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Understanding Hard and Soft Returns

When you use a typewriter, you press the Return, or Enter, key at the end of each line. This signifies you are done with one line and ready to begin the next. In Word, however, you do not have to do this. When you set up your page margins, Word is programmed to know that when you reach the right margin your text should automatically wrap to the next line.

There may be times, however, when you want to end a line before you get to the right margin. In these instances, you can end a line in either of two ways. The first way is to press the Enter key where you want the line to end. This results in a hard return being entered in the document. This action (pressing Enter) indicates that you have reached the end of the paragraph and want to start a new one.

The other way to end a line is to press Shift+Enter; this results in a soft return, sometimes called a line break or a newline character, being entered in the document. Hard returns are used to signify the end of a paragraph, whereas soft returns simply signify the end of a line.

If you have changed your view options so you can see all nonprinting characters, then a hard return appears on your screen as a paragraph mark (a backwards P), and a soft return appears as a down-and-left pointing arrow.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (170) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

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Comments for this tip:

peterk    16 Jan 2013, 00:16
Oops, wrong way round. My instructions will turn Paragraph marks into Manual line returns. Just reverse the characters in the 2 fields to get the reverse Find and Replace.
peterk    16 Jan 2013, 00:12
You can change line breaks into paragraph breaks using the Find and Replace dialog box...
1. Open the dialog box.
2. Click the More button if necessary to see all options.
3. With the cursor in the Find what field, click on the Special button and select Paragraph Mark. (You should see ^p in the field, and can type those characters in directly.)
4. Tab to the Replace with field, click the Special button and select Manual Line Break (or type ^l).
5. Click Replace (if you want to check with one change that you've set it up the way you want) then Replace All (to make all changes throughout the document).

Word will tell you how many changes have been made. You can use this as a final audit of the process (eg if no changes have been made, that will warn you that you used the wrong characters in the Find or Replace fields.)
Lana Bueno    15 Jan 2013, 23:04
I wish to change all hard returns to soft returns in my .pdf document which I have copied into Word.
peter    09 Jan 2013, 23:18
I have copied a .pdf file into Word, but this document has a 'hard return'on each line, using only half of the sheet.

I can manually change these 'hard returns' into 'soft returns', but we are talking 140 pages here.

Is there an easier way to change 'hard returns' into 'soft returns' at one time?

Thanks,
Peter

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