Compressed Word Spacing

[Calling all bugs! Calling all bugs! I’m trying to put together a bug collection for next week’s newsletter. If you’ve discovered a bug (or just something that bugs you) in Microsoft Word, please take a minute and drop me a line.]

If you’ve tried using Microsoft Word to produce decently justified text, you’ve seen the problem: Word justifies text by expanding rather than compressing space between words, which leads to “spacey” typesetting. That’s why I created our WordSetter program, which lets you adjust word spacing according to your taste:

However, it turns out that you *can* make Word (97, 98, 2000, 2001, and 2002) compress word spacing (although without adjustment) by changing a deeply buried option. Using this option *greatly* improves typographic quality. Here’s how to set it:

1. Click the “Tools” menu (“Edit” in Word 2001).

2. Click “Options” (“Preferences” on a Macintosh).

3. Click the “Compatibility” tab.

4. Put a check next to the option labeled “Do full justification like WordPerfect 6.x for Windows.”

Now, as you type in justified text (Format > Paragraph > Alignment > Justified), you’ll see the word spacing compress automatically as it would in a dedicated typesetting program (or WordPerfect, of course). What joy! What rapture!

Microsoft’s Knowledge Base describes the option like this:

“To achieve full justification, WordPerfect compresses the spaces between words while Word expands them. This often results in different line breaks and leads to different page breaks. To implement the WordPerfect justification method, select ‘Do full justification like WordPerfect 6.x for Windows’ in the Options list.”

This option was created to preserve line formatting when opening a WordPerfect document in Word, but it’s far more important than that. It actually makes it possible to do fairly decent typography in Microsoft Word. Evidently Microsoft missed this point (or didn’t want to admit WordPerfect’s superiority in this regard).

While you’re looking at the “Compatibility” tab, put a check next to the option labeled “Don’t expand character spaces on the line ending Shift-Return.” Then if you break a line with a soft return (SHIFT+ENTER), the line will still be properly justified. Otherwise, the spaces in the first half of the broken line will expand broadly, justifying the line clear to the margin. Bad, bad, bad.

Even after you’ve set these options, justification may not look quite right on your screen, especially at the ends of lines, since Word doesn’t render everything perfectly. When you print your document, however, you’ll see the justified text in all its glory.

Word’s Compatibility tab includes other options you might want to explore if you’re doing typesetting with Word, including:

* Don’t center “exact line height” lines

* Don’t add extra space for raised/lowered characters

* Suppress “Space Before” after a hard page or column break

You can learn more about these and other options in the Microsoft Knowledge Base article here:

There are other things you’ll need to adjust if you want to do typesetting in Microsoft Word, but we’ll leave those for another day.

I can’t take credit for “discovering” the option to “Do full justification like WordPerfect 6.x for Windows.” I learned about it from Woody’s Office Watch, a great email newsletter about the quirks of Microsoft Office. Woody and friends can’t take credit for it either, though; they learned about it from one of their subscribers, Dermod Quirke, to whom we are now all indebted. You can read their article (and sign up for the newsletter) here:

This entry was posted in Programs. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  • The Fine Print

    Thanks for reading Editorium Update (ISSN 1534-1283), published by:


    Articles © on date of publication by the Editorium. All rights reserved. Editorium Update and Editorium are trademarks of the Editorium.

    You may forward copies of Editorium Update to others (but not charge for it) and print or store it for your personal use. Any other broadcast, publication, retransmission, copying, or storage, without written permission from the Editorium, is strictly prohibited. If you’re interested in reprinting one of our articles, please send an email message to

    Editorium Update is provided for informational purposes only and without a warranty of any kind, either express or implied, including but not limited to implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, and freedom from infringement. The user (you) assumes the entire risk as to the accuracy and use of this document.

    The Editorium is not affiliated with Microsoft Corporation or any other entity.

    We do not sell, rent, or give our subscriber list to anyone.