Thursday, May 13, 2010

How To: Remove Section Breaks

Not long ago, while editing a client’s book, I came across Section Breaks. Many of them... messing with the formatting... and driving me nuts. I deleted some, then after a while, wrote the author a note telling her to delete them. On the second read-through, I deleted more. Then more on the third read.

After she read my comment, she wrote and asked, "How do I delete the section breaks?"

Ahh. Maybe you’ve had this problem. If you have, it’s easy to fix.

First step, you have to diagnose it. Generally, there are two ways to know if you’re having errant Section Breaks in your manuscript. One way is… you see them. The other way is… there are gaps in your manuscript. You figure you’ve somehow put in blank lines, but when you go to delete the blanks, they won’t, and yet the gap is there.

Second step, you fix the problem. If you can’t see the section breaks, you need to switch to “Print Layout View.” When you do, you’ll see them. They show up in this view as dotted lines with the words “section break.” To delete, click your pointer on the section break, then hit delete.

Voila! They’re gone.

While they’re easy to delete, if you don’t know why your manuscript is acting screwy, it can be very frustrating.

In case you’re wondering why I didn’t just delete them all and save her having to do it… one of the goals of hiring an editor should be to learn so you don’t repeat mistakes (plus, the less your editor has to do for you, the lower the cost of hiring an editor will be). You don’t want to chance having a manuscript turned down because the agent or editor became too frustrated with the faulty formatting to continue reading.
Helen Ginger is a freelance editor, blogger, and writer. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its eleventh year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook.

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  1. There's an even easier way to find them. Click the Show/Hide paragraph mark icon. It shows all the hidden markings, including section breaks. This will also show you places where you have extra spaces. I usually make a quick pass over the manuscript with the Show/Hide on to see if there are any problems.

  2. Thanks, Helen. I was literally going nuts with this. What a great editor -- you answer without being asked!
    Giggles and Guns

  3. I've used the paragraph formatting button before - good to know that will find breaks.

  4. Thanks Linda. If you want to see all the behind the scenes things you've done, you can do as Linda suggested. To find this tool, click on Tools, then Options and scroll down the list.

  5. I normally type with the show formatting option turned on, so don't have this problem.
    But it is really frustrating when something you have to review for content comes with formatting problems, which take away so much of your attention.

  6. I've had Word issues aplenty, but not this one - LOL!

  7. Wish I had read this a month ago. I was editing a ms with just this very problem and figured it out finally by lots of trial and error, lol.

    Good tutorial.

    The Old Silly

  8. Thanks, Helen. I'll remember your tip when I have a new manuscript to ask you to edit. (g)

    Morgan Mandel

  9. It's good to know, Helen, thanks. My question would be, how do those Section Breaks get there in the manuscript in the first place?

  10. I remember hating having to change from Word Perfect to Word, because I loved the "reveal codes" function in WP. But when I'm stuck wondering why something looks funny, I click the binoculars and get to see at least some of the problems, as Linda said.

    I also do a search and replace on extra spaces.

    Now, can someone point me to dealing with headers and page numbers? That's what drives me nuts. Another thing that was easy and intuitive in WP. But when I have to add a title page, or other front matter, I spend too much trial and error time getting things right.

  11. Instead of deleting them one by one you can do a find and replace. In the find window enter ^b and put nothing in the replace window. Then click the replace all button to get rid of all of them.

  12. Thanks Helen. After reading this, I realized my manuscripts have done this to me several times but I had no idea why!


  13. I had this problem so many times. I was so frustrated. Aarrgghh!!! I had to retype an entire section on a separate Word doc. delete the original with those pesky dotted lines, then copy and paste the new section in. Thanks for the tip.

    Stephen Tremp

  14. Okay, here's my issue. I have Windows Vista and use Word for my writing. If I manually hit enter to go to the next line, it automatically skips a space as if it's a new paragraph. I have not been able to figure out how to change this. Help!!!

  15. I've never had this problem, but I bet I will now. At least I will know how to fix it. Thanks!

  16. Section breaks... does the use of the ellipsis count... as a section break?



  17. I recently critiqued a manuscript and for some reason could not delete the misplaced page breaks. Of course, I was dealing with a 97-2003 compatible Word 7 document, so it's hard to say what was wrong. It's the little things that can make us crazy.

  18. Sometimes when I have used *** to designate a scene change and then happen to hit "enter" it creates those pesky section breaks. That's why I started using ~*~ If I happen to hit enter after typing that no section breaks.

    I hate all the extra formatting stuff that Word automatically puts in a document. I have to use Notepad for anything that I plan to put on the Web as the Word formatting messes up Web programs.

  19. I think I drive my agent a little crazy when I send her a manuscript. I put the chapter breaks in, then I go back later and add and delete text again. So the chapter breaks will sometimes end up on the bottom of one page instead of the top of the other.

    So I go back through and adjust it so that all the chapter headings are at the top of the next page again. But then I end up going back and adding and deleting text.

    Then I just get bored with it and don't fix it again and send it off to my agent. :) So she ends up making it pretty and sending it to my editor.

    Sooo...should I just put a section break right *before* each chapter heading? Will it move with me as I add and delete text? I'm wondering if there's a better way of handling it than the way I'm doing it now (tinkering with it until I'm sick of it, then turning it over to my agent to mess with.)

    And...Karen, what I do with the Word line-spacing issue is to hold down the control key and press enter at the same time. Then it'll just single space that one line.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  20. Thanks Helen. Haven't used section breaks yet...though I'm saying...hmmm should I be?

  21. Thanks,Helen .. this is a great tip..

  22. Karen, you probably have the document set to indent. If it's only happening occasionally and you don't want to take off the auto indent for new paragraphs, then just backspace when it happens (and you don't want it to). Or, follow Elizabeth's advice and hold control and click enter.

    Elizabeth, I avoid section breaks altogether unless I really have a reason to want a section of the manuscript to have separate formatting. For example, in one of the TechCareers books I do, I might create a section so I can build a graph or chart.

  23. Thank you for this. I loved reading all the comments too and feel better that I'm not the only one messing up that way:)

  24. Karen, it's a default setting in Word 2007 for the style

    1. On the Home tab, look for the style section.

    2. I'm assuming the Normal style is what you're having trouble with, but this will work on any style. Right click on the Normal style (note: You may need to use the arrows on the style box to show more).

    3. Select Modify.

    4. Click Format, and then Paragraph.

    5. Look for the spacing section. You'll see in the After box 10 points. That's why you're getting the extra space. Change it to 0 (not auto).

    6. Click OK twice.

  25. @ Karen, you also shouldn't need to use 'enter' if it's not a new paragraph...just keep typing after the last period. It automatically goes to the next line when it is time to do so. But of course the prior advice tells you how to fix it with the automatic line spacing in Word 2007 set to zero all around or taking out the paragraph indent. I never set the indent. Also, Google is always a great resource for any such questions if there is nobody to ask. I have had a lot of issues with formatting in Word 2007 but always found answers from a Google search. PEACE!


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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