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Microsoft Word's X-Ray Vision Superpower

Microsoft Word is lawyers' most used and yet most underutilized tool. Some see it as a plain typewriter, not knowing of all of its superpowers. The one we want to talk about today is the power to see under the page, also known as the show/hide formatting feature.

We like this Microsoft Word feature so much, that in LitKit we insisted that it be included, for ease of access and convenience, alongside our novel features (redactions, exhibit numbering, Oxford comma consistency, etc.). Seeing what's happening under the page helps you understand how a Word document works and can help avoid major formatting issues.

If you are a lawyer (or really in any other profession that involves a lot of drafting), you should never work without the hidden formatting on. Foremost, seeing the hidden formatting will teach you about and make you aware of some fantastic drafting features. Revealing hidden formatting will also help you easily "fix" documents when those features get in the way.

Non-Breaking Spaces: Non-breaking spaces are spaces that tie together the words around them so they can't break over two lines. It is important for some lawyers not to have, for example, a title and a name break across pages; or if text breaks across lines so that the next line starts with a number. Non-breaking spaces save you from such embarrassment with a simple CTRL+SHIFT+SPACE. But you can only see them (as a small circle in the top half of a space) with the show hidden formatting feature on.

It also happens that non-breaking spaces sometimes cause issues. For example, somehow, Westlaw quotes sometimes come "preloaded" with formatting, and that manifests at times in an unnecessary amount of non-breaking spaces. If you're wondering why your paragraph looks wonky, check the hidden formatting--it might be some unruly non-breaking spaces.

Page/Section Breaks: These breaks "move" you to the next page, directly, so that anything that is typed under them will show on a different page than what is typed above them. Like non-breaking spaces, page and section breaks can work either for you or against you. All of us, I'm sure, have discovered a stray page break ruining the formatting of the document (or, if you haven't, you probably spent way to much time retyping part of a document to fix it because the weird space would not just delete).

But page and section breaks are definitely your allies once you're showing the hidden formatting. Using the return key to move to the next page is not only sloppy (and a huge pet peeve of mine), but can also lead to annoying formatting issues as the document continues to be edited.

Section breaks are like page breaks but have the added benefit of being able to change formatting on one side of them without affecting the text on the other side. For example, they can restart numbering, so you can have your Roman numeral page numbers for your table of contents and table of authority, but Arabic numerals for the rest of the brief.

Keep with Next: This Word feature allows your paragraph or heading to stay with the next paragraph or heading. This way, you can avoid having your heading on one page and the text under that heading on another. When showing hidden formatting, it appears as a black square to the left of the first line of the paragraph/heading.

Of course, if you aren't aware of it and are running into some space issues, you might be annoyed by gaps left at the end of pages by pulling the header onto the next. And without seeing the hidden formatting, you might not have a way to fix it.

(This is another Word feature that is a must for clean briefs and pleadings, so we added it as well to our Shortcuts menu).

Tabs: Showing hidden formatting will reveal which colleagues of yours hit the space bar repeatedly instead of Tab (I mean, why not just use VIM over Emacs) or paragraph formatting to make a first line indent. You should not continue working with them.

Two Spaces Between Sentences? We depart from helpful native Word features that become apparent when showing hidden formatting, and get to a lawyer pet peeve and a debate Microsoft unsuccessfully tried to end. Regardless of whether you are pro-two spaces between sentences or not, showing hidden formatting will allow you to see any transgressions, as a space will be marked by a dot in the center of the space. (You can also just use LitKit to convert one space to two or vice versa with one click throughout the document.)

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