Getting the most out of Microsoft Word – simple formatting tips that it seems most don’t know about

I write a lot of Microsoft Word based documents. Specifications, requirements, technical reviews, articles, designs, the vast majority, but not all, IT related. They often contain a lot of tables, diagrams, and in a lot of cases these complex documents are many, many pages long. And I work with, or review many documents written by others.

One of the things that I never cease to be amazed by are the extraordinarily simple Microsoft Word formatting settings, it seems very few people know about, or if they do, don’t use very well, that can easily improve the layout and formatting of documents. They are all related to document pagination and how content is positioned, and essentially remains positioned.

And when these settings are used appropriately, they can make a huge difference to how a document looks, and more importantly how it looks as the document evolves and grows.

These properties are all defined as characteristics of a Microsoft word paragraph and are assembled under the heading of Pagination on the Line and Page Breaks tab. They’re the following settings:

  • Widow/Orphan Control
  • Keep with next
  • Keep lines together
  • Page break before

These seemingly simple settings can help you control the format of a complex Microsoft Word document much more comprehensively than you might at first imagine. I’ll describe the sort of scenarios that they assist you with, or more particularly, the sort of situations I often encounter in documents that these settings can help avoid. I’ll go through a number of scenarios in which each of these settings can assist you with.

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