Troublesome Lines

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Word users are often troubled by various kinds of lines where they are unexpected and unwanted. This article will address various causes of these lines, how to remove them, and in some cases how to prevent them from occurring in future.

Just to be clear, the lines we’re talking about here are straight lines not associated with specific text, as opposed to red, green, or blue wavy underlines (which are related to spelling and grammar) or dotted text underlines, which indicate Hidden text. The lines we’ll discuss are:

Gridlines

There are two kinds of gridlines in Word, and they cause confusion both individually and together (because users looking for a button to control one kind often stumble upon the control for the other).

Table gridlines

Table gridlines are probably the most commonly seen. If a table does not have borders (lines between cells that will print), then it is helpful to display gridlines in order to see the cell boundaries (if you have “Text boundaries” enabled, you will see cell boundaries in Print Layout view even without displaying gridlines). Here’s how to turn them on or off:

  •  Word 2003 and earlier: On the Table menu, click Show Gridlines to display them, Hide Gridlines to turn them off.

  •  Word 2007 and above: With the insertion point in a table, so that the contextual Table Tools tabs are displayed, select the Layout tab. In the Table group (far left), click View Gridlines to toggle the display (the button wording does not change, but its appearance does).

View Gridlines check box on Table Tools | Layout tab

Drawing grid

The drawing grid is one of the most perplexing problems for some Word users because it seems to appear without warning. One can only speculate that a user may have enabled it in an attempt to display table gridlines. It makes the document background look like graph paper, with a ⅛-inch grid covering the page.

The drawing grid

To turn the drawing grid on or off:

  •  Word 2003 and earlier: Right-click on a toolbar to display the Toolbars menu. Select Drawing to display the Drawing toolbar. On the toolbar, click Draw (far left end) and select Grid… from the menu. Check or clear the check box for “Display gridlines on screen.”

Note: If you actually want to display the drawing grid, you can also set the grid interval and origin. Note that the grid interval affects the placement of “click stops” (default intervals) for tab stops on the horizontal ruler, so you may want to adjust the grid interval to facilitate tab stop insertion.

  •  Word 2007 and above: On the View tab, in the Show/Hide group, check or clear the box for “Gridlines.” The fact that this setting is available even when the insertion point is not in a table may explain why the drawing grid is so often enabled in error.

  •  Word 2010 Starter: The Starter version of Word doesn’t have a View tab, so a more roundabout method is required. On the Page Layout tab, in the Arrange group (far right), click Align, then View Gridlines (to turn it on or off). The Grid Settings menu item opens a dialog that allows you to set the grid interval and origin (see note above).

Drawing lines

Drawing lines rarely cause problems in documents because usually they can be selected and deleted without issue. A drawing line is selected when you get the four-headed arrow shown below.

A drawing line

Be aware that a drawing line may be anchored to the header or footer. In such cases, you will need to access the header/footer story (by double-clicking in the header area) in order to select the line.

In other cases, a line cannot be selected because the text wrapping style has been set to Behind Text. In such instances, it is necessary to use the Select Objects tool, which selects objects in the drawing layer without affecting text. Here’s how to access the Select Objects tool:

  •  Word 2003 and earlier: Right-click on a toolbar to display the Toolbars menu. Select Drawing to select the Drawing toolbar. The Select Objects tool is the large white arrow on the far left, next to the Draw menu button.

Select Objects tool in Word 2003 and earlier

  •  Word 2007 and above: On the Home tab, in the Editing group (far right), click on Select and choose Select Objects.

Select Objects tool in Word 2007 and above

Footnote and endnote separators

By default, Word separates footnotes and endnotes from the body text with lines of various lengths. In Word 2010 and earlier, the Footnote/Endnote Separator is a line 2″ wide extending from the left margin. The Footnote/Endnote Continuation Separator, which appears on pages where a footnote or endnote is continued from the previous page, is a line from left to right margin. Word 2013 and above, while they maintain the Footnote/Endnote Continuation Separator for backward compatibility, actually use only the Footnote/Endnote Separator (even on pages with continued notes) in newly created documents.

