How to Display Non-printing Characters in MS Word

In any MS Word document, by default, only the characters you type in are visible. 

But Word also places extra characters in the text for formatting. These characters are normally not visible and will not show up when you print the document. Hence, they are known as non-printing characters.

Sometimes, displaying non-printing characters on the screen helps. You can tell where you have added an extra return or inserted two spaces between words. Once you have finished with the diagnosis, you may want to hide these characters again to view your document as it will be printed.

2 Methods to display non-printing characters in Microsoft Word

Word allows you to:

  • Always display selected non-printing characters,
  • Show or hide the non-printing characters.

We will explain the two methods above, and show you their execution in easy, step-by-step instructions.

Let us begin.


Method #1: Always Display Non-Printing Characters

This method allows you to handpick the non-printing characters that Word will always display.

Step #1: Open a Word Document

Open an existing Word document.

Navigate to an area that displays text.

Step #2: Open the File menu

In the top menu bar, click on the File tab.

This will open the File menu.

Click on Options at the bottom.

This will open the Word Options dialog box.

Step #3: Select the non-printing characters to display

In the Word Options dialog box, click on the Display tab in the left pane.

In the right pane, scroll down to Always show these formatting marks on the screen.

Click and select the characters that you always want to see in your document.

For this example, we have selected all the options.

Click the OK button at the bottom of the dialog box to close it.

Your document will now always display the non-printing characters you have chosen.

This is what it may look like:

Step #4: Stop displaying non-printing characters

Open the Word Options dialog box (Step #2).

In the Word Options dialog box, click on the Display tab in the left pane.

In the right pane, scroll down to Always show these formatting marks on the screen.

Click and unselect all the check boxes in front of the characters.

Click on the OK button at the bottom of the dialog box to close it.

Your document will no longer display any non-printing characters.


Method #2: Show or Hide the Non-Printing Characters

This method allows you to either show or hide the non-printing characters as you like.

Step #1: Open a Word Document

Open an existing Word document.

Navigate to an area that displays text.

Step #2: Switch the pilcrow on

In the top menu bar, click on the Home tab to change the ribbon.

In the Paragraph group, click on the Pilcrow icon, which looks like a backwards capital P.

The text will now show all non-printable characters.

Step #3: Switch the pilcrow off

Note: This step requires a display of non-printing characters.

In the top menu bar, click on the Home tab to change the ribbon.

In the Paragraph group, click on the Pilcrow icon, which looks like a backwards capital P.

Your document will no longer display any non-printing characters.

Note: You can click on the Pilcrow icon to toggle between showing and hiding non-printable characters.


Conclusion

We have shown you a method that allows the selection and display of specific non-printing characters in your document. 

We have also shared a method that allows you to toggle between showing and hiding non-printable characters, with merely a click. 

Use the method most suitable to your needs.

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