Formatting Marks – Nonprinting Characters – Codes

In a printed document, characters such as spaces, tabs and paragraph marks are invisible. However, Word lets you display such formatting marks on the screen. Formatting marks are also known as nonprinting characters or codes.

In this article you will learn how the formatting marks work and why they are useful.

The basics about formatting marks

Some of the basic formatting marks

When formatting marks are turned on, you will see spaces, tabs, paragraph marks and other formatting marks on the screen. Some of the basic formatting marks are illustrated below.

Formatting marks

Keyboard shortcut

Ctrl+Shift+8 can be used to turn formatting marks on and off.

You can also turn formatting marks on and off by clicking the pilcrow symbol ¶ on the Home tab of the Ribbon (found in the Standard toolbar in Word 2003).

Where to find the options for formatting marks:

  • Word 2010 and later versions: File > Options > Display
  • Word 2007: Office button > Word Options > Display
  • Word 2003: Tools > Options > View tab

For an introduction to the formatting marks and for information about how to turn them on and off, view the video below.

View video - see how formatting marks work

Note that the video was made using Word 2003. The formatting marks work the same way in Word 2007 and later versions of Word.

Click the link below to open a window with a video that illustrates the problem and how to solve it:

Visible formatting marks help you keep track of formatting

Many users who are not familiar with formatting marks get confused if they by incident turn on the formatting marks. However, if you need to control the formatting of documents down to the last detail, visible formatting marksare a must.

It may take some time getting used to work with visible formatting marks but it is well worth the effort.

About display of text boundaries

In addition to the formatting marks, the video illustrates how the option Text boundaries works. In Word 2003, Word 2007 and Word 2010, you can turn on text boundaries to have dotted lines shown around margins. This is very useful for layout purposes. Unfortunately, Word 2013 and Word 2016 display text boundaries as dotted lines around each paragraph instead which makes the option very little useful in those versions of Word.

Where to find the option for text boundaries:

  • Word 2010 and later versions: File > Options > Advanced > Show document content group > Show text boundaries
  • Word 2007: Office button > Word Options > Advanced > Show document content group > Show text boundaries.
  • Word 2003: Tools > Options > View tab > Text boundaries