There are lots of reasons you might want to change the amount of space between lines in a paragraph, or between paragraphs themselves. Word offers some handy preset values to use, but you can also take full control by specifying exact spacing. Here’s how.

Changing the line or paragraph spacing in a document is not something you might need to do very often. But as anyone who’s had to turn in a paper with mandatory double spacing knows, it can be the difference between passing and failing. Outside of college, you still might be faced with line spacing guidelines by employers, clients, or publishers. And even in your own documents, the right spacing can  make your document more readable or highlight parts of the documents on which you want your readers to focus . If the default spacing in Word doesn’t quite hit the spot for you, Word makes it easy to change.

What is Line and Paragraph Spacing?

They are both pretty much what they sound like. Line spacing is the amount of white space between two lines of text. Paragraph spacing is the amount of white space between two paragraphs. And like using the right font or proper margins, controlling spacing is an important part of document formatting.

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And weird as it might sound at first, both line and paragraph spacing are applied at the paragraph level. Line spacing controls how all lines of a paragraph are spaced. Paragraph spacing controls how much space comes before and after the paragraph.

In Word, line spacing is most commonly measured in multiples of whatever font size the paragraph is using. For example, say you’re using a 12 point font for the text in your paragraph. If you choose single line spacing, the space between lines will be 12 points. If you choose double spacing, that space between lines will be 24 points. However, if you want to fine tune things, you can also specify an exact point size to use.

Paragraphs work a bit differently. By default, Word adds eight points of space after a paragraph and no additional space before the paragraph, and you can change both of those values however you like.

Let’s take a closer look at how to do all this.

Use Quick Presets for Easy Changes

Word has some common preset options for you to choose from. Remember that line and paragraph spacing are both applied at the paragraph level. If you place your insertion point in a paragraph, you’ll change things for that paragraph. If you select text from multiple paragraphs, you’ll change things for all those paragraphs.

Select all of the paragraphs you want to change (or place your insertion point anywhere in a single paragraph you want to change). On the Home tab, click the “Line and Paragraph Spacing” button.

This opens a dropdown menu with presets for line spacing (at the top) and paragraph spacing (at the bottom).

The line spacing is shown in multiples. “2.0” is double spacing, “3.0” is triple spacing, and so on. Select the multiple you want, and Word applies it to the selected paragraphs. If you want to choose another spacing, or revert to the original spacing, click the “Line and Paragraph Spacing” option again and select a different multiple.

The paragraph spacing only lets you add or remove a preset spacing before the paragraph or after the paragraph. And it’s kind of weird the way it works. If you currently have no spacing before or after a paragraph, the menu shows commands for adding spacing in both locations (as shown in the previous image). If you add a space in one location, that command changes to let you remove that spacing.

So, you can only ever add or remove one level of preset spacing with the menu commands. And what are those presets? 12 points for the spacing before the paragraph and 8 points for the spacing after.

These presets work well enough for simple changes to a few paragraphs. But what if you want to change the spacing on the whole document? You could select everything (Ctrl+A) and then use these same commands, but there are some better presets available if you want to change the whole document.

Use Additional Spacing Presets for Your Whole Document

Switch over to the “Design” tab, and then click the “Paragraph Spacing” button.

Now, even though that button is labeled “Paragraph Spacing,” the changes here can apply to both paragraph and line spacing for your document. As you hover your pointer over each preset, you can see the changes reflected in your document. You’ll also see a little text bubble pop up that lets you know exactly what line and paragraph spacing options that preset will apply.

This is an “all or nothing” option, so it’ll only work for the whole document, or not at all. Here’s what the Compact, Open, and Double presets look like on identical text.

At the bottom of that “Paragraph Spacing” dropdown menu, you can also click the “Custom Paragraph Spacing” command to open the Manage Styles window.

On the “Set Defaults” tab, the tools in the “Paragraph Spacing” section let you fine tune spacing for your document. You can also choose at the bottom whether to apply your changes only in the current document, or to all new documents based on the same template.

Apply Finer Control to Paragraph and Line Spacing

If you want a little more finesse than any of these presets we’ve covered offer, you do have another option (this is Word, after all).

First, place your insertion point in the paragraph you want to change (or select multiple paragraphs, or the whole document with Ctrl+A). On the “Home” tab, click the small arrow at the bottom right of the Paragraph group.

This opens the Paragraph window. On the “Indents and Spacing” tab, in the “Spacing” section, you can apply specific adjustments to both paragraph and line spacing.

On the left, you can use the “Before” and “After” controls to specify how much space you want before and after paragraphs. You’ve also got the option to keep your paragraph spacing from affecting blocks of text that are in different styles by switching on the “Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style” checkbox. (If you’re not sure whether you’re using different styles then you probably aren’t.)

On the right in that section, the “Line Spacing” dropdown lets you choose all those same line spacing presets we looked at before, along with some other options.

These additional options include:

  • At least: This option lets you specify a minimum point size to use for line spacing and is only useful in very specific circumstances. For example, say you had one line in a paragraph that for whatever reason used a smaller font size than the other lines. Regular spacing options might make it look weird. Choose a minimum spacing can help.
  • Exactly: This option lets you specify an exact point size to use between lines of the selected paragraphs.
  • Multiple: This options lets you dial in a specific multiple to use for spacing. For example, if 1.5 spacing seems too tight and 2.0 seems too wide, you could try something like 1.75.

Between these three options you’ve got complete control of all your document spacing, so now you can confidently double space that term paper or wow your colleagues with a perfectly formatted report.

Rob Woodgate Rob Woodgate
Rob Woodgate is a writer and IT consultant with nearly 20 years of experience across the private and public sectors. He's also worked as a trainer, technical support person, delivery manager, system administrator, and in other roles that involve getting people and technology to work together.
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