. One of the few exceptions to indentation in fiction is that scene breaks usually have a single line gap but no indentation.

Ribbon → Home → Paragraph → Indents and Spacing → Indentation

(see previous illustration)

Left and Right allow you to format paragraphs so that either the whole paragraph is pushed to the right by X cm or to the left by X cm assuming that in Special you have selected (none). The most likely reason to indent a whole paragraph is to make that text stand out from the page possibly because it is a quote or some piece of information that is extra to the page.

Selecting First line allows you to indent the first line by Z cm while the rest of the paragraph is aligned with the left-hand side or indented left or right. Selecting Hanging means that all the lines below the first line hang to the right of the first line by X cm. The whole paragraph that has hanging lines can be indented to either the left or the right.

In non-fiction books, the first line of a paragraph is rarely indented because such works have a space between paragraphs and the text is also interrupted by illustrations.

Leading (line spacing)

Leading refers to the vertical space between lines of text. The spacing between individual lines is a crucial factor in determining the readability of a text but if the space is widened greatly it looks amateurish and significantly extends the length of a book. It is generally considered that the best option is for the line spacing to be slightly larger than the font to increase readability. A good rule of thumb is that the spacing should be equal to 20% of the font size so if that is 10 pt the spacing should be 12 pt. This can only be a rough guide because letter height varies between different typefaces for a given font size. Letter height of a typeface is defined by the x-height, which is the distance between the baseline of a line of type and the tops of the main bodies of lower case letters (ie excluding ascenders and descenders).Typically, this is the height of the letter x in the font but also u, v, w and z. Curved letters such as a, c, e, m, n, o, r and s tend to be slightly taller.

A typeface with a large x-height relative to the total height of the font has short ascenders and descenders, which reduces the white space between lines of text. Sans serif typefaces typically have large x-heights and can therefore seem rather dark, more crowded and possibly more difficult to read. The solution if using such a font is to increase the vertical spacing between lines. By contrast, the ascenders and descenders become more prominent in a typeface with a smaller x-height.

Word processing programs such as MS Word offer the ability to change this spacing to ‘open-up’ the text a little, making it easier for the reader to scan from one line to the next.

Ribbon → Home → Paragraph → Line spacing → (make your selection)

(see previous illustration)

The multiple option gives you the greatest control because you can increase the spacing by multiples of numbers greater than 1. Setting the spacing to 1.15 increases it by 15% while a spacing of 2 increases it by 200%. Despite the apparent versatility of the multiple option, most authors tend to prefer the simple option because any other choice including multiple will create problems when converting to eBook format.


A widow in MS Word describes a situation where the last line of a paragraph is pushed onto the top line of the next page so that it is effectively divorced from the rest of the paragraph. An orphan describes the opposite situation where the first line of a paragraph sits by itself at the foot of a page with the rest of the paragraph occupying the top of the next page.

Widows and orphans are incredibly unsightly and easily avoided by acting as follows:

Ribbon → Home → Paragraph → Line & Page Breaks → select Widow /Orphan Control


This ensures that at least two lines of any paragraph are together at the foot or top of a page.

In the same formatting box if you select Keep lines together, the whole paragraph will be at either the foot or the top of a page.

Highlighting a group of paragraphs and selecting Keep with next (same formatting box) will keep the selected paragraphs together.