The Mighty Pilcrow (Word, All Versions)

May 17, 2009 at 4:54 pm

The paragraph symbol — or, more formally, the pilcrow — is a familiar character to Word users. It stands vigilantly at the end of every paragraph like a solitary soldier keeping watch (against document corruption, perhaps?). But the pilcrow is not merely another pretty non-printing character, along with arrows that indicate tabs, dots that indicate spaces inserted with the spacebar, and funny little sun-like circles that indicate end-of-cell markers in tables. Indeed, it holds the key to understanding, and troubleshooting, document formatting in Word.

What makes the paragraph symbol so powerful is its role in Word as the keeper of the codes. Unlike in WordPerfect, the pilcrow actually contains all of the formatting instructions for the paragraph that precedes it: alignment, indents, line spacing, before and after spacing, tab settings, automatic numbering, and so on. That mysterious concept is particularly difficult for WordPerfect users to fathom, since Word has no single feature comparable to WP’s much-beloved Reveal Codes and it’s impossible to tell simply by looking at the paragraph symbol exactly what specifications it is imposing on the text. (There are several other ways to obtain that information in Word, which I will discuss later on. For now, I just want to make the point that the pilcrow has an important function. Understanding that function can help you troubleshoot and fix problem documents.)

The fact that the pilcrow stores the configuration codes for the attached paragraph has significant implications. For one thing, if you are having difficulty getting a particular paragraph to behave — let’s say its automatic numbering isn’t working like the numbering in the previous paragraph — you might be able to save the day by copying the paragraph symbol from the end of the “good” paragraph and pasting it at the end of the “bad” paragraph. (Doing so is somewhat akin to using the Format Painter, but in my experience it tends to work somewhat more reliably than the little paintbrush for unknown reasons.)

I will write more about the mighty pilcrow in the days to come.

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Beginnings Double-click codes to change settings (WordPerfect)


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