Word’s “Backward P” and why it’s useful

Looking at formatting in Word

In last month’s Word Tips, I mentioned the “Show/Hide button” or Pilcrow (or “backward P”) & how it can be used to reveal the various formatting features that have been used in a Word document, so here we go…

First of all, a reminder of where to find it… it’s about half way across on the Home Tab

Apparently, it’s a very old mark, used for various reasons including Chapter headings, but nowadays, It is mainly used to be able to identify formatting issues in word processing documents that occur because users have hit the enter key too many times and can’t tell because they are not shown. Hitting the Show/Hide button allows the non-printing characters to be revealed. “Nonprinting characters” is Word’s term for anything that takes up space or has a formatting function but does not appear on the printed page, including spaces, tabs, page or paragraph breaks, etc.

In this blog post, I’ll go through some of the symbols which will be revealed by the Show/Hide button, what they mean and why you might or might not want them there.

Paragraph marks ¶

The paragraph mark represents a paragraph break. You should see one at the end of each paragraph (if there is not one, you’ll likely find that you have a problem). Ordinarily, you should not see one anywhere else. By this, I mean that you should not be ending lines with paragraph breaks, nor should you be using “empty paragraphs” to create “blank lines” between paragraphs (in most cases, this is better accomplished with Space Before or After in the Paragraph Formatting options).

The ¶ contains all of the formatting relevant to the paragraph. You can select it, copy it, and paste it onto another paragraph to copy and paste the formatting. The last ¶ in the document contains formatting for the entire document (header/footer and margin information, for example) or for the last section if there are more than one. Unfortunately, they look the same, so you need to be careful which one you’re using if you choose to use this copy/paste method!

Line breaks

A right-angle arrow pointing to the left represents a line break, inserted with Shift+Enter. You can use a line break or sometimes called a soft return to start a new line without starting a new paragraph. This is helpful when you want to start a new line within bullets or numbering, but don’t want to start a new point or have set your paragraph spacing to have “blank lines” as above, but don’t want them in this case, for example lines of an address…

Pagination breaks

These include things like column, page, and section breaks, which are a bit more obvious in their meaning. Pagination breaks are applied automatically by Word, or you can add these manually to control where the text should be pushed onto a new column, page or section. To delete these, you can simply select them and press the delete key.

Finally, you will sometimes see a small black bullet in the margin next to a paragraph. This indicates that the paragraph is formatted with the “Keep with next,” “Keep lines together,” “Page break before,” or “Suppress line numbers” property.

These settings are found on the Line and Page Breaks tab of the Paragraph dialogue box; accessed through the dialogue launcher in the bottom right corner of the Paragraph group on the Home tab. You can also double-click on the “bullet” itself to bring up this dialogue with the Line and Page Breaks tab selected. Word’s built-in Heading styles are formatted as “Keep with next” by default, so you will always see these bullets next to them.

Space characters

In most fonts, and certainly all Windows “core fonts,” a· small· raised· dot· represents· an· ordinary· space· Be sure you don’t have space · · characters · · where · · they are · · not · · needed. If you are tidy-minded, for example, you won’t want a string of them at the end of a paragraph where your thumbs relaxed on the spacebar while you stopped to think.· · · · · · · · · · · · · A degree symbol ° represents a nonbreaking space (Ctrl+Shift+Spacebar), which you can use to prevent words from being separated at the end of a line. This is useful for keeping dates together (so you don’t end up with November 19, 2018 being spread over two lines).

without seeing the formatting it looks like this


An arrow pointing to the right represents a tab character, where you have pressed the Tab key.

Cell markers

In tables, you will see one additional character, the universal monetary symbol (¤). Upon close inspection, a circle with four lines radiating from the corners can be seen: ¤. This is the end-of-cell marker. It is a little like the paragraph mark in that it contains paragraph formatting for the last (or only) paragraph in the cell, but it also holds formatting for the cell. The same mark at the end of each row is the end-of-row marker, which serves a similar purpose with regard to row formatting.


Another very important nonprinting character is the anchor symbol – when working with floating objects it’s often crucial to know where these are positioned relative to the paragraph or page. For example, as in the image below, the image has been placed relative to the paragraph, and hence the anchor symbol appears next to the beginning of the paragraph.

Don’t forget the basics

Before printing or emailing your document, it’s always a good idea to proofread it to pick up any obvious mistakes.

In fact, it’s best to proofread your documents twice; once for content, with nonprinting characters off (as they can be distracting when reading); and a second time with nonprinting· characters · visible, · so · that · you · can · check · for redundant line breaks, space · · · characters · and · the like.

How many times have you had trouble with a blank page at the end of your document and can’t figure out why?  Now you know why, by showing the paragraph marks you will likely find there are too many of them at the end and you really only should have one.