Generally speaking, if you see one of these separators, it will be because the page contains footnotes or endnotes, and the reason for the line will thus be pretty obvious. Occasionally, however, a separator may remain when notes have been deleted. This can happen if you delete the footnote or endnote text manually instead of removing the note by deleting the note reference mark in the document body. In such cases, the only way to get rid of the separator is to remove all vestiges of the notes themselves.

To find and delete the unwanted note reference mark:

  •  Word 2010 and earlier: Click on the Select Browse Object button, which is the round button between the two double arrows at the bottom of the vertical scroll bar. Select Browse by Endnote or Browse by Footnote as appropriate. The function of the “browse arrows” becomes “Previous Endnote/Footnote” and “Next Endnote/Footnote,” and you can use them to skip through the document from one reference mark to the next until you find the one that doesn’t have a note associated with it. Select and delete it.

  •  Word 2013 and above: Beginning with Word 2013 (most of) the Select Browse Object functions have been moved to the Navigation pane. If this pane is not open, press Ctrl+F to open it. Then click on the arrow beside the search button (magnifying glass icon). Select Footnotes/Endnotes. You will see that the box now says “Find: Footnotes/Endnotes,” and there are up and down buttons to search backward and forward in your document. Use these buttons to skip through the document from one reference mark to the next until you find the one that doesn’t have a note associated with it. Select and delete it.

Navigation pane showing Find objects

Search tab of Navigation pane showing "Find: Footnotes/Endnotes"

  •  All versions: Press Ctrl+H to open the Replace dialog. In the “Find what” box type ^f (for footnote reference marks) or ^e (for endnote reference marks). Leave the “Replace with” box empty. Click Find Next until you find the reference mark that does not have a note associated with it. Click Replace to delete it (replace it with nothing).

Occasionally you may want to edit the note separator(s), either because a specific style manual requires a different appearance or just out of personal preference. For instructions on editing note separators, see “Customizing and troubleshooting footnote and endnote separators.”

Borders

The most troublesome lines in Word documents seem to be paragraph and page borders, especially when they have been applied by another user or by Word’s AutoFormat As You Type feature.

Paragraph borders

The distinctive feature of these lines is that you can select them and move them up and down, but you can’t delete them. When you select them, instead of getting the four-headed Move arrow that you get with graphic lines, you get a double-headed arrow with lines between.

Illlustration of a paragraph border

To remove a paragraph border, place the insertion point in the paragraph above the border and proceed as follows:

  •  Any version: Press Ctrl+Q. This resets the paragraph formatting to the default for the style, which presumably doesn’t include borders. Note, however, that this will also remove any other direct paragraph formatting as well as the border, so you may prefer one of the following version-specific procedures.

  •  Word 2003 and earlier: Go to Format | Borders and Shading and click the preset picture for None. Alternatively, click the arrow beside the Borders button on the Formatting or Tables and Borders toolbar and click the No Border button in the flyout palette.

  •  Word 2007 and 2010: On the Home tab, in the Paragraph group, the bottom right button is for borders. If you have not previously used it during a Word session, its tool tip will say “Bottom Border.” Click the arrow beside it to open the Borders menu and select No Border.

  •  Word 2013 and above: On the Home tab, in the Paragraph group, click beside the Borders button to open the menu and select No Border.

When you have removed the border from a given paragraph with one of the procedures above, you may find that the border has “moved” to the paragraph above. This can result when you have previously pressed Enter several times trying to get rid of the line. Every time you press Enter, you create a new paragraph formatted the same as the previous one, which has acquired a Bottom Border. This won’t be obvious because, when several consecutive paragraphs have the same “Bottom Border” formatting applied to them, the border appears below only the last of them (Word takes “bottom” very literally). When you remove the border from the last paragraph, it then “moves up” to the previous paragraph with that formatting. In order to remove the border completely, you need to select all the affected paragraphs and either press Ctrl+Q or choose No Border.

You may wonder how you got this line in the first place. For this you can probably thank Word’s AutoFormat As You Type feature. By default, if you type three or more hyphens (-), underscore characters (_), equals signs (=), asterisks (*), tildes (~), or hash signs (#) and press Enter, Word will apply a thin, thick, double, broken, zigzag, or thick-and-thin border to the bottom of the previous paragraph (see image below). If you are a writer who customarily separates text with a row of three asterisks, you will perhaps have encountered this phenomenon.

