Adjust paragraph spacing in OneNote 2010

Last week, one of our community members on the OneNote fan page on Facebook asked a great question:

“How do you double space an article you pasted into OneNote? For the life of me, I can’t find an option for that and since it is a legal cite and court opinion, it would be easier to read if I can double space it.”

While many of us simply use the ENTER key between lines of text to create more space, imported text whose lines you don’t want to manually break apart is indeed better formatted with double or custom line spacing. This way, the text is always properly spaced the way you want it, even when you resize its note container.

The Paragraph Spacing Options command is one of the few features in OneNote that has only a single entry point, which can be accessed only on the ribbon. It’s therefore often overlooked.

Follow these steps:

  1. In OneNote 2010, select the text whose paragraph spacing you want to adjust. To select all text within a note container, press CTRL+A (repeatedly, if necessary) until all of the text you want is selected.
  2. On the Home tab, click the Paragraph Alignment button.
    Paragraph Alignment button in OneNote 2010
  3. On the menu that appears, click Paragraph Spacing Options.
    Paragraph Spacing Options command in OneNote 2010
  4. In the Paragraph Spacing dialog box that opens, enter the spacing values (in points) that you want.
    Paragraph Spacing dialog box in OneNote 2010


Why is nothing happening when I enter a custom value?

OneNote isn’t a word processor, so the values in the Paragraph Spacing dialog box work a little differently than they do in Microsoft Word and other programs. For example, if you were to type a 2 into any of the three boxes (with the intention that the value of 2 doubles the current single-line spacing), nothing would happen to the spacing of your text. That’s because you need to enter the total number (in points) for both the current font size and its intended line spacing (in typography, this is called leading).

The default text formatting in OneNote 2010 is 11-point Calibri, which means entering a 2 won’t do anything to increase this base number. However, anything over 11 will begin to show an increase in the space between your lines of text.

How do I precisely double-space my text?

If you haven’t changed the default font from Calibri and the default font size from 11, you can enter the number 27 into the Line spacing at least box to exactly double-space this font and size combination. If you’re using another font or font size, simply experiment a bit until you get the spacing just the way you want.

To discard a result you don’t want and to start over, use the Undo command on the Quick Access Toolbar (or just press CTRL+Z).

How do I use the Before and After values?

The values for the Before and After boxes in the Paragraph Spacing dialog box work the same as I mentioned earlier. However, their behavior may lead to more puzzling results, depending on the formatting of your text.

Unlike Word, which lets you show hidden paragraph marks in your selected text, OneNote has no such option. If certain lines of text in your selection are formatted with soft line breaks (SHIFT+ENTER), then OneNote treats the text as part of the same paragraph. In this case, spacing is affected only before or after the entire block (paragraph) of text — either before