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Spacing Also Matters

These days, we don't have to handle anything heavier than a mouse button to change the distance between paragraphs. However, because spacing is tied to paragraphs, you need to click the Format button to get the pop-up menu and then click Paragraph to open the Paragraph dialog box on the Indents and Spacing tab, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure xxxFigure 4 Select paragraph spacing.

By default, Word usually sets the spacing before and after paragraph styles at zero. One convention of page design advises making this half the size of your body text font above and below the paragraph. That is, if you are using a 12 point font, you would set your spacing at 6 pts before and 6 pts after. I frankly find this cramped, so I often use twice as much.

However, in Word, it is actually best to set all spacing below the paragraph while setting it to zero above. This is because Word 6.0 and later had a vexing flaw. The traditional typesetting rule had always been to suppress any spacing above a paragraph at the start of a new page (because there is a very basic rule of page design that says all pages MUST accommodate the eye by starting at exactly the same visual level). This bug, which was introduced in Word 6.0, caused spacing above the paragraph to be suppressed only when pagination was automatic. If the user added a manual page break, the space appeared. In other words, some pages included the first-line spacing and some did not, with the result that the first line bobbed like a rubber duck in turbulent bath water.

The result was not pretty or professional, and it was not easy to troubleshoot if you did not know what was causing the problem. The first time this happened to me, I spent most of a day trying to fix it while muttering rude imprecations about Word. My boss looked over my shoulder at one point and asked, "Is it really such a problem?"

I was stunned—and perhaps the teensiest bit strained—having wrestled with this issue for hours. What would this woman say next? I wondered. Would she be asking if a dangling modifier or a sentence fragment really mattered? What about a large footprint in the middle of the page? Would that be distracting? My survival instincts as a contractor had been well honed by that time, however, so I merely said "I think a lot of people would regard this as an issue."

In response to this awkwardness, most of us learned to put all our spacing after the paragraph. Other workarounds include minimizing hard page and section breaks by keeping the lines of a paragraph together, thus forcing the automatic page break where you want it to be:

To keep the lines of a paragraph together:

  1. Highlight the paragraph (or paragraphs) containing the lines of text that you want to keep together.

  2. On the Format menu, click Paragraph and then click the Line and Page Breaks tab.

  3. Select the Keep lines together check box.

Never use paragraph returns to space your text in any professional setting. These blank lines are read by Word as paragraphs and can cause uncomfortable issues with pagination. If a template is applied to the text later, each of those extra "returns" must be pulled out. This is tedious and will make you feel foolish and grumpy as you remove them—not that I would know.

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