Troubleshoot page and section breaks in Microsoft Word

Word's page and section breaks often confound users. They often enter them when they don't mean to, creating structural problems that the user doesn't know how to eliminate.

Other than styles, page and section breaks probably cause the most confusion and trouble for the untrained user. Documents end up with unwanted breaks that play havoc with page numbering, formats, and printing. Users don't always realize that they're the problem - they inserted the breaks, whether intentionally or not.

Manual page breaks

You can create a new page at any time by pressing [Ctrl]+[Enter]. Or, click the Page Break option in the Pages group on the Insert tab. (Page Break is on the Insert menu in Word 2003.) Unfortunately, manual page breaks (also known as hard page breaks) cause trouble because they don't flow with the document's structure. As you add and delete elements, you might find manual page breaks no longer appropriate. Fortunately, they're easy to delete. Position the cursor at the beginning of the next page and press [Delete]. Or, click the Show/Hide option in the Paragraph group on the Home tab to display the page break element, highlight it, and press Delete. Manual breaks are probably the easiest break problem to find and resolve.

Pagination options

Manual page breaks might be easy to insert, but they're seldom the best way to break. Sometimes the break really belongs to the text. That happens when you want a break to occur before or after a specific paragraph of text. Consequently, you could end up with an unexpected page break that's all but impossible to get rid of, unless you know its cause. To access these options, click the Paragraph group's dialog launcher and then click the Line And Page Breaks tab.

Word enables the Widow/Orphan Control by default. This option prevents a single line from appearing at the top or bottom of a page. The remaining options, which you'll apply as needed, follow:

  • Keep With Next: This option glues the current paragraph to the following paragraph.  If Word has to move both paragraphs to the next page to do so, it will. (This option is part of the built-in heading styles.) You'll use this option to keep introductory text and headings with the text that immediately follows.
  • Keep Lines Together: This is the simplest option to understand; it keeps all the lines of the current paragraph together on the same page.
  • Page Break Before: This little-used option forces Word to begin the current paragraph at the beginning of a new page.

These options are almost always preferable to a manual break.

Section breaks

Section breaks can be more troublesome than page breaks, because many users don't understand the nature of sections. A section lets you control formatting as needs change. For instance, you might want to print part of or an entire page in landscape in the middle of a document that's using portrait orientation. To do so, you'd insert a new section for the landscape components and format that section as landscape. The sections before and after would remain in portrait. To access section breaks, click the Page Layout tab.

Then, choose the appropriate option from the Breaks option in the Page Setup group:

  • Next Page: Starts the new section on the next page.
  • Continuous: Starts the new section on the same page.
  • Even Page: Starts the new section on the next even-numbered page.
  • Odd Page: Starts the new section on the next odd-numbered page.

Issues sometimes arise when users apply Next Page rather than Continuous because Word inserts a page break, and that might not be what the user wanted.

Column break

A column break, accessible via the Breaks option (see above) pushes columnar text to the next column. It breaks a column, not a page, but sometimes, it does create an automatic page break. When you insert a column break in the last column on a page, the break also acts as a page break. It makes sense as Word can't push the text into a column that doesn't exist - the only option is the next page. If you don't want the page break, you'll have to delete the column break.

Applying the right break for the job

These aren't the only possibilities, but they're the most common troublemakers. Understanding how breaks work and using the right one for the job is the key. Applying the right break will stop troublesome breaks before they occur and allow users to adjust breaks correctly, as needed.

About Susan Harkins

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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