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How to Set Line Spacing and Margins in Microsoft Word

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Reading Time: 5 minutesIn this article we’ll give you some easy to follow hints how to set line spacing and margins in Microsoft Word. We’ll also give you some easy tips for changing your first line indent and page margins. (Note: The following instructions apply specifically to Microsoft 365 Word, but should also work in the several preceding versions of Word.)

Set line spacing and margins in Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word offers its users hundreds of customization possibilities. Some of them are behind the scenes and rarely seen or adjusted by the average user. But others, such as the ability to adjust spacing and margins, stand out front in their impact on your document’s appearance. It is important to know how to set spacing and margins in Microsoft Word, whether you are a casual user or you use Word every day.

How to increase line spacing.

With normal font usage, the distance between lines of text will be set automatically, usually at “1”. There are going to be times when you will want to change the line spacing. For example, if you are typing a book manuscript and are expecting to provide a printed or emailed version to an editor, you may be asked to provide a manuscript in Courier font with double spacing. Or it may be that you want to increase the line spacing slightly for aesthetic reasons, so that your text better fills the page.

Another circumstance when larger line spacing will be necessary is when you have a line of text and somewhere along that line, you insert one or more characters in a much larger font size. As a hypothetical example, you might want a date presented in a much larger font size than the other text on the line. The larger font size that you used for the date will force that entire line’s spacing to be increased to accommodate the larger date font.

Fortunately, changing line spacing in Microsoft Word is an easy task.

Set Line Spacing via the Ribbon

Select the text you want to increase the line spacing for. If you need to change all of the text in a document, you can select all text in the document by using the key command, Control + A in Windows or Command + A on a Mac. That handy little shortcut will select all of the text in the entire document.

    • Be sure you are displaying the Home ribbon at the top of MS Word.
    • Look in the third section of icons from the left which deals with line spacing, ordered and unordered lists, paragraph indents, etc..
    • Look for an icon with four thin horizontal lines. On the left side of it is a blue up and down arrow. That icon is the one that allows you to set your line spacing.
    • Tap it and you can choose 1.0 (normal single spaced line), 1.15, 1.5, 2.0, 2.5, and 3.0.

Home tab ribbon microsoft word - line spacing button
Home tab ribbon In Microsoft Word – line spacing button.

There is also a line labeled “Line Spacing Options.” From there you can play with the settings in greater detail.

Set Line Spacing via the Right-click Menu

You may also open the Line Spacing Options box by selecting the text you wish to set line spacing for.

    • Right-click the selection and choose “Paragraph….”
    • The same Line Spacing Options box mentioned in the previous paragraph will open.

How to set space between paragraphs.

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There are several reasons you might wish to adjust the spacing between paragraphs in your documents. Whatever the reason is, the process is simple when you know where to look.

To change paragraph spacing:

    • Open the same Line Spacing Box you used in the previous instruction.
    • Select your text, then right click and select “Paragraph…” from the menu. The same box you saw before will open.
    • Be sure “Indents and Spacing” is chosen at the top of the box.
    • Look for the Spacing section.
    • In the Spacing section, the first controls you’ll see are the “Before” and “After” controls. Those controls set the spacing before or after each paragraph, accordingly.

If you select the entire document, any settings you make here will be used throughout your document.

If you select only a portion of the document, the setting you make here will apply only to the portion you selected.

How to set first line paragraph indents.

Formatting a paragraph so the first line is indented is easy in Microsoft Word, but not necessarily obvious.

For this task, you’ll need to be sure the ruler is turned on. Go to View in the top menu, then be sure there is a check next to Ruler. The check mark indicates the ruler is active. If it is not, just click on the word Ruler.

The Ruler option causes a ruler to be displayed horizontally at the top of the document and vertically on the far left.

If you want to indent the first line of all paragraphs in your document by, you can do so using Command + A on a Mac or Control + A in Windows to select the entire document.

    • Near the left end of the top ruler, you will see two icons, one above the other. The top icon looks like an upside down triangle.
    • With your chosen text selected, grab just that icon with your mouse or trackpad and slide it to the right. You should see the first line of your paragraphs become indented.
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You may not want the first paragraph to be indented. In that case, select all of your paragraphs except the first before you slide the icon in the ruler. That should leave your first paragraph fully aligned left and your others with their first lines indented.

How to set margins in MS Word – easy method one.

If you followed the instructions above for indenting the first line of a paragraph, you’re halfway to knowing how to set margins. This method applies to the paragraph where your cursor is located if you have not selected a box of text. If you select a large block of text or your entire document, the changes will apply to the selected areas.

    • In the ruler, look just below the upside down triangle icon that you used to indent the first line. You’ll see what looks like a triangle sitting on a box.
    • Click and hold your mouse or trackpad on just the triangle. When you slide it, the margin will be adjusted, but leaving the first line indent wherever you set it. Slide it too far to the right and your indented first line will be negatively indented, hanging out to the left of your paragraph.
    • There is a single triangle icon on the right end of the ruler. It works the same way as the left one, but adjusts only the right side margin. It does not affect the first line indent.
    • Clicking and sliding the tiny box under the triangle on the left end of the ruler indents the entire paragraph or larger selection, taking with it the first line indent.

Because of their small sizes, it can be a little tricky to select just the triangle or the box.

How to set margins in MS Word – easy method two.

This method will change the margins for your entire document without the need to select any specific text.

  • Click on the Layout tab to open the layout ribbon.
  • The first icon in the layout ribbon is labeled “Margins.” When you click on the Margins icon you’ll be presented with a few preset options – normal, narrow, wide, and a couple others.
 Selecting any of these options will affect your entire document without having to select text.
  • At the bottom of the list is “Custom margins…” Click that option, then be sure Margins is selected at the top of the box that opens.
  • You’re given options to set top, bottom, left, right, and gutter. You’ll also see a box with drop-down options to apply the margins to the entire document or from that point forward.

Set new default margins

You can easily set new default margins which will affect all future documents that use the normal.dotm styles.

Use the same instructions as instructed in How to set margins in MS Word – easy method two, above.

In the Custom margins… box, make the adjustments you wish to use, then, at the bottom, click the Default… button (Mac) or “Set as Default…” (Windows). That will set your margins for all future documents according to the settings you made.

You’ll find more helpful hints on using Microsoft Word here.


Tom Buford
Tom enjoys technology and at several years north of 60, he finds it more enjoyable and interesting than ever. He has been happily married to his bride for more than 46 years and enjoys living with her and the cat that adopted them in rural Tennessee. Tom is also a published fiction author.