Word 2004: The difference between a manual page break and a manual section break

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
January 5th, 2005 • 2:41 am

In a Word document, type a phrase, and then apply the “Heading 1” style to it. Then place your cursor (insertion point) at the very beginning of that paragraph and insert a manual page break.

The manual page break will have the same style as the paragraph following it, i.e. “Heading 1“. Then place your cursor on the manual page break itself (or select the manual page break) and apply the “Normal” style to it.

What does Word do? It changes the paragraph style of the heading paragraph below back to “Normal” as well — which is not, well, quite normal.

Now do the exact same thing with a manual section break. As you will notice, applying the “Normal” style to the manual section break does not apply the “Normal” style to the heading paragraph below it.

Why the difference? The short answer is: because it’s Microsoft, of course.

The long answer is that there is something intrinsic in the way Word works that makes manual page breaks behave differently from other breaks — as if they weren’t the same kind of thing (even though they look very similar, obviously, and functionally are the same kind of thing). In fact, I have already had the opportunity to point out a variety of weird behaviours linked to this special nature of the manual page break:

This, to me, is a clear indication that something is seriously wrong with the way manual page breaks work in Word. Yet of course there is no indication that Microsoft even intends to fix it.

As a Word user myself, I would try and follow the recommendations of some MVPs and avoid using manual page breaks altogether. After all, instead of using a manual page break, you can always insert a “Next Page” section break. It amounts to the same thing.

The trouble is that, obviously, this would cause a significant increase in the number of sections used in my documents. And in Word, sections come with problems of their own. In particular, there is reason to suspect that a high number of sections is more likely to lead to document corruption down the line. And it’s not exactly something that I want to risk.

So for now I shall continue to use manual page breaks and curse. What else can you do?

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