How Do I Use Non-Printing Characters in Microsoft Word?


To help troubleshoot the formatting of your documents, you can display non-printing characters in Microsoft Word 2013 and earlier versions. Some non-printing characters include tabs, spaces, page breaks, paragraph marks and manual line breaks. For example, if your text appears to end abruptly in mid-line and then continues on the next line, you probably have a manual line break, which is invisible unless you display non-printing characters. You can choose to always display these characters, or to insert them explicitly so that they print.

Display non-printing characters.
(Image courtesy of Microsoft)

Show or hide your document’s non-printing characters by toggling the Show/Hide non-printing character button; it's located in the Home tab in the Paragraph group. The keyboard shortcut to toggle the Show/Hide non-printing characters is “Ctrl-*.” Once visible, you can identify and therefore adjust any formatting you did not intend to insert, such as soft return, indicated by a right arrow, or a page break.

Toggle the Show/Hide button.
Image courtesy of Microsoft

Selectively show or hide just certain non-printing characters, a capability useful if you find that showing all these characters makes your document too busy but you would like to show a specific, useful subset. From the File menu, choose “Options” and then select the “Display” tab in the left sidebar. Under “Always Show These Formatting Marks on the Screen,” check or uncheck those marks you want to display. Any item that you check here still displays even when you toggle the Show/Hide button to off.

Display tab of the Options dialogue.
Image courtesy of Microsoft

When you toggle the Show/Hide button to on, the symbols still do not print, but some legal documents require that paragraph or section symbols remain visible, even when printed. To display these symbols on paper, nsert any symbol you need by selecting “Symbol” in the Symbols group on the Insert tab and then choosing “More Symbols” to launch a Symbol dialogue box. Under the Special Characters tab, choose either “Section” or “Paragraph” to add those common symbols. These are not non-printing characters, so are not affected by the Show/Hide toggle. If you need other symbols, instead use the Symbols tab to find the symbol you need.

Insert a symbol.
Image courtesy of Microsoft

Locate the non-printing characters and any special characters you inserted by using the “Find” option in the Editing group of the Home tab. Click “Find,” and then choose “Advanced Find” from the drop-down menu to launch the Find and Replace dialogue. Click the "More" button to view additional options and then click “Special.” From the drop-down menu, select the character or mark you want to find. Any entry defined as a "mark" is a non-printing character; anything defined as a "character" is an actual symbol that will be visible when printed. For example, if you choose “Paragraph Character,” Word finds only a paragraph symbol that you explicitly entered.

Click “Find,” and then choose “Advanced Find” from the drop-down menu.
Image courtesy of Microsoft

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