Examples of borders created by AutoFormat As You Type

Fortunately, it is easy to disable this feature:

  •  Word 2003 and earlier: Go to Tools | AutoCorrect Options | AutoFormat As You Type and clear the check box for “Borders” or “Border lines” under “Apply as you type.”

  •  Word 2007: Go to Office Button | Word Options | Proofing | AutoCorrect Options | AutoFormat As You Type and clear the check box for “Border lines” under “Apply as you type.”

  •  Word 2010 and above: Go to File | Options | Proofing | AutoCorrect Options | AutoFormat As You Type and clear the check box for “Border lines” under “Apply as you type.”

AutoFormat As You Type dialog showing "Border lines"

Page borders

If your mysterious line appears in the header or footer area, it may be a paragraph border applied to the header or footer text, but it may also be a partial page border. You would probably recognize a page border if it appeared in the margins on all four sides of the page, but it can be confusing when it appears on just one side (and of course this could be the left or right as well as the top or bottom). If a line appears in the margins and you can’t select it at all, whether focus is in the document body or in the header/footer story, then most likely it is a page border. To remove it:

  •  Word 2003 and earlier: Go to Format | Borders and Shading and select the Page Border tab. Click on the preset picture for None, then OK.

  •  Word 2007 and 2010: On the Layout tab, in the Page Background group, click Page Borders. In the Page Borders dialog, click on the preset picture for None, then OK.

  •  Word 2013 and above: On the Design tab, in the Page Background group, click Page Borders. In the Page Borders dialog, click on the preset picture for None, then OK.

Page Borders dialog

“Horizontal lines”

In the Borders or Page Border dialog of Word 2010 and earlier (see image above), you may have noticed a button marked “Horizontal Line…” If you click this button, you will get a dialog that offers a variety of plain and fancy lines. These are actually clip art pictures (which you can find in the clip art collection by searching for “divider”). If you insert one and then select it, you’ll see it’s surrounded by the same sort of sizing handles that you would expect with a picture. Most likely you would recognize the fancy lines as clip art, but the simplest line is just that—a line, so you might not realize that it is actually a “picture.” Fortunately, when you select one of these, you can remove it by pressing Delete, though be aware that the paragraph it was anchored to, an empty, unnecessary paragraph, will remain.

In Word 2013 and above, the Horizontal Line feature has been removed from the Borders and Page Border dialogs but is still present in the Borders dropdown in the Paragraph group on the Home tab.

Borders menu showing "Horizontal Line"

This feature doesn't offer clip art—just plain lines—but if you right-click on one and select Format Horizontal Line, you get a dialog in which you can select the color, weight, length, and position (left, center, or right) of the line. Like the lines described above, it can be selected and deleted, but an empty paragraph will remain.

Vertical lines

Although this article is primarily intended to discuss horizontal lines, it may be appropriate also to deal with some common sources of vertical lines.

Page borders

As noted above, a page border can be applied to any one or a combination of the four sides of the page. A line in the left or right margin that extends beyond the top and bottom margins, but not all the way to the top and bottom of the page, is probably a partial page border. See the page border section above for instructions.

Drawing lines

As noted above, drawing lines are usually easy to select and delete, but if your document has a line, extending from top to bottom of the page, in the side (usually left) margin of every page, then it is most likely a graphic line anchored to the header. This is a technique commonly used to add a rule to legal pleadings. To remove this line, access the header by double-clicking in the header area, and then you will be able to select and delete the line.

Change bars

If the vertical lines are short lines in the left or right margin, perhaps several of varying lengths, then they are probably change bars or “changed lines” indicating where changes have been made in a document in which Track Changes is enabled. You can change the view of the document to hide these lines or get rid of them altogether by accepting the changes. For more, see “How does Track Changes in Microsoft Word work?”

