Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Understanding Nonprinting Characters.

Understanding Nonprinting Characters

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated July 13, 2024)
This tip applies to Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003


There are many characters that Word keeps track of, but that don't normally show up on the screen or on a printed copy of your document. You use many of these characters every day, but probably don't think of them as characters (as such). The list of nonprinting characters that Word uses includes the following:

  • Column breaks
  • Hidden text
  • Newline characters
  • Optional hyphens
  • Page breaks
  • Paragraph marks
  • Section breaks
  • Spaces
  • Tabs

Each of these can be individually displayed in Word by using Options from the Tools menu, and then clicking on the View tab. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. The View tab of the Options dialog box.

There are many times when you are working in Word when it is beneficial to make sure that nonprinting characters are displayed. For instance, if you cannot seem to get something aligned properly or formatted just right, nonprinting characters may be the culprits. Display them and then check your formatting.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1227) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Understanding Nonprinting Characters.

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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