It happens all the time. You’ve written all you need on one page and want to start a new section or chapter, or you need a little more room than you have to insert a table or figure. What you should do now is insert a page break. Instead, you hit the enter key a few times to insert some carriage returns and push the cursor to the top of the next page.

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap! Done!

“Who, me?” you ask, feigning innocence. Or perhaps you’re thinking, “Yeah? So what?”

Why is using multiple carriage returns a bad habit?

If you insert a page break, your page alignment will always be correct. If you hit enter multiple times to move your cursor to the top of a new page, it doesn’t take much for your layout to change and your page alignment to be off. Here are five ways the “page break” you’ve created can get messed up in your document:

1. Deleting text.

2. Adding text.

3. Narrowing or widening your margins.

4. Adjusting line spacing.

5. Changing your font or font size.

In a long paper (a thesis or major report, say), especially one that is being tweaked over a period of time, those extra returns are bound to create issues at some point. Let’s examine the first three items on our list.

How carriage returns can mess up your document

Microsoft Word normally hides characters such as spaces, tabs, and carriage returns. If we toggle these hidden characters to show, we can see the multiple returns as a row of backwards-looking P’s at the bottom of the page:

Image showing five carriage returns in a row

Right now, the file looks fine. One chapter ends partway down a page, and the new chapter starts at the top of the next one. Great.

Deleting text. If we remove a bit of preceding text, the carriage returns are no longer sufficient to get the new chapter’s content to the top of the next page. Rather, the first chapter will end, followed by a chunk of white space, and the new chapter will now start at the bottom of the page.

Toggling off the hidden characters, here’s what the reader sees:

Example of how multiple carriage returns disrupt your page formatting

Oops-a-daisy! Notice the chapter heading floundering on its own, orphaned at the bottom of the first page. Sometimes changing only a few words is enough to remove a line of text, affecting the layout thereafter.

Adding text. If we add text, the new chapter’s content gets pushed down the next page. The heading is no longer positioned at the top where it should be. Toggling the hidden characters back on, we can see the issue is caused by the carriage returns:

Example of how multiple carriage returns confuse your formatting when you add extra text

Changing formatting. Let’s say you’ve completed your revisions and, on the cusp of submission, decide to widen the left margin to 1.5” so your masterpiece can be printed and bound. Imagine your dismay as you skim through your bound copy and notice this glaring oversight:

Example of how using multiple carriage returns instead of a page break disrupt your page formatting when changing margins
Yikes indeed! The wider left margin affected text placement, and now the chapter heading is nowhere near the start of the next page.

If you hit enter multiple times to move your cursor to the top of a new page, it doesn’t take much for the break you've created to get messed up and affect your page alignment. Thankfully, there's a simple solution. Click To Tweet

How to insert a page break in Word

Fixing this problem is simple:

When you want text to start on a new page, insert a page break.

Happily, the keyboard shortcut for this best practice is also simple: CTRL + ENTER. That’s right: Instead of hitting enter, enter, enter, enter, enter, just hold down the control key and then press the enter key to insert a page break. Presto!

Here’s what the file looks like with a page break. No matter what gets changed, the next chapter will always start on the next page.

Example of a page with a page break

If you don’t like keyboard shortcuts, you can also insert a page break from Word’s ribbon, in two ways. Click the Page Break icon under the Insert tab:

How to add a page break from the ribbon

Or, go to the Layout tab and choose page break from the Breaks drop-down list:

Image showing the different page break options in the Word ribbon

Now that you know to insert a page break, instead of breaking your pages by hitting enter, enter, enter—enjoy your breaks!

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