As you type, Microsoft Word wraps content to the next line when you reach the right margin. In the same way, Word automatically knows when to start a new page. Now, you probably know that you can force a new page by pressing Ctrl+Enter; this is called a hard page break, and you should avoid them when possible. The truth is, you seldom need to force a page break even when you need content to start on the next page before filling the previous page. In most cases, you can change a style instead. In this article, I’ll show you one way to avoid a forced page break by changing a style.
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I’m using Microsoft 365 on a Windows 10 64-bit system, but you can use older versions. There’s no demonstration file, you won’t need one. You can’t modify styles in the online version.
Avoid hard page breaks
In a short, one-off document, you don’t need to worry about hard page breaks. However, in a longer, more complex document, hard page breaks can keep the document from flowing properly as you make changes. They’re not difficult to delete of course: Position the cursor at the beginning of the page and press Delete. If you can’t find them, click Show/Hide in the Paragraph group on the Home tab. It will be tedious, especially if there are a lot of them.
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There’s an easier way: Think of a way you can modify the styles in use to accommodate those hard page breaks instead. I know some of you just shuttered at the idea of modifying a style, but trust me: It’s easier than you think.
How to modify Heading 1 in Word
An odd hard page break might be necessary, but they should be the exception. If you’re forcing page breaks often, consider rethinking this formatting choice. For instance, it’s common to start a new section on a new page and use a heading style for the section heading. If you find yourself forcing a page break every time you start a new section, modify the style instead.
Now, let’s continue this example by modifying the built-in Heading 1 style to include a page break before the heading. You can do so as follows:
- On the home tab, right-click Heading 1 in the Styles gallery and choose Modify. It should be there, but if it isn’t, click the Styles group dialog launcher. In the resulting Styles pane, find Heading 1 and choose Modify from its dropdown list, as shown in Figure A.
- Click the Format button (bottom-left corner) and choose Paragraph from the resulting dropdown list (Figure B).
- Click the Indents and Spacing tab and make sure the Spacing Before setting is 0.
- Click the Line and Page Breaks tab and check the Page Break Before option, as shown in Figure C.
- Click OK twice to return to the document.
After modifying the style, enter heading text and apply Heading 1. When you do, Word will automatically force a new page, but it will be a soft break that flows with changes. If you’re working in an existing document with lots of hard page breaks before Heading 1-styled text, you must find those page breaks and delete them after modifying the style or you’ll end up with two page breaks before every Heading 1-styled heading.
How to remove unnecessary hard page returns in Word
If you need to delete a lot of hard page returns, you can use Word’s Replace feature as follows:
- Press Ctrl+H to open the Replace dialog.
- In the resulting dialog, click More (if necessary).
- Click the No Formatting control if it isn’t dimmed. (Replace remembers the previous settings.)
- Remove any previous content in the Find What control.
- Click Special and choose Manual Page Break from the list. Doing so will enter ^m in the control, which is a visual representation of a hard page break.
- Remove any previous content in the Replace With control, and leave it empty.
- Click Find Next and then Replace, accordingly, to work through the document. If you’re positive there are no necessary hard page breaks, click Replace All.
The best scenario is to plan for these page breaks by modifying the style before you start writing. When you can’t, alter the style and remove the page breaks as shown.