Page breaks and section breaks: Catching a break in Word documents

Page breaks and section breaks have been a sore spot for most of us when working in Microsoft Word. Breaks can be difficult to format properly if you have a need to switch the orientation of a single page within a document or if you need to adjust the margins for one page only.

The Basics of Page Breaks and Section Breaks in Word Documents

Microsoft Word provides many tools when you create a document. A couple of different types of break will help you organize and format your document’s content.

Page Breaks

Think about what happens when we type in Word. As we get to the bottom of a page and continue to type, what occurs? Word automatically sees that we need more space to type and gives us a new page within the document. These are called page breaks.

Note that many Word users will create page breaks by pressing the return key until their text is pushed to the next page. Effectively, they are creating a new, blank line or paragraph every time they press the return key, and forcing Word to create a page break. Beware that this process often has unintended side effects in the document’s formatting. Fortunately, Word offers a tool for manual insertion of page breaks that will increase your ability to format the document and its text. You can insert manual page breaks when you want your text to break off onto a new page at a specified point, rather than allowing Word to determine where the break will occur.

Whether the new page is the result of an automatic page break or a manual page break, these breaks are the reason for new pages within your Word documents.

Page breaks will exist on every page of any multi-page document, and they are essential to creating a relationship between pages, allowing consistent formatting from page to page. In other words, whatever adjustments you make on one page—orientation, margins, columns, footers—will be applied to all pages. This is a feature of Word that is made possible by the page breaks that are automatically or manually inserted.

Section Breaks

Section breaks function exactly as the name implies: They create a discrete area within the document. Sectioning off a selected paragraph, object, or page isolates it from the rest of the document, allowing its content to be formatted separately. Section breaks and page breaks are not mutually exclusive. Regardless of section breaks, page breaks will continue to occur because they are necessary for every new page within the document to exist.

Section Breaks and Page Breaks in Action

Let’s pretend for a moment that I have a three-page document set up with default portrait orientation. I want to make the middle page use the landscape orientation.

Currently the document has two breaks: a page break at the end of pages 1 and 2. Remember, page breaks are meant to continue the formatting of previous pages—so if I try to switch the orientation of one of the pages now, all three pages will adjust. If you try, you’ll just be frustrated!

Microsoft Word makes it possible to reorient a single page within a document, however, by adding section breaks. In this case, isolating the entire page 2 will allow me to adjust the selected page’s orientation.

To achieve the desired orientation, two section breaks are required: at the top of page 2 and at the bottom of page 2. If I were to insert a section break only at the top of page 2 before changing the orientation of that page, then both pages 2 and 3 would be oriented in landscape. Completely separating the content on page 2 by putting both section breaks in place allows me to select page 2 alone. At this point I can adjust the orientation or even insert a different footer.

Section breaks and page breaks in Word documents


Tools for Working with Breaks in Word

Take advantage of a few editorial tools that Microsoft makes available to document creators.


Using the Show/Hide formatting tool on the Home tab will allow you to see where breaks are being inserted within your document.




When the Show/Hide feature is turned on, it displays spaces, tabs, breaks, and other formatting marks. Automatic page breaks may not be displayed on a page even with this feature enabled, but manual page breaks always will be displayed. When you have both a page break and section break, they will appear side-by-side.


pagesection break
Section breaks and page breaks in Word documents


In addition to the text identifier, page breaks are indicated with a single row of small dots, while section breaks will have a double row (like a series of small colons) to differentiate the two types of break.


Show Sections

If you are working with large documents and have numerous section breaks, it can become confusing. Another useful tool to enable in Word is one that identifies what section you are in.


To show sections in Word:

  • Right click on the status bar that appears at the bottom of every applicationstatusbar
  • Select Section
    • This will add a check mark to indicate this tool has been turned oncustomizestatusbar
    • Regardless of the document’s page count, you will have one section until you add section breaks

Subtypes of Page Breaks and Section Breaks

After mastering the basics of Word’s page break and section break features, it’s time to discover advanced capabilities of those tools. The Page Setup group under the Page Layout tab displays all of the available Breaks. Let’s explore these further to gain a better understanding.






Applying Your Knowledge

Let’s see how the whole process works in a sample document. Complete this exercise as you read along. If you’re unsure of any of the steps, refer back to the information provided above.

Change the Orientation of a Single Page

  1. Create a new Word document—preferably a single-page document with several paragraphs of text
  2. Turn on the Show/Hide formatting button on the Home tab
  3. Right click on the status bar to show the Section breaks at all times
    • A check mark will appear on the menu to indicate this feature is on
    • The status bar will now show Section 1
  4. Insert a Page Break between the first two paragraphs using the Page Layout tab, then insert another page break between the second and third paragraphs in the document
    • The document will now have three pages
    • Because the Show/Hide function is active, you should be able to view the page breaks
  5. Separate page 2 with two Continuous Section Breaks
    • At the top of page 2, insert a Continuous Section Break (notice how it is displayed next to the page break)
    • At the bottom of page 2, insert another Continuous Section Break
  6. Click onto each page to show the document is now in three separate sections (as documented on the status bar)
  7. While on Page 2, select landscape orientation on the Page Layout tab
  8. Only Page 2 should have been adjusted

Alter Pagination Format of a Single Page or Section

  1. Now, try to change the format for page numbers in the footer (note: section breaks are key!). In this example, I need the page numbers as 1,ii,3 (i.e, Page 2’s footer numbering will display as the roman numeral ii)
  2. For the document, insert the footer called Banded to show page numbers in the footer
    • Within the Insert tab’s Header & Footer group, use the Footer menu and select Banded
  3. Click on page 2. From the Insert tab, in the Header & Footer group, choose the Page Number menu and select Format Page Numbersformatpagenumbers
  4. Choose the desired number format and Press OKchangefooternumber
  5. Footer pages should now reflect as: Page 1, ii, 3


Related Posts