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Microsoft Word: Section Breaks  

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Microsoft Word:
Understanding Sections

The longer and more complex your Word document is, the more likely it is to need different sections. Word's sections aren’t chapters, that is, they don't have anything to do with how you've divided your document with headings and subheadings. Sections are electronic divisions you create by adding section breaks to your document. Section breaks are a close cousin to page breaks, except a section can contain any number of pages. More important, each section in a Word document can have its own distinctive page formatting.
Many people work with Word for years without ever really understanding Word's sections. After all, the majority of Word documents are only a single section. In fact, a multiple page document can be just one section.

Documents Start with One Section

section breaks, divided documents, Microsoft Word documentsThink of your document as a large piece of undeveloped, flat land. Initially, it has one set of boundaries with the same look throughout. Now, you want to divide the land into plots for individual property owners who can develop their areas in any way they want. Each lot is divided with fences and property Word, these boundaries are called section breaks. The section breaks allow you to change the page formatting for one section without modifying the rest of the document.

When You Need Section Breaks

A section break separates the document into multiple sections for individualized formatting. With section formatting, a document can easily be divided into separate pieces such as a title page, report detail, appendixes, portrait vs. landscape layout, and other changes to the document structure. Section breaks also make it easy to switch between one column to multiple columns and then back to a single column of text.

Section breaks are needed in a document when page formatting changes within the same document, or your document includes more than one type of column formatting.

Specifically, section breaks are needed in the following circumstances:

  • Different margins: For documents such as a letter, where the first page mightsection breaks, dividing Word documents, long documents in Microsoft Word require a two-inch top margin to make room for the letterhead, with the following pages requiring a standard one-inch top margin plus a header that should not start until the second page.
  • Different headers and footers: For documents that require different formatting for various headers and footers.
  • Different paper sizes: Multiple sections are required with documents with both portrait and landscape page orientation.
  • Different numbering schemes: Large documents often require different page numbering formats from one area to another. For example, the Table of Contents may be numbered with lower case Roman numerals (i, ii, iii) while the main body uses Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3) and the document concludes with Appendices using alphabetic numerals (A, B, C).
  • To restart automatic numbering for separate chapter: Word uses automatic numbering for figures and other items. If you have a multi-chapter document, you may want the numbers to restart with each chapter.
  • Columns: Multiple sections are used in documents with newspaper style columns combined with standard one column formatting. You can even change the number of columns on a single page.

Inserting Section Breaks

To insert a section break in Word 2010 and Word 2007:

  1. Choose the Page Layout tab > Page Setup > Breaks.
  2. When you click the Breaks button in the Page Setup group, the menu is divided into two parts: Page Breaks and Section Breaks.
  3. Choose the type of section break that you need for your document.

To insert a section break in Word 2003:

  1. Insert > Break.
  2. From the list of section break types, choose the type of section break that you need for your document.

Types of Section Breaks

There are four different types of section breaks in Word. For most complex documents, the Next Page section break is used most frequently.

Section breaks have two major distinctions. There are Next Page breaks, which create a new page for the new section, and there are Continuous breaks, which place a divider mark in the text with no visible interruption. Everything below that mark is in a new section. You use the Continuous break to change the number of columns or the margins in your document in the middle of a page.

The other two options—Even Page and Odd Page—are just variations on Next Page. They create section breaks and start the new section on the next even or odd page. For example, you use this option to make sure all your chapters begin on a right-hand page.
Section breaks are also automatically created any time you select a portion of text and then change page formatting; your choices will be applied just to the selected part of text. As needed, section breaks may be added at the start and end of the selected text.

How Section Formatting is Stored

It’s important to note, in a single section document, section formatting is stored in the last paragraph mark. With multiple section documents, a section break stores the formatting for the section that precedes it. So, if a section break is deleted, section formatting applied to the section that preceded the break will change to match whatever section formatting is stored in the next available break.

Before deleting any section break, take note of all differences in section formatting between the sections before and after the break. Remember, after you delete a break, all section formatting in the section that preceded the break will revert to the formatting saved in the section following the break.

Understanding how Word formatting and section breaks work will simplify how you create and edit your Word documents.

© Dawn Bjork Buzbee, MCT, The Software Pro®

Dawn Bjork Buzbee is The Software Pro® and a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) as well as a certified Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) Master Instructor, certified Microsoft Applications Specialist (MCAS) Instructor, and a certified Microsoft Office expert. Dawn shares smart and easy ways to effectively use software through her work as a software speaker, trainer, consultant, and author of 8 books.

This article and more can be reprinted at no charge in your publications and website with copyright and attribution.
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To go to a specific section, press [Ctrl]+G (Go To), choose Section from the drop-down list and then enter a section number.
Did You Know?
Every Microsoft Word document has at least one section.
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