July 25, 2007

Alignment, Justification and Bullets

Microsoft Word (and many other programs) let you justify, bullet and align text throughout your document. However, sometimes doing so can be confusing, and sometimes you'll feel like Word has a mind of its own.

The first thing to remember with alignment is that you can only apply an alignment command (like left, center or right) to a paragraph of text. So if you want to apply an alignment command like 'center' to a heading you'll need to make sure it is its own paragraph. Creating a paragraph is as easy as inserting a line break by pressing the 'Return' or 'Enter' key. One common mistake I see a lot is when users artificially create a new line when they don't need to. In the old days of typewriters you used to have to wind the typewriter back to start a new paragraphs. Modern word processors like Word automatically wrap text for you so you don't need to worry. You only need to use the 'Return' or 'Enter' when you want to force a new paragraph.

This leads me to the justify command which lets you align text along the left and right margin. This is useful when working in a column layout but sometimes leads to odd spacing between words. The odd spacing is often caused because of extra spaces or other formatting elements. If you notice the spacing looks strange make sure you don't have any spaces after the end of the text.

Bullet points and numbering is another source of confusion in Word but doesn't need to be. To create a list of bullet points or numbers in word simply go to the Format menu and select 'Bullets and Numbering' (rather than clicking the shortcut icon). In this window you can choose a bullet style or a numbered style. If you select a numbered style you'll also have the option of restarting the numbering or continuing from a previous list (somewhere else in the document).