[Microsoft Word] Display hidden, non-printing characters to better understand document formats

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Non-Printing Characters

When you are typing in Word, there are many things happening in the background that you never get to see. The default view, for example, shows you the document in the so-called print form, a layout that is meant to behave well in physical form. What you do not see, however, are the various characters that Word adds so that it can mark specific items in your document. The word processor automatically marks your paragraphs, spaces, tabs, and more with hidden characters that you can view in case you want to better understand the document’s layout or quickly find mistakes in the structure.

Displaying non-printing/formatting characters

I will be using Word 2013 for this article but previous versions of the program have very similar settings.

  1. Launch Word and click on the File tab.
  2. Open the Options menu and head over to the Display tab.
  3. Underneath the “Always show these formatting marks on the screen” section you will find a bunch of checkboxes with their corresponding characters which you can enable and disable individually.
  4. To display all the characters at once, you can just check the “Show all formatting marks” box instead. Note that enabling this option does not affect the previous checkboxes which means that the individual characters will appear anyway, as long as you have checked their own boxes.
  5. Do not forget to click on OK to save your settings and get back to your document.

Word Options Formatting Characters

This is the long-winded method of enabling formatting characters. This route is helpful when you only want to enable certain items and hide others but there is a much easier way of showing everything at once. In the Home tab of Word, look for the paragraph mark icon, the one that looks like a reversed P.

Word Paragraph Mark Icon

Clicking on that will instantly show these characters. In fact, clicking the button is exactly the same as enabling the “Show all formatting marks” option. And if you like keyboard shortcuts, you can enable the option by pressing Ctrl + Shift + *. The shortcut is technically Ctrl + * but since you cannot actually use characters from the numpad, we are stuck with the longer combination.