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Formatting Your Thesis/Dissertation: Helpful Tips in Word

Learn about Graduate College formatting requirements.

Section Break vs Page Break

Section Breaks (and Types) versus Page Breaks

Section Breaks allow for formatting to be changed between pages or columns in word. This can be useful to change the page numbering type (between Roman and Arabic numerals for example) or changing a pages orientation to landscape between portrait pages.

page and section breaks can be found under the layout tab there are many different kinds

Break Type When to use
page breaks mark end of one page and beginning of new page Page breaks should be used to separate pages that will have the same formatting as the pages before. These will move content to the top of a new page. Example: to end one chapter and begin a new one
column breaks will create multiple columns on one page and indicate where one column ends and another begins Column breaks allow for multiple columns of text to be created on one page, much like a table does, and are used to indicate where one column should end and the next should begin.
section break next page will allow you to alter the formatting between two sections including how pages are numbered, orientation of pages, etc Section break (next page) will allow you to alter the formatting between two sections including how pages are numbered, orientation of pages, etc. This should be used anywhere that major formatting needs to change.



Show / Hide Nonprinting Characters

Nonprinting characters or formatting marks can be helpful while formatting your document. They show things like page breaks and tabs.

nonprinting characters is a backward P located under the home tab

Markup Formatting information
tabs are indicated by an arrow This indicates a tab. Tabs can be used to indent text or objects.
spaces are indicated by small dots  Spaces are shown by little dots. Each dot is one space.
hard returns look like backward P and indicate the end of a paragraph or formatted section of text Hard returns are often used to signify the end of a paragraph. These are made by pressing enter / return. Hard returns restore formatting to the default text.
soft returns are little bent arrows that indicate the end of a line and continue the formatting to the next line Soft returns are used to signify the end of a line. These are made by holding shift while pressing enter / return. Soft returns maintain any formatting work done between lines. This is helpful for formatting CHAPTER headings or table titles.
page breaks are shown with the phrase "page break" Page breaks add a new page and force all content typed after it to start on a new page rather than continuing on the previous page. These maintain formatting between pages and should be used at the end of chapters to start the next chapter.
section breaks are shown with a line and the phras There are several types of section breaks. The Section Break (Next Page), shown here, allows formatting to change between pages. This helps change the page numbers between the front matter and the body of the document or allows landscape pages to be inserted between portrait pages.


Turning On and Off the Rulers

The rulers show the margins of the document, indentation settings, etc.

Ruler settings can be found under the VIEW tab. Select ruler to turn on or off.Rulers can be turned on and off under the view tab

Under the "show" section of the view tab, click ruler to turn on or off

How Rulers May Help

The reference / bibliography / works cited page should be formatted to have a hanging indent. This means the top line is flush left with the margin and that any subsequent lines for the reference entry are indented 0.5". To do so, click on the bottom tab and drag it to the right.

Click and drag the bottom tab of the ruler over to

The grayed areas on the rulers indicate the margins. Any content below the grayed areas are in the margins and outside of the content area and will need to be moved.

gray areas on the rulers indicate the margins of the document

Dialog Boxes

Dialog Boxes

Most of this guide uses Microsoft Word on Windows to show examples. One of the main formatting differences on a Mac is the location of Dialog Boxes. Dialog boxes are windows that open with additional menu items. These can be located throughout the ribbon at the top of the document:

dialog boxes can be opened by selecting the small arrow pop out icon in a menu section


Mac users should use the "Format" menu located at the top to the appropriate dialog boxes:

Menu at the top of a mac computer with Format menu open