Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, and 2013. 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: Understanding Paragraph Alignment.

Understanding Paragraph Alignment

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated November 13, 2017)

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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."

You can change the alignment of any paragraph by using the appropriate tools on the Home tab of the ribbon or by displaying the Paragraph dialog box.

There is also an undocumented alignment for paragraphs called "distributed text justification." This alignment is very similar to Justified alignment, except it also forces the last line of the paragraph—regardless of how short it is—to be stretched all the way to the right margin. You can only access this alignment type by placing the insertion point within the paragraph and pressing 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 (13051) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, and 2013. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word 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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Comments

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What is seven less than 7?

2015-09-25 09:33:45

Paul Franklin Stregevsky

When a full-justified paragraph ends with a manual line break (Shift-Enter), the final line spreads out, filling the margin, even if the line is only one or two words long. In Word 2010, you can prevent the final line from expanding:

1. Select File > Options > Advanced > Compatibility options > Layout Options.
2. Select Don't expand character spaces on a line that ends with SHIFT-RETURN.

You can instruct Word to use this option for the current document only or for all documents based on its template.

If you use Word 2013, you won't find the Advanced settings; I think you're out of luck. Sure, you can save in an earlier format to temporarily reveal them. But I think your setting will be cleared the next time the document is opened. Someone, please assure me I'm wrong!


2015-09-24 12:00:46

Thomas Redd

Maureen,
I had the same problem. To fix it I did the following:
Press Ctrl-Shift-J on that paragraph to return it to Left Justified, and then click your Justified button again to Justify the text.


2015-09-24 11:58:58

Tom Redd

Maureen,
I had the same problem. To fix it I did the following:
Press Ctrl-Shift-J on that paragraph to return it to Left Justified, and then click your Justified button again to Justify the text.


2015-09-23 06:56:40

Maureen Sullivan

When formatting a paragraph to justify, sometimes the last line will spread to fill the whole line even if there are only 2 or 3 words. Sometimes it doesn't! How can I stop this please?


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