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What’s a “Pilcrow”?

If you are formatting a Word document with specific paragraph, tab, and word spacing intentions — or you just don’t like the way your document spacing looks — click the “Pilcrow” icon to view the hidden “architecture” of your work.

A “pilcrow” is a typographical mark that represents the forced return of text to the next line; whenever you hit the “Return” or “Enter” key on your keyboard, you are telling your computer to insert a pilcrow. In word processing programs, the pilcrow symbol icon (a backwards capital “P” with an additional leg) represents more than the forced paragraph return; it displays a number of hidden characters in your document — forced paragraphs and others.

Try this: open a Word document that contains a few paragraphs of text. Click once on the pilcrow icon at the top of your screen. Notice the appearance of:

  • Dots between words: every time you hit the “Space” bar, you left a “dot” on the screen
  • Pilcrow symbols: every time you hit the “Return” or “Enter” key you left a pilcrow on the screen
  • Right-facing arrows: every time you hit the “Tab” key, you left an arrow on the screen

Viewing these non-printing characters shows you how your text is organized, and helps you correct formatting you don’t like. At a minimum, revealing these non-printing characters will show you where you have — or don’t have — two spaces between words. (You may wish to increase the screen magnification to see the dots between words).

Additional notes about hidden characters:

  • To hide these characters, click once on the Pilcrow icon.
  • These characters are non-printing; even if you send this document to the printer with the hidden characters showing, they will not print.
  • You can leave these non-printing characters on while you work, or just turn them on as needed.

Even if you think you won’t need to see hidden characters, it’s nice to know they are there if you ever do.