Why use section breaks in Microsoft Word?

 Oct 10, 2014

So you just got told that you are going to have to write the next training manual for your job. No problem. Just type everything up and then print it out, right? Hold on cowboy, there are a few really good tips that you need to know about long documents. Here are some things you may want to consider before you start typing like a mad demon.
  • Firstly, will you need a table of contents?
  • Will you need to break it up into chapters and if so, do you want the footer information to let the learner know what chapter they are in, that is, having different footers within the same document?
  • Will you need to have any of the pages print in landscape while the rest stay in portrait?
  • What if your boss says they want you to change all the headings to bold now after you have already finished the whole 100 page document with tonnes of headings to change?
Okay, so now that you are thoroughly intimidated with all these “what-ifs,” I will explain how the use of section breaks in Microsoft Word will make your job much easier if you set them up right from the beginning instead of trying to fix problems later. Section breaks are used to divide up a document into sections and allow you to make formatting changes within each of these sections. For example, if I want page 3 of my document to be set to landscape orientation but everything else to remain portrait, I would need to add a section break before page 3 and one after page 3 so that any changes I make will just affect what is between the two breaks. Now, there are several types of section breaks. The “Continuous” section break means to put the break at the position of the cursor, and it means that perhaps the whole page does not need to be changed. An example of this would be when you just want to widen out a table in the middle of a page and so therefore, want to change the margins of just the table not the whole page. The other type of commonly used section break would be a “Next Page” section break which basically is a section break and a page break together. It is also important to know if there are any section breaks in a document you’re working on and which section you are currently in. Word does not show this by default in the Status Bar, so to see this information you need to right click in the ‘Status Bar’ and put a tick next to ‘Section.’

Why use section breaks in Microsoft Word?

Once you’ve done this, you will see the ‘Section’ indicator in the lower left corner of the status bar telling you which section your cursor is in, and therefore, be able to change the formatting in the correct section.

Why use section breaks in Microsoft Word?

To add a section break, simply:
  1. Go to the ‘Page Layout’ tab and select the ‘Page Setup’ group.
  2. Click on the ‘Breaks’ button.
  3. The lower part deals with section breaks; choose the one that you need for your situation.
To remove a break, you need to have the ‘Show/Hide’ button on and then just delete or backspace through the code showing the section break. (You can read more about the Show/Hide button in one of my previous posts here.) If you need to have different headers and footers then you would also need to use section breaks to divide up the chapters and then break the link between them, which is the default way that Word behaves. Details of exactly how to do this will be in one my upcoming posts, so stay tuned!

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About the Author:

Liz French  

With over 7 years of experience as a trainer, and an extensive skill set that spans across the entire Microsoft Office suite of applications, Liz brings an incredible amount of knowledge, expertise and care to each course she delivers. Having worked as a tutor in the education sector for many years prior to her career at New Horizons, Liz has gained an extensive amount of experience in providing training to individuals and groups of varying skill levels. As a certified Microsoft Office Master, Liz is a highly capable trainer who possesses the ability to connect with students of all levels and backgrounds in order to help improve their skills across a wide range of common Desktop Applications.

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