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 Paragraph Alignment.

Understanding Paragraph Alignment

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated September 27, 2014)

One of the fundamental typographic specifications for laying out paragraphs is determining how they will appear in relation to the left and right margins. Word refers to this specification as alignment. There are four types of paragraph alignment you can set within Word:

  • Left-aligned. All lines in the paragraph butt up against the left text margin. No extra spaces are added to the line. The text of each line does not line up with the right margin, so traditional typesetting terminology often refers to left-aligned text as ragged right.
  • Center-aligned. All lines in a paragraph are centered between the left and right text margins. No extra spaces are added to the line. The text lines up with neither the left or right margins.
  • Right-aligned. All lines in a paragraph butt up against the right text margin. No extra spaces are added to the line. The text of each line does not line up with the left margin, so traditional typesetting terminology often refers to right-aligned text as ragged left.
  • Justified. All lines in a paragraph are expanded so they butt up against both the left and right text margins. Space is added, between words and characters, as necessary to fill out the line. In some typesetting references justified text is also referred to as "full justified." This alignment affects all lines in the paragraph except for the last one, which is left-aligned.

You can change the alignment of any paragraph by using the appropriate tools on the Formatting toolbar or by displaying the Paragraph dialog box.

There is, in addition, an undocumented paragraph alignment supported in Word: distributed-text justification. This is intended for single-line paragraphs, particularly those that use large font sizes. (For instance, you might be creating labels, signs, or placards.) This type of alignment is the same as justified alignment, except that it affects all the lines in the paragraph. The only way to apply this alignment is through the use of a shortcut key: Ctrl+Shift+J.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1478) 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 Paragraph Alignment.

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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