Understanding Hard and Soft Returns

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated April 7, 2018)

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.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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