Bar tabs

Bar tabs are an ancient legacy feature of Word so rarely used that most users would not recognize them. They aren’t really tabs in the usual sense, though in recent versions of Word they can be set from the horizontal ruler the same as any other tab stop. When you set a bar tab, you get a thin vertical line at the tab stop position in each line of a paragraph. You don’t actually have to tab to it; it’s there all the time, and it extends to the full height of the text line, making a solid line throughout the paragraph (for more, see “Setting tabs”). They can be a quick way of creating the appearance of columns without using a table; the illustration below shows the use of bar tabs with paragraph borders to create a grid for a printed attendance register.

Illustration of use of bar tabs

To remove these tabs, you can drag them off the ruler or delete them from the Tabs dialog.

Markup area

If your document contains ‟markup” (tracked changes or comments) and you have chosen to display revisions and/or comments in balloons, Word will add a ‟markup area” one one side of the page (the right side by default). In Word 2010 and earlier, this area is grey, but in Word 2013 and above it is the same color as the page, separated from the page by a vertical line. Even though your document may contain markup only on certain pages, the markup area will be displayed on all pages and will be completely blank on some of them, which can be puzzling if you're not familiar with it (for example, if you receive a document from someone else that opens in All Markup view).

Style area

This one is a real long shot because it is displayed only in Normal/Draft and Web Layout views, and it is something you have to expressly choose to display. Among Word’s options (found at Tools | Options | View in Word 2003 and earlier and in the Display section on the Advanced tab of Word’s Options in later versions) is the option to set a width for the style area. When this is set to a value more than zero, a narrow column is displayed at the left of the page (separated from the page by a vertical line) in which the style for each paragraph is displayed.

Unsaved text indicator

Since I don’t use SharePoint, I can describe this only vicariously, using an image posted by a Microsoft Community forum user. Apparently these dotted lines to the left of paragraphs indicate text that has been edited since the last save. Saving makes them go away, but of course they will return as soon as you start editing again.

Text boundaries

In Word 2010 and earlier, you may see a dotted line indicating the margin of the page. In Word 2003 and earlier, this will be associated with angle marks at the corners, as shown below.

These are “text boundaries” and “crop marks” (note that these corner marks are not real crop marks, which can be created as described in “How to Create Crop Marks”). By default, text boundaries indicate the page margins, but they also show the outline of a text box (even when it is not selected) and the cell boundaries in a table when table gridlines are not displayed. In Word 2007 and above, text boundaries and crop marks are toggled independently. To turn them on/off:

  •  Word 2003 and earlier: On the Tools menu, click Options.... On the View tab, under “Print and Web layout options,” check or clear the box for “Text boundaries”; crop marks will also be displayed. (Note that crop marks may be displayed independent of text boundaries if you have an Asian language enabled, as described in “Margin marks or crop marks appear on each corner of the page when you open a document in Word.”)

  •  Word 2007: Go to Office Button | Word Options and select the Advanced tab. Under “Show document content,” you can toggle “Text boundaries” and “Crop marks” separately.

  •  Word 2010: Go to File | Options and select the Advanced tab. Under “Show document content,” you can toggle “Text boundaries” and “Crop marks” separately.

Although text boundaries and crop marks are toggled in the same way in Word 2013 and above, the display of text boundaries is quite different and is more likely to cause confusion (and considerable consternation) even for users who habitually display text boundaries. In these versions, the boundaries surround every unit of text, which for practical purposes means every paragraph, as shown below:

Not only are the extra lines intrusive, users also lose the display of page margins on a page that is only partially filled.

End of document

Since this line appears only in Normal (Word 2003 and earlier) or Draft (Word 2007 and above) view, most users today will never see it, but that also means that, when they do see it, they may not recognize it for what it is. It's a short, thick line that appears below the last paragraph of text and indicates the end of the document.

Needless to say, it does not print. It can, however, be a useful clue to what will print. If the line is not immediately below the last line of text, then you can be sure, even without displaying nonprinting characters, that there are empty paragraphs after the last text paragraph. If there are enough of them, they may push the content over the end of the page, resulting in a blank page when you print.

Other unexplained lines

There may be many other causes of unexplained lines, but the only other one I’ve run across turned out to be a text box (with line border) that had been collapsed to the point that it looked like a line. Even more likely would be a frame with a top or bottom border (borders can be applied to individual sides of frames; border lines on text boxes are all or nothing).

This article copyright © 2013, 2014, 2016 by Suzanne S. Barnhill.