The Line and Paragraph Spacing drop-down menu (Word)

March 18, 2016 at 1:19 pm

Training clients sometimes ask me about the Line and Paragraph Spacing drop-down in the Paragraph group on the Home tab in Word.  In all candor, I actually hadn’t noticed the drop-down until a client pointed it out to me several years ago.  That’s because I typically open the Paragraph dialog when I want to change the line and/or paragraph spacing of document text.  The Paragraph dialog, which provides access to a full range of configuration options including paragraph alignment, indentation, line spacing, before and after spacing, widow and orphan control, tab settings, and more – it’s sort of a “one-stop shop” for paragraph formatting – comes in very handy in most situations.

However, the Line and Paragraph Spacing drop-down can be useful for a few specific types of formatting.  The options are limited to a few pre-set line spacing choices; a command that opens the Paragraph dialog; and, at the very bottom, context-sensitive commands that alternate among “Remove Spacing Before,” “Add Spacing Before,” “Remove Spacing After,” and “Add Spacing After,” depending on the configuration of the paragraph your cursor is in.  The pre-set line spacing choices – 1.0, 1.15, 1.5, 2.0, 2.5, and 3.0 – aren’t particularly useful for legal documents (and where standard single and double spacing are appropriate, it’s easy to apply those options with the keyboard shortcuts Ctrl 1 and Ctrl 2).  Sometimes, though, it’s convenient to add or remove spacing before or spacing after.  And you can do so for multiple paragraphs simply by selecting / highlighting the paragraphs first.

Let’s quickly review “spacing before” and “spacing after,” since experience has taught me that even long-time Word users aren’t always sure of the meaning of those terms.  In essence, you can configure paragraphs so that they incorporate extra white space – kind of like a buffer – above and/or below them.  It’s really spacing between paragraphs, but it is created as an attribute of a paragraph, not by pressing the Enter key.  Spacing after, which is more commonly used in legal documents than spacing before, is what makes the cursor appear to skip a line when you press the Enter key after typing the text of a paragraph.  It’s as if you pressed Enter twice.

Spacing before and spacing after usually are configured in points (and usually increment by 12 points).  There are 72 points in a vertical inch, and 12 points, while not the same as true single spacing, is approximately one line.  So adding 12 points after a paragraph is like creating a blank line after that paragraph without pressing Enter.

As mentioned earlier, the options at the bottom of the Line and Paragraph Spacing drop-down change depending on the configuration of the paragraph your cursor is in.  If the paragraph already incorporates spacing before, the command in the drop-down changes from “Add Spacing Before Paragraph” to “Remove Spacing Before Paragraph.”  If the paragraph already incorporates spacing after, the command changes from “Add Spacing After Paragraph” to “Remove Spacing After Paragraph.”

When you select / highlight multiple paragraphs and choose “Add Spacing After Paragraph,” Word adds 12 points of spacing after any paragraphs that lack such space, but doesn’t affect any paragraphs that already incorporate 12 points of spacing after.  Interestingly, that option removes extra spacing from any paragraphs previously configured with more than 12 points of spacing after.  In other words, it essentially equalizes the spacing after all of the selected / highlighted paragraphs.  The “Add Spacing Before Paragraph” option works the same way – adding or removing spacing before, depending on how the paragraphs were configured prior to applying the option.

You can imagine how useful these options are for adding or removing extra space between paragraphs.  Of course you can do the same thing by selecting / highlighting paragraphs, then opening the Paragraph dialog and tweaking the spacing before and/or spacing after settings, but the Line and Paragraph Spacing drop-down on the Home tab makes it a cinch.

There are a couple of other noteworthy options that affect line and paragraph spacing.  For one, you can add or remove spacing before one or more paragraphs by using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl 0 (zero).  The shortcut is a toggle, which means that you can press it once to add space before and press it again to remove space before the paragraph your cursor is in or selected / highlighted paragraphs.  However, keep in mind that this key combination affects only spacing before.  As far as I know, there is no built-in keyboard shortcut to add / remove spacing after.

Also, you can change the spacing before and/or the spacing after directly from the Paragraph group on the Layout tab (aka Page Layout, depending on which version of Word you are using).  That works just fine, but I sometimes forget that the option exists because I usually have the Home tab at the forefront (and it seldom occurs to me to apply paragraph formatting from the tab that mainly affects page formatting).

One final comment:  When you hold the mouse pointer over the Line and Paragraph Spacing drop-down, a pop-up appears.  It describes the functionality of the drop-down and, in Word 2013 and Word 2016, adds:  “To apply the same spacing to your whole document, use the Paragraph Spacing options on the Design tab.”

I don’t recommend doing so, at least not for documents such as pleadings that are subject to stringent formatting requirements.  With the exception of the first option on the Paragraph Spacing drop-down menu on the Design tab (“No Paragraph Space,” which applies single spacing with no spacing before or after), the pre-set choices apply line spacing and/or spacing after settings that are inappropriate for most legal documents.  Those choices are as follows:

  • “Compact” – single spacing with 4 points after;
  • “Tight” – 1.15 spacing (i.e., 1.15 lines) with 6 points after;
  • “Open” – 1.15 spacing with 10 points after;
  • “Relaxed” – 1.5 spacing (i.e., 1.5 lines) with 6 points after; and
  • “Double” – double spacing, but with 8 points after.

If you are working with a document that isn’t subject to strict formatting rules, go ahead and experiment.  You might find that you like some of the options available from that menu.  But for obvious reasons, they won’t work for most California pleadings or similar documents.

 

 

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