How to Reveal Formatting Marks and Codes in Word

Go behind the scenes of your text to resolve formatting issues

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Microsoft Word has many features to help you format your documents for optimal readability. They include bullets, numbered lists, page breaks, margins, columns, and more. But things can get tricky when you're trying to make your document look a particular way. Sometimes the way Word interprets your instructions aren't what you expected.

To see exactly how Word is structuring your document, you can view the formatting marks and codes associated with your text. There are several ways to do it. We'll start with the easiest one first.

This article applies to Word 2019, Word 2016, Word 2013, and Word for Office 365.

Temporarily Show Formatting Symbols

When you view the formatting Word is using in your document, you can more easily fine-tune it.

  1. To reveal the formatting symbols, on the ribbon select Home. In the Paragraph group, select Show Formatting Symbols (the icon that looks like a paragraph mark).

    MS Word with Reveal Formatting Codes symbol highlighted
  2. Now you'll see the various formatting symbols, each represented by a specific mark:

    • Spaces (dots)
    • Tabs (arrows)
    • End of each paragraph (paragraph sign)
    • Page breaks (dotted lines)
    MS Word document with formatting marks displayed
  3. To hide the formatting symbols, select Show Formatting Symbols again.

Permanently Show Formatting Symbols

If you find that having the formatting symbols visible makes working with Word easier and you want to have them visible all the time, here's how:

  1. On the ribbon, select File.

    MS Word document
  2. In the left rail, choose Options. The Word Options dialog box appears.

    MS Word with File tab displayed
  3. Select Display. Under Always show these formatting marks on the screen, select Show all formatting marks. Select OK.

    MS Word with Word Options dialog box displayed

Display the Reveal Formatting Panel

If you'd like even more information about the formatting of your Word doc, you can get it by displaying the Reveal Formatting panel.

  1. Press Shift + F1 on your keyboard. The Reveal Formatting panel appears.

    MS Word with Reveal Formatting panel displayed
  2. To view information about a portion of your document, select that text.

    MS Word with Reveal Formatting panel displayed
  3. Select any of the links to see even more detailed information about formatting components.

    MS Word with Reveal Formatting panel and Style dialog box displayed
  4. To close the panel, select X.