Changing page (section) formatting within a document (book excerpt)

Applies to
Microsoft Office Word 2003
Book image This article was excerpted from Microsoft® Office Document Designer by Stephanie Krieger. Visit Microsoft Learning to buy this book and CD set, which includes the Microsoft Office Document Designer tool kit.

In this article


The basics: What is a section break?

Types of section breaks

Keep an eye on your section breaks

Keyboard shortcuts

More information

 Note   If you're looking for the basics of how to edit page formatting, such as margins and page orientation, in your document — check out the article Understanding page (section) formatting before continuing here.


Whether you've been frustrated by section breaks, or never heard of them, you've come to the right place! This article will give you simple, stress-free solutions for changing Section formatting within a document, and will also provide solace for those who have suffered the slings and arrows of Section formatting in the past. Working with Section formatting can be a cinch. But there is a catch: You have to understand a bit about how these little devils think.

Have you ever felt misunderstood? Well, that's how section breaks feel all the time! Contrary to popular belief, there is a logical reason for everything they do. Take a moment to understand where they're coming from and they'll repay your kindness by saving you time and tension in every document. If you've never used section breaks, learn what they are and how to insert them where appropriate. Need help getting in touch with your inner section break (or solving a Section formatting problem fast, before you throw your computer out the window)? Check out the tip table below, which provides quick answers to the most common section break quandaries.

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The basics: What is a section break?

You already use Section formatting in every document, even if you never touch the settings. Every document has page margins, a page orientation (portrait or landscape), a paper size, etc. But what happens when you want a different header and footer, different margins, or different orientation for just some pages of your document? You could place those pages in another file, then mess with the settings and page numbering to make it all appear as one document when it prints, but that's a hassle! And, it still does you no good if the document's being sent electronically. This is where section breaks are used to make things much more simple.

Section breaks exist to help you change page, or section, formatting within your document. A section break is just a formatting mark (similar to a paragraph mark) that stores the settings for all Section formatting up to that point in the document — so that you can change those settings from that point forward. Every Page Setup command (File menu) as well as page borders, headers and footers, page and footnote numbering, and text columns all use section breaks to change their settings for just part of a document.

 Note   Okay, if section breaks store formatting, then where's that formatting stored in a single-section document? Glad you asked! The last section of any document (or an entire single-section document) stores Section formatting inside the document's last paragraph mark. That's more than an obscure little Word factoid — that information can be important when troubleshooting misbehaving documents. Check out the tip sheet "Section Formatting Tips, Tricks, and Troubleshooting" (Microsoft Office Document Designer) for details.

Say, for example, that you're working on a report. At the end of the main body of text you need an appendix for several wide financial tables that will only fit on landscape pages. Here's what you do:

  1. Place your insertion point at the bottom of the page immediately before your appendix.
  2. Go to the Insert menu and click Break.
  3. Select Next page under the heading Section break types in the Break dialog box and click OK.

The section break you just inserted stores the portrait page orientation you've used to that point in the document. So, you can place your insertion point after that section break and change the page orientation to landscape for just the appendix pages. What's more, you selected Next page as the section break type because it contains a built-in page break that automatically starts your new formatting at the top of a new page.

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Types of section breaks

As you've seen in the Break dialog box, there are four types of section breaks: Next page, Continuous, Even page, and Odd page. That said, you might never have occasion to use any of them other than Next page, but it's a good idea to understand their different uses. All four types of section breaks store exactly the same type of formatting. The only difference is where your next section starts. Here's a quick summary of what you'll get with each section break type.

Next page section break

Starts your next section at the top of a new page. This is a section break with its own built-in page break. It's what you'll usually need when changing Section formatting because most Section formatting applies to a minimum of one page (margins, orientation, headers and footers, etc.).

 Note   Please don't confuse section breaks and page breaks, they're not interchangeable! A section break stores formatting — so, using too many of them can lead to overcomplicated, hard-to-manage documents. A page break is just a formatting mark that moves your insertion point to the top of a new page. If all you need to do is start a new page, a page break is always the better choice. (For an even cleaner solution to controlling pagination, check out the paragraph formatting tip sheet "Paragraphs That Stay Put! Using Line and Page Breaks" in Microsoft Office Document Designer to learn how to add page breaks before a paragraph.)

Continuous section break Starts your next section immediately after the break, with no space between. Because most Section formatting applies to a minimum of one page at a time, this type of section break is most commonly used when using the text columns feature for less than a page of your document. And, since tables are an easier solution than text columns most of the time, you're not likely to get too acquainted with continuous section breaks.
Odd page or Even page section break

Odd and even page section breaks are just like next page section breaks, but they force the new section to start on an odd or even page, respectively.

