I read an article this morning from a pretty prominent purveyor of Microsoft Office “how to” articles. The title of the article caught my eye and so I read it. I am sad to say that articles like this one are why it is so difficult to help people remotely. Why you ask? Well, frankly because it teaches people incorrectly by giving them the wrong names for what they are talking about. So I would like to set the record straight for my subscribers so they know the proper terms they should be using – especially when they are asking someone to resolve an issue for them.
First, in Microsoft Word, a line is just that – a line, which will continue t wrap around as you key in text.
A paragraph, on the other hand, is lots and lots of lines.
Ok, I have made this distinction because the article I read was attempting to teach users how to delete “blank lines.” The only problem was, they were not lines, they were paragraphs and should be referred to as such. The article went on to mention paragraph tags. Again, these are not called tags. They are non-printing characters and their name is pilcrow. You do not even see these non-printing characters unless you enable Show/Hide, which I always advise my subscribers and students to do. Why? Well I am glad you asked. Because then you can see the formatting of your document.
You see, after you are finished keying in all those lines, once you hit Enter on your keyboard, they become a paragraph and Word knows it is a paragraph because that pilcrow appears at the end of the last line when you press Enter. If you have your Show/Hide enabled you can easily see the pilcrow at the end of all those lines you keyed into your paragraph.
Now the article went on to tell people how to quickly find and replace those pilcrows, except he called them tags, which is not the proper term.
These pilcrows are very important characters actually. Did you know that all the formatting in your paragraph is stored in that lowly pilcrow? Yes it is and that is very important to know and why I always advocate having your Show/Hide enabled. If you copy and paste data from the internet or from another Word document you may sometimes be at a loss as to why there are problems in your document and cannot figure out what they are or why to fix them. I had a lawyer ask me once why he was having so much trouble with his document. The first thing I did was ask him if he had copied and pasted. Once he said yes, I enabled Show/Hide and introduced him to the lowly Pilcrow and told him that if he wanted a “clean” document when he copied and pasted, he should never copy that pilcrow and explained to him that it contained all the formatting. Months later that same lawyer told me that I had saved him countless hours with that one little tip.
And that alone, is why I insist on calling characters by their proper name. It can be very important and after all, they have a name for a reason right?
I do hope that this has been helpful to you and that you pass it along to anyone who asks about it. Believe me, it will make your life so much easier when you can see your non-printing characters and know what they do. It will also make your IT person’s life a lot easier when you know the proper words.