Monday, October 17, 2011

Pilcrow A-Go-Go

Or, How to Make Paragraphs Without Really Trying.
A prospective client wrote recently, inquiring about conversion services, sending first one manuscript, then, immediately upon its heels, a second, which, she asserted, she had “cleaned up” to get the best quote. I wasn’t quite sure if I’d seen her cleaned edition, so I asked her how I would recognize it—how I would distinguish it from the first. She replied: “the last one had most of the paragraph reversed P's removed.”
And I muttered to myself “OhMosesOnAPony, I certainly hope not.”

I debated upon naming this post, “Pilcrow, Friend or Foe,” because so many people seem to do battle with this wee symbol, not understanding its function in the hierarchal and layout kingdoms of word processors. The Pilcrow (etymology utterly unknown other than ME) means nothing more than “paragraph,” and for those of you who’ve never dared turn on “Show/Hide Formatting” in Word or its equivalents, looks like this:

...and all it means is that this mark distinguishes the end of one paragraph, and the beginning of the next. Simple, elegant...and utterly frustrating if you've never learned how to see it or use it.
How do you get to see this in your own documents? Simply select “Show/Hide” if you’re using Microsoft Word (click the pilcrow on the menu); “View->NonPrinting Characters” or CTRL-F10 in Open Office’s Writer program; and WordPerfect has always had Reveal Codes (and it’s probably still F3). Why do you want to see it? To save yourself hours of hair-pulling and frustration.
An excellent resource--and one I cribbed from shamelessly for this post--is this column on Paragraph Essentials from the Microsoft Office site: Paragraph Essentials. (Seriously: bookmark this article. I'm also recommending the two videos we show in our Tutorials and Videos section on our new Knowledgebase: Knowledgebase Here.) As the Microsoft article mentions, almost every document is in three major components: font, at the lowest level; paragraphs, at the core, and sections, at the top-most level. But what really drives the bus, for the vast majority of the document, is your paragraph, and its formatting. This is true whether you're using Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, Open Office, or Bob's Big Boy Word Processor.
Why does the pilcrow matter? Because the magical thing about the pilcrow is this: it can make or break your formatting; it can drive you crazy or make your typing life easier; it's essential when you're formatting a book for e-publication…and here's something you mightn't know: it contains all the formatting instructions for the paragraph that comes before it. How many times have you carefully formatted a paragraph, (maybe a diary entry that your detective discovers!), getting it just right, just so, go galloping on, typing away on the next bits of dialogue-then change your mind about something, wallop the "back" key with all your might-and your precious, carefully-placed formatting on that previous paragraph disappears?
Yes-all too often, I know. I've had it happen to me, more times than I'd ever care to admit. And what about all the times you carefully formatted that epigraph, or dedication-but when it came out, the lines broke in weird places? The same thing happens when those selfsame paragraph marks are inadvertently placed at the end of a line-not a paragraph, but a line-invisibly, causing broken paragraphs, because without the pilcrow visible, if that line just happens to be roughly the same length as the other lines in your paragraph, you may never notice, until it's too late. But if you turn on the Pilcrow, you can see those errors before they ruin your painstaking efforts.
It'll take more than 500 words to explain everything that's important about seeing the codes inside your documents, so I'll stop now, strenuously recommending that you at least watch the "Video on Word Styles" in our Tutorials and Videos section of our Knowledgebase at (it's not really the shameless plug it seems-someone else did the videos), and next time, I'll try to explain how ignoring the pilcrow's superpowers can break your paragraphs, your document, and your spirit.

by Kimberly Hitchens ("Hitch)--founder and owner of, an ebook production company.


  1. Very informative post. I've been using Word for years, and there's still stuff I've never bothered to learn. But formatting for ebooks is essential. I'm so glad you're on board here.

  2. Hitch, thank you so much for this information. I don't work in Word, but convert to it, so I'm off to check on my pilcrows (nice to know what that symbol is called), and the links you provided in your post.