So, for example, if your first section ends on page 11 and you insert an odd-page section break, your next page number will be 13 — skipping page 12. Page 12 will still print, however, as a blank page. You'll see it if you view the document in print preview, but you won't have access to edit that page.

Though you aren't likely to use these often, they might come in handy to force consistency in the way chapters start if you're creating a document in book format.

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Keep an eye on your section breaks

If you can't see your section breaks, turn on formatting marks by clicking the paragraph mark icon on the Standard toolbar Button image. Section breaks can be difficult to see in print layout view even with formatting marks visible because they can fall at the end of a paragraph that contains text. Instead of embarking on a hopeless search for your section breaks, just check out your document in normal view, where section breaks always appear across the entire page. Take a look at the difference.

Section break in print layout and normal views

And, you can always check out the status bar at the bottom of your Word window to confirm the section you're currently working in or the number of sections in your document.

Word status bar

Now let's take a look at some common section break issues and how to make them work for you.

The action The basics Tips and more information
Remove a section break A section break stores the formatting for the section that comes before it. So, if you delete a section break, the content before that break will take on the next section's formatting.

Say, for example, that you have a two-section document. The pages in section one are in portrait orientation; the pages in section two are landscape.

If you remove the break between the two sections, all pages become landscape. This is because you removed the section break that stored the portrait orientation.

Add section breaks automatically, using Apply to options

Most dialog boxes that apply Section formatting contain a drop-down list labeled Apply to. Keeping an eye on this drop-down list can save you tons of time and help keep your document formatting as simple as possible.

Apply to options will include such choices as Whole document, This point forward, This section, Selected text, etc. In most cases, the options change depending on your active selection, the position of your insertion point, or how many sections your document contains.

Apply to drop-down list

When editing Section formatting, if you select either This point forward or Selected text, from an Apply to list (such as the Apply to list on each tab of the Page Setup dialog box), Word automatically inserts the necessary section breaks as it applies your new formatting.

Some Word formatting that isn't Section formatting also uses Apply to options, such as paragraph or table Borders and Shading and Outline Numbered lists, so please don't assume you need a section break just because you see an Apply to list in the dialog box!

Best practices     If you're working in a long or complex document, I recommend taking the quick extra step to insert section breaks yourself, rather than selecting the Apply to options that do this for you. The reason is that inserting them yourself enables you to make a conscious choice about what type of section break is added and where it falls in the document — so you always know exactly what you're going to get.

Change the type of section break

Though section breaks store the formatting for the section that precedes the break, the section break type controls how the next section starts. If you use a Continuous section break, for example, and then realize that you really wanted your section to start on a new page, don't take that section break out and start over! You're likely to lose a lot of formatting and spend lots of unnecessary time retracing your steps.

It's also not a great idea to add a page break right after a Continuous section break to solve this because adding excess formatting to your document adds excess complexity that's just begging to get in your way!

Instead, to change the section break type so that your new section starts on a new page, place your insertion point anywhere in the new section and go to the File menu, click Page Setup, and click the Layout tab. Select New page from the drop-down list labeled Section start.

 Note   If you think your section break type changed on its own, or if you don't see the option you need in the Section start drop-down list, check out the tip sheet "Section Formatting Tips, Tricks, and Troubleshooting" (Microsoft Office Document Designer) to find out the method behind this fairly common madness — as well as the quick and simple cure.

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Keyboard shortcuts

Here are some keyboard shortcuts to use when working with section breaks.

Keystroke Action
ALT+CTRL+N Switches your view to normal view.
ALT+CTRL+P Switches your view to print layout view.
ALT+I, B, N, ENTER Inserts a Next page section break.

See the Keyboard shortcuts topic in Word Help for a complete list of available keyboard shortcuts for all features.

More information

You can find more cool tips and information for Word in Microsoft Office Document Designer. If you're comfortable with the basics of using section breaks, check out the next Section formatting article, "Word Documents from Top to Bottom: Making Headers and Footers That Work," in Microsoft Office Document Designer. Headers and footers can be a great help in your documents, and you might be surprised at just how much you can do with them.

About the author    Stephanie Krieger, a Microsoft Word MVP, is a professional consultant, trainer, and writer who specializes in creating solutions with the Microsoft Office System. She helps clients customize software and design templates and also provides train-the-trainer services.

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Applies to:
Word 2003, Word 2002