Awkward Gaps

Awkward gaps, an abnormally large area of white space between text, are the bane of a typesetter’s existence. They crop up on their own, often through automatic decisions from your chosen software. They create a white (or creme) smudge on beautifully printed paper, and they stick out to readers. As part of preparing your manuscript to go to the printer, you need to ensure there aren’t any awkward gaps in your work.

Thankfully, awkward gaps are usually easy to spot. They stick out from your neatly lined up text, and they’re even easier to spot if you print your manuscript rather than just skim through it on your computer screen.

Fixing awkward gaps is a little more difficult. Many times they’re the result of automatic formatting, and you’ll need to adjust formatting settings to remove the gaps. Sometimes you simply need to tweek a specific line, sentence, or paragraph to remove the gap, or you may need to reapply specific formatting. How you fix it mostly depends on what caused the gap, and we’ll walk you through identifying the cause.

Common Gap Placements

The following are common areas for gaps to appear in your text and how to address them in your formatting settings.

Extra space at the beginning of a paragraph

Extra space at the beginning of a paragraph usually comes from applying new indentation settings and a Tabbed indent was leftover. This can result from software or user error.

MS Word example of an extra space in indentation

This can also be caused by two Tabbed indents in a row, though I’d highly recommend avoiding using Tab for indenting paragraphs. It is much better to use paragraph settings and attributes as it will ensure proper formatting throughout your text.

To remove the extra spacing, click the Show/Hide button in the Paragraph section of the Home banner.

Show/Hide button

This will show you which of the spaces is the Tabbed indent. The Tabbed indent will be marked by a small arrow, as shown in the image below.

MS Word example of a gap in indentation with Hide/Show mark on extra Tabbed indent circled

Delete the Tabbed indent, and the gap will be gone. For more explanations or formatting options on indentation, see our Indentation guide.

Multiple wide spaces between words on one line

When the words are spread out by wide spaces, you usually need to re-rag your lines. This happens most often when your text is Justified.

Re-ragging your text is when you have the line end with a different word. Often where the line ends is determined by your software, but you can change your hyphenation settings (in MS Word) to have more control over where your lines rag.

In MS Word, the first setting to check for how your document rags lines is in the paragraph settings. Under Line and Page Breaks, you can check a box for Don’t hyphenate. If this box is checked, uncheck it. Hyphenation will reduce the awkward gaps between words because MS Word will be allowed to hyphenate words at the end of the sentence.

Go to the Home banner > Paragraph section > click the bottom-right corner arrow for Paragraph Settings > select Line and Page Breaks tab > Formatting exceptions section > uncheck Don’t hyphenate box.

button for Paragraph settings in the Home banner in MS Word
MS Word’s Don’t hyphenate checkbox is checked

If you want to limit how often hyphenation occurs or increase it, you can delve deeper into the hyphenation settings.

Hyphenation settings are found in Page Setup.

Go to the Layout banner > Page Setup section > Hyphenation dropdown. For additional options, click Hyphenation Options in the dropdown.

Layout > Page Setup > Hyphenation > Hyphenation Options

MS Word has 3 main hyphenation settings: none, automatic, and manual. You can then further determine how much space is allowed between words. The default Automatic Justification is .25″ spacing (no spacing between words larger than .25″) and limitless hyphens in a row. This ensures that you don’t have huge gaps between your text. However, if you’ve selected to not allow hyphenation, the large gaps will occur.

MS Word Hyphenation Options dialog box

Adjust the Hyphenation zone if you want to change the .25″ maximum space gap. For examples of different zone amounts and more information, see the section on Hyphenation in Justified Spacing.

Extra spaces between two words

Sometimes extra spaces between words aren’t related to how the document is ragged. If this is the case, you usually have more than one space (from Space bar) or an accidental Tab in your text. Use the Show/Hide button in the Paragraph section of the Home banner to see what is causing the extra space.

Show/Hide button

Tabbed spaces will be marked by a small arrow. Spaces from hitting the Space bar are marked with dots. Examples of both are in the image below.

example of extra spaces in MS Word marked by Show/Hide button

Simply delete the extra spaces from your text.

