Software

Use Word's no-width optional break character to facilitate wrapping

Long text at the right margin usually gets wrapped to the next line, leaving a gap. Word's optional break character offers a helpful workaround that lets you, not Word, control the break.

When a long word or phrase hits the right margin, trouble often follows. Word treats the long text as a single word and wraps it to the next line, leaving a large gap at the right margin in the preceding line. It's ugly and I see it a lot.

Perhaps the easiest way to resolve the above problem is to add a hyperlink to the existing text instead of displaying the actual URL, but suppose you don't have that option. Fortunately, you can help Word break a long group of connected characters by inserting a no-width optional break (or several). You can't see the character(s), but Word reacts to one as if it were a space.

To insert this character, do the following:

  1. Position the cursor where you want to insert the character. For instance, you might insert a character after each slash in the URL.
  2. Click the Insert tab and click Symbol in the Symbols group. Select More Symbols to launch the Symbol dialog box. In Word 2003, you'll find Symbol on the Insert menu.
  3. Click the Special Characters tab.
  4. Highlight No-Width Optional Break.
  5. Click Insert.

You can't tell by looking at the URL that there's anything there, but there is. I inserted one after the double-slash and each single slash. To see the optional breaks, click the Home tab and then click Show/Hide in the Paragraph group. The optional breaks appear as small rectangles. Word uses these characters to break the URL at reasonable positions, and you control what those positions are.

The URL is just the example text. You can use this optional break character to break any type of connected text, not just URLs.

About

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.

18 comments
simon.freeman
simon.freeman

Sue - I agree with Robiisan. A table would be great as Robiisan suggests. The "when to use" should also have the pros and cons of that character. Thanks for considering this idea. - Simon

simon.freeman
simon.freeman

Be nice to have all this stuff in a clear article or table - it is very useful but difficult to follow - Sue?

krystyne20
krystyne20

I have always accomplished this by using Insert > Break > Text Wrapping Break (Word 2003). Is there a reason why a No-Width Optional Break should be used instead of a Text Wrapping Break?

marsha.hinnen
marsha.hinnen

Thanks, Susan! I will definitely be using this option when including URLs.

jbenton
jbenton

akin to this is when you DON'T want Word to wrap at a certain point where it otherwise might want to (post codes, addresses, names etc) for this you need to use the non-breaking space which happily already has the a shortcut of ctrl-shift-space (and, like you ejacob, I also use ctrl-alt-space for the optional break) Another two similar options are a) the optional hyphen and b) the non-breaking hyphen which will a) wrap a line at the designated point with a hyphen but only if required and b) hypenate text but NOT use this as a wrapping option (their shortcuts are ctrl-- and ctrl-sh--)

simon.freeman
simon.freeman

The question I have is if you insert these characters in a URL does they still work?

ejakob
ejakob

To increase productivity I have assigned CTRL-ALT-Space key combination to this character.

ssharkins
ssharkins

What do you want in a table? Do you need something from the piece clarified? Be glad to help, but I'm not sure what you need.

Ron_007
Ron_007

The optional symbol only takes effect when wrapping is NEEDED. Following Susan's suggestion to insert the optional character at each slash lets Word automatically break only as needed. Your "manual" text break technique forces the break always. If you edit the text before they manual break, it is now in the "wrong" location, while the optional breaks will adapt as needed

dhays
dhays

The trouble with hypens is that when the text is inserted somewhere else with different margins the text is still hyphenated, and looks wierd to see a word with a hypen in an unneeded place.

Ron_007
Ron_007

Remember that most hyperlinks, specifically in Word, actually consists of 2 parts: - the display text you see and click on - the actual link address, ie the web address that is sent to browser This tip only modifies the display text, not the underlying web address.

ssharkins
ssharkins

The hyperlink will still work.

Robiisan
Robiisan

And I think Simon is asking for a concatenation of all these useful additional tips found here in the responses. The table might look like Character, How to Insert, and When to Use, or you could just list the salient points in clear text. In either case, then please make it a TR Download, like a white paper. :-) Thanks for this and many other great articles on increasing productivity in and the use of Microsoft Office applications!

ssharkins
ssharkins

Ron's is correct -- it's not a question of one being better than the other -- it's a question of having the right tool for the right job -- either way!

jbenton
jbenton

that's why you should use the OPTIONAL hyphen, which tells Word where it can break the line if needed and, ONLY IF it does so, diplay a hyphen

Ron_007
Ron_007

Are you sure about ^l finding both. I tried in Word 2003 and 2010 and ^l only found characters. SORRY, Never mind. I just figured out that "Text Wrapping Break" is different than New Line. Although the symbol is very similar. Yes ^l finds both of these breaks, but not the no-width optional break. I found this tip that explains how to FIND the no-width optional-break characters. Actually, it tells how to use Replace to implement Susan's suggestion of putting an optional break after every / in hyperlink Adding Many No-Width Optional Breaks - http://word.tips.net/T003903_Adding_Many_No-Width_Optional_Breaks.html

jbenton
jbenton

The difference seems to be how they act around objects. When the layout of text around the object is set to "square", a manual line break (shift enter) or paragraph mark (enter) will start the next line still next to the object. If instead a text wrapping break is used, the next line will start AFTER the object. very useful for long captions next to pictures. This is something that I've had to get round before by (mis)using multiple line feeds - so thanks krystyne!

jbenton
jbenton

hmm... sounds and seems to act the same as manual line break (shift-enter) but the displayed symbols are slightly different. Both are Found by ^l anyone know the difference?