2.2 Why you should press Enter only once to end a paragraph

What this page is about

For those of you who have just joined us, this is a page in the series of Basic Concepts in Word. Use the menu at left to go to the different pages.

Each Basic Concept page has three sections:


The Enter key is not the "I want some more space here" key

Five reasons to press Enter only once to end a paragraph

This page asserts a very simple rule: press Enter once at the end of every paragraph.

If you are going to follow this rule, you need to be able to see where you have pressed Enter. To do that, click the ¶ button on the Standard Toolbar or on the Home tab. That will display end-of-paragraph markers shown as a ¶. These markers don't print. They are there to help you see how your document is constructed.

Here are some ideas about why you should press Enter only once at the end of each paragraph:

1. The ¶ sign is an end-of-paragraph marker.

The ¶ sign is not an "I want to put some vertical space here" marker.

2. Word's fundamental unit is a paragraph.

A typewriter doesn't understand anything about the formatting of your document. It just plonks characters on the page. Word is cleverer than that. It knows what a paragraph is, and it defines a paragraph with the end-of-paragraph marker (¶).

That means that you don't ever want to see "empty" paragraphs in Word. If you had empty paragraphs, your screen would look something like this:

Rules for typing in Word¶

Don't press Enter at the end of every line. Press Enter at the end of a paragraph.¶

Press Enter only once at the end of every paragraph.¶

Press the spacebar only once at the end of every sentence.¶

This is not how to use Word.

3. If you put an empty paragraph between each paragraph of text, you double the number of paragraphs in the document.

The following obviously consists of two paragraphs of text. But Word thinks that it is four paragraphs of text.

Tomorrow I am going to the gym¶.

On Thursday I am going to a party¶.

4. Empty paragraphs upset the flow of text from page to page

Word knows how big your pieces of paper are, and it knows where your top and bottom margins are. Word flows text from page to page. If the first line of text in the previous example ("Tomorrow I am going to the gym") happened to be the last text that would fit on this page, Word would put the next, empty, paragraph at the top of the next page. Not a good look.

Of course you could delete some empty paragraph marks to solve this problem, but it's a short-term solution. The minute you add or delete text, or change the margins, or change the size of the text, the pagination will have to change. So your short-term solution has to be fixed up, and you'll have to create another short-term solution at the point where the page now breaks.

5. Don't wear out your little finger

Lastly, life's too short to wear our the little finger of your right hand pressing Enter twice as many times as you need to.

But how do I put space after a paragraph?

If you use a typewriter, and you want vertical space after each paragraph (like the paragraphs on this page), the only solution is to use the carriage return twice at the end of every paragraph.

In Word, if you want a space after the paragraph, you will have to tell Word "I want space after the paragraph". What is actually likely, however, is that you want to tell Word "I want space after every paragraph of body text, and while you're at it, I'd like some extra space before every major heading. Oh … and now I think about it, I want a really big space after the Title of my document."

To achieve that, you'll have to do two things:

  • You'll have to tell Word which paragraph is the title, which paragraphs are headings, and which are body text.
  • You'll need to tell Word how much space before or after paragraphs you want for your title, your headings, and your body text paragraphs.

How to do those two things is the subject of Basic Concept 3: Use styles to format text.


  • Press Enter once only at the end of every paragraph. The Enter key is not the "I want some more vertical space here" key.
  • To create space between paragraphs, modify the style of the paragraph. For information on how to do that, see Basic Concept 3: Use styles to format text.


Word allows you to create a new line within a paragraph. To do this, don't press Enter. Instead, press Shift-Enter.

Word will insert a new line within the one paragraph. Word shows you a new line character with a New Line character sign. (If you can't see the non-printing characters, click the ¶ button on the Standard toolbar.)

This can be useful for text such as the following:

Angelina SmithNew Line character
123 Smith StreetNew Line character
Smithsville 2341¶


Yours sincerelyNew Line character
Anne LambertNew Line character
Chief Executive Officer¶


Prepared by Adam SmithNew Line character
23 December 2002¶