  3. Very helpful post, Hitch. I knew about those Pilcrows, although I did not know what they were called. In the stone age of printing and publishing, we editors used a similar symbol to mark the beginning of a new paragraph for the typesetter. Interesting how it has evolved.

  4. I'm still wondering - if she removed all the Pilcrows, what did she replace them with? Or did she end up with one large paragraph?

    Yes, I 've worked with enough documents to know the difference between the Enter and the Shift-Enter (we used to call them "hard" and "soft" returns), and what they do to the formatting.

    I try to keep my document as straightforward as possible, just so I don't have to hunt down any special formatting when I try to format it for e-reading.

  5. mean WordPerfect still exists?

  6. Hitch, I definitely sensed your frustration with someone removing their forced paragraphing! I've been frustrated several times by someone doing that with a document sent to me! Makes a HUGE amount of extra, unnecessary work!

    An easy way to find those little paragraph symbols at the ends of paragraphs and beginnings of extra spaces is just to click on the little symbol in your toolbar. That makes them visible throughout your document. At the same time, it shows a dot for every space, so you can see if you've got two spaces between sentences when you should have only one, these days.

    Another related problem is people hitting the space bar to indent paragraphs. That's a pain, too,and time-consuming to fix. To indent a new paragraph, be sure to hit the "Tab" key.

  7. No, Jodie, no tabs! LOL, if you use the Tab for the paragraph indent, you'll have to remove them all for e-readers. Talk about painful! Use the indent feature of Word to set the first line to the indentation you want - usually 0.5". For some reason, that translates across all formats, where tabs don't.

  8. Really, Gayle? Thanks for that info! I'd better get up-to-speed on the formatting needed for e-publishing, as more and more of my clients are choosing that route! Up till recently, most of them were doing the agent - acquiring editor route, so I didn't have to think about specific formatting for e-publishing.

    Any other special tips to add, Gayle or Hitch?

  9. Uh-oh...I think I started an entire seminar here. Yes, Jodie, Gayle's right--tabs are an artifact from an earlier age. Simply use your paragraph styles, and set the automatic indent in there--it works a treat. I usually set it to first line->.3 for anything I know will move on to eBooks.

    On a bright note, for those of you addicted to Tabs ("Hi, I'm Joe, and I'm powerless over tabs..."), any competent ebook conversion company (ahem) can take them out with ease. Where one runs into problems with tabs is when they're used to create faux columnar input; that usually has to be completely redone. However, tabs at the beginning of paragraphs is simply one extra step for the convertr, and our in-house custom software seeks for, and deletes those, just as it does all the repetitive "enters" at the ends of chapters, instead of a Shift-enter to create a page break for a new chapter. time, Pilcrows Part II (I need something catchy for the title), and then if I can, some tips for ebook formatting, in general.

    Thanks, everyone, for making me feel welcome. I fear this post made me realize that I'm not a very good teacher; but I'll keep trying. And I'm happy to explain, as well as I can, anything that you stumble across that doesn't make sense!

  10. Aaargh! Take it from me, write your whole dang draft, from the beginning, with "Show/Hide" your pilcrows (and other nonprinting characters) toggled to "Show". Now you can see everything you're doing (doing wrong) as you do it. This from someone who discovered a lot later than she should have that tabs have no place as indents when it comes to word processing and ebook formatting. :-)

  11. I write my chapters in separate files, then add them to a master document for each book. Before I copy and paste each chapter file, though, I turn on this symbol and run down every page. I look for the symbol in places where it's not supposed to be, and I delete any extra dots (i.e.spaces) before the symbol. Then when I add the chapter to my master doc, it's pretty clean all the way through.

  12. As an editor, I turn on that paragraph symbol right away to see if there are one or two spaces between sentences, and how paragraph indents are handled. If there are 2 spaces between sentences, I just do a "Find and Replace" to replace them with one space, for the whole manuscript, in a few seconds.

    But I don't leave that symbol on - far too distracting with all those dots for spaces and pilcrows for Enters cluttering up the page. Can't see the forest for the trees that way!


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