Do you often have double spaces in your text, especially after a period? Current typesetting standards recommend only using one space after a period. For more information, see our Double Spaces: Don’t Do It guide.

Abnormally large spaces between lines of body text (regular text)

Large spaces between lines of text are caused by hitting Return too many times or improper Spacing settings in Paragraph settings.
Use the Show/Hide button in the Paragraph section of the Home banner to reveal if you have too many Return spaces (also called Hard Returns).

Show/Hide button

Hard Returns spaces in Show/Hide look like a funky, backward P. See the following example to know what to look for in searching double Hard Returns.

Show/Hide mark for Hard Returns in MS Word

If the additional space is not marked with a Hard Return symbol, then you need to adjust your line spacing settings in your paragraph settings.

Protip: Use styles to ensure your formatting is applied to all your body text (or headings, etc.). This will ensure a clean look and should eliminate awkward line spacings on random lines.

In MS Word, line spacing can be adjusted through the Paragraph settings dialog box. This can be accessed from the Line and Paragraph Spacing icon on the Home banner or through modifying the text’s Style.

Line and Paragraph Spacing icon dropdown on Home banner in MS Word

In the Paragraph dialog box, look for the Spacing section and the Line Spacing drop-down box.

paragraph dialog box in MS Word

For line spacing in Google Docs, use their custom line spacing dialog box. It can be accessed through the line spacing icon o the icon banner or the Format dropdown on the main menu banner.

custom spacing dialog box in Google Docs

For recommended spacing amounts for both MS Word and Google Docs, see our Line Spacing (Leading) guide.

Large spaces between headings and body text

Sometimes there’s too much space (or not enough) between headings and the rest of your text. You can easily fix this by applying styles (Add Balance written guide, MS Word’s Quick Styles video, Scott Hanselman’s detailed Word Styles 101 video).

With styles, you can adjust how much space is before and after a line of text, and you can control if that space is between similar paragraphs of the same style (2 headings in a row or 2 paragraphs of body (regular) text in a row) or not. The trick is the control of space between similar paragraphs.

To open a Style’s paragraph settings, right-click the style name and select Modify. This will bring up the Style’s modification menu. On the bottom left corner there is a Format dropdown. Select the dropdown and click Paragraph in the available options. You’ll find the spacing options in the Indents and Spacing tab. Here is where you’ll work your magic.

Right-click style name (Normal, Body Text, Heading 1, etc.) > Modify > Format dropdown > Paragraph > Indents and Spacing tab > Spacing section.

Right-click Style name and then click modify in MS Word
Click Format dropdown and then select Paragraph in MS Word
Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style in the Spacing section of the Style’s Paragraph settings

To set the body text to be a certain space away from the heading (but not a secondary heading), modify the heading spacing. Set the After value to your preference then make sure the Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style box is checked. If body text follows the heading, the After space will be used. Or if another heading follows the heading, then the space won’t be there.

If you want the After space to be present no matter what follows the heading, make sure the checkbox isn’t checked. This will ensure all text, no matter the Style, will have the After space between them.

If you want a specific space between body text and a following heading (like for a scene break, etc), set the spacing to your preference in the After box in the body text. Then make sure the Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style box is checked. That way body text paragraphs next to each other won’t have the extra After spacing, but a heading after body text will.

Using Styles to format spaces after paragraphs will help remove the need to do Hard Returns for spacing (never use double Hard Returns to add extra space), and you’ll be able to adjust line spacing for all the text rather than having to fix it for every instance.

Lines of spaces going through paragraphs

Rivers are lines of white space running through a paragraph. These happen by accident and are a result of how a text rags (like for the Multiple wide spaces between words on one line section).

text with river splitting paragraph in half
blurred text with river splitting paragraph in half (blurring makes it easier to see)

Sans serif fonts, all caps, or justified margins with no hyphenations often cause rivers of white spaces. There are three common ways to fix rivers:

For more information on River control, see our River control guide.

Sections in this guide:

For more tips on formatting or editing for print formats, check out our guide.

Awkward Gaps in text and how to fix them

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