10. Adjusting Line Spacing

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Line spacing can be the difference between a neat document and a messy document. In this lesson, we break down line spacing into its bare components and demonstrate how to apply neat line spacing to your document.

Lesson Notes

Lesson Goal

Learn how line spacing affects spaces between lines.

What Is line spacing?

Line spacing affects the amount of space between lines of text. Too little space can make it really hard to read your text and too much will make it really hard to tell where paragraphs start and end.

There are two main types of line spacing. Automatic and manual.

Automatic line spacing

Automatic line spacing automatically generates an optimal space between the lines. This is based on the font and size of the text. The most basic type of line spacing is single.

Word actually defaults the line spacing in new documents to multiple with a value 1.15. This means that it takes the automatic value generated by single line spacing and multiplies it by 1.15. In other words, it increases the distance between lines of text by 15%.

For a professional document, we recommend the default of 1.15 or 1.5 if you want slightly more space in between the lines.

Manual line spacing

Manual line spacing doesn’t consider the font and size of your text. It’s based on the “point” measurement used for font size. You can set your line spacing to a specific number of points apart. For example, if you set line spacing to exactly 12pt, the space between each line will always be 12pt (4.2cm or ⅙”). If you have text with a size of 48pt beneath text with a size of 11pt, the larger text will get cut off by the manual line spacing.

We advise you to use automatic line spacing as it is less prone to these types of errors. But some institutions, such as universities, have strict line spacing guidelines based on a manual figure.

Spacing between paragraphs

Line spacing also affects the spaces between paragraphs. From the Paragraph options menu, you can add spaces before and after a paragraph. Adding a space after a paragraph is preferable to using multiple hard returns to mimic this effect. This is because these spacings are neater, more consistent and are more easily edited.


In the previous two lessons, we discussed methods for adjusting spacing within lines of text.

In this lesson, we'll learn how to adjust spacing between lines.

We'll start with some quick guidelines on which line spacings to use.

Word provides a lot of control over line spacing, but we suggest you use the default of 1.15 for professional documents.

Alternatively, you can use 1.5 for slightly larger gaps between lines while still preserving a professional look. If you're creating a rough draft for someone who likes to edit hard copies, feel free to use 2.0 or 2.5 to add space for notes and corrections.

There are two main types of line spacing we need to consider, spaces between individual lines of text and spaces between paragraphs. We'll return to our case study document to explore line spacing further.

In the Home tab of the ribbon, there's a command for adjusting line spacing. By selecting it, we can see some recommended line spacing options. However, we'll select Line Spacing Options to reveal more detailed paragraph formatting options.

We'll start with the options under the heading Spacing.

This document is currently set to Multiple, but let's change it to Single.

Single is a type of automatic spacing option. It takes the point size of the largest character in the line, and adds a few points.

It then uses the size as the spacing between lines.

All the text in this document is 11 point, so the spaces between the lines will be approximately 14 point under single spacing.

Moving on to the other spacing options, 1.5 is just one and a half times bigger than single, and double is twice as big as single.

The bottom option, Multiple, allows you to enter your own desired multiple of single line spacing.

If we return to the line spacing command in the ribbon, we can see that each of these options refer to multiples of single line spacing.

We'll choose 1.15, as this is the Word default.

Let's navigate back to the Paragraph options and look at the line spacing options again.

Note that we can also set the line spacing by specifying the point size, using the At least or Exactly options.

A semiautomatic form of line spacing is At least. This creates a minimum line spacing, but allows Word to increase it if necessary.

This is useful if you want larger spaces between lines of small text.

The final option is Exactly. This sets a line spacing which Word never changes.

This can be restrictive, as some larger characters will be cut off if they're larger than the spacing you specified.

The Exact spacing option isn't commonly used, but some academic institutions establish a strict spacing guideline.

The two text boxes to the left, Before and After, refer to spacing between paragraphs.

By default, Word will have no spacing before a paragraph and 10-point after.

This setting will generally be suitable, but on occasion you may want to increase or decrease the spacing before or after. There are a variety of reasons why you may wish to do this.

For example, you may want your section headings to stand out from the rest of the text. The quickest way to do this is from the line spacing command.

We'll close this window, select Our values, navigate to the Line Spacing command dropdown, and select Add Space After Paragraph.

If we click the command again, we can remove the space we just added. This concludes our lesson on line spacing.

In the next lesson, we'll cover styles.

Styles encompass much of the functionality we've covered in the past few lessons, from font to line spacing.