Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Office 365. If you are using an earlier version (Word 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Word, click here: Put Your Space Before or After?.

Put Your Space Before or After?

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated March 5, 2020)


It is not uncommon for page layout designs to call for extra spacing between paragraphs. Word allows you to add extra space either before or after a paragraph. The one you choose is up to you. Remember, however, that the spacing is cumulative. For example, if you have a paragraph that is formatted for 12 points of space after it, followed by a paragraph formatted for 15 points of space before it, then there will be 27 points of space between the paragraphs. You will make your design and layout work much easier if you are consistent in where you add the extra space—either before or after a paragraph.

There is a caveat to my statement that "spacing is cumulative." Word has a configuration option which, under certain circumstances, can turn off the cumulative nature of spacing. This option is actually part of the style definitions you can create within Word. To see this option, follow these steps:

  1. Display the Home tab of the ribbon.
  2. Click the small down-arrow at the lower-right corner of the Styles group. Word displays the Styles pane.
  3. 3 Hover the mouse pointer over a style you want to modify. (As an example, hover over the Normal style.) A down-arrow appears at the right side of the style name.
  4. Click the arrow to display some options and then choose the Modify option. Word displays the Modify Style dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  5. Figure 1. The Modify Style dialog box.

  6. Click the Format button at the bottom-left of the dialog box. Word displays some categories of things you can specify in the style.
  7. Choose Paragraph. Word displays the Paragraph dialog box.
  8. Make sure the Indents and Spacing tab is displayed. (See Figure 2.)
  9. Figure 2. The Indents and Spacing tab of the Paragraph dialog box.

Note the checkbox about two-thirds of the way down the dialog box. Entitled "Don't Add Space between paragraphs of the Same Style," the setting controls whether spacing is cumulative between any two given paragraphs if the two paragraphs use the same style. You can set the option as desired for any of your styles.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (9358) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Office 365. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Put Your Space Before or After?.

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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What is 6 + 3?

2019-08-27 09:33:26

Thomas Redd

I'm with you Jules!

I like to control the spacing of a documentas I type. What happened to the typing skills of people now-a- days? Are we too lazy to type? WordPerfect is perfect and lets you type. Come on Microsoft! Give typists a way to work! We know when we want spaces and when we don't!

2019-08-26 14:19:02

Spacing is NOT cumulative

Sadly, I find the spacing is not always cumulative. I have not been able to pin down why. But in every document I write, there are REPRODUCIBLE locations where the space is not cumulative. NOTE I never ever whatsoever tick the "Don't add....." box.

This to me is just another example of sloppy management and programming by the Microsoft Company.

2019-08-25 09:30:25

Paul Stregevsky

Farshid K and (later) Charles Kenyon are correct. By default, Word uses only the larger of two intersecting values. It does not sum them unless you select "Don't use HTML autospacing," a document-level choice.

"Don't Add Space between paragraphs of the Same Style" does not control "whether spacing is cumulative between any two given paragraphs if the two paragraphs use the same style." It ensures that the space between same-styled paragraphs will be zero.

2019-08-24 22:11:41



Spacing using extra blank lines works OK on small, static documents.

But if you write anything longer and make changes to the document it soon becomes a nightmare. On page breaks the extra blank lines spill over onto the next page, pushing the first paragraph on the page down. If you delete those blank lines, but then remove text earlier in the document, you lose your paragraph spacing and have to manually find and fix it.

If you use Word's automatic spacing it automatically drops the extra spacing on page breaks.

2019-06-13 19:50:19



Specifying space before or after a paragraph allows precise vertical spacing of your paragraphs, down to 1/72 of an inch. You cannot do that type of placement just by pressing Enter.


2019-06-13 07:11:39


Please can someone explain why spacing before / after a paragraph should be set automatically anyway.

How hard is it to carriage return ("enter") ?

It just makes it harder for the rest of us to copy and paste some text - that includes extra space that we didn't expect.

2016-01-15 13:56:04

Charles Kenyon

For some reason, the checkbox for "Don't add space between" is available in the paragraph formatting dialog as direct (rather than style-based) formatting. If checked there, it only changes the setting for the paragraph(s) selected. This is in ribbon-based versions of Word.

2016-01-15 13:51:25

Charles Kenyon

In my understanding, this checkbox has to do with any space between paragraphs, not whether before and after are cumulative. If this box is checked, Word will ignore the space before setting and the space after setting between paragraphs of the same style.

The setting for cumulative, adding together before- and after- spacing or just using the higher number, is a compatibility option (not style-specific, but document-specific). It is in the "Don't use HTML paragraph autospacing." Checking that option makes them add together. Unchecking it gives you the larger of the two.

2016-01-02 06:39:42


Word 2016 frustrates me with its clinging to 'Don't add space between paragraphs of the same style' field, no matter what you do.
I prefer spaces between all my paragraphs.
I have tried without success to modify my normal paragraph style to automatically add spaces between paragraphs of the same style, i.e. to automatically uncheck this button.
Word 2013 did not have this problem. What can I do?

2014-01-15 12:15:29



I do read comments. :-)

You'll want to read the tip again, starting with the paragraph beginning "There is a caveat...". It explains the condition under which spacing is cumulative vs. non-cumulative.

"Bottom line: If you have the checkbox cleared as shown in Figure 2, then spacing *IS* cumulative, just like I point out.


2014-01-15 11:26:59

Farshid K

Actually spacing is NOT cumulative, but it considers the maximum value.

For the example, if you have a paragraph that is formatted for 12 points of space after it, followed by a paragraph formatted for 15 points of space before it, there will be 15 points of space between the paragraphs (maximum of 12 and 15).

I hope the writer will read comments!

2014-01-07 05:04:08


Jennifer, thanks. I was just trying to point out the typos in the text.

Steve Dunham: You're absolutely correct in doing that. I don't understand why in Office 2010 and 2013 MS went away from the practice of putting space before the paragraph and added 10 points after the Normal style paragraph by default.

2014-01-06 10:31:56

Steve Dunham

I prefer space above because it's easier that way to use bulleted lists. Those lists should be closer to the paragraph that introduces them than to anything else. With the current Word defaults of space below, Normal has 15 points below it and bulleted items have 10, placing the list 5 points closer to the following paragraph. If the styles have space above, then the list will be closer to the paragraph above.

2014-01-06 09:55:43

Jennifer Thomas

To Damear: When you hover your mouse over a style name in the style pane, the drop-down options display.

But I usually teach people to right-click the style name for those options -- it helps to avoid applying the style unintentionally (by left clicking).

Hope that helps.

2014-01-04 04:30:11


Paragraph 3:

3over (hover?) the mouse pointer over a style you want to modify. (For the same (sake?) of this example

Please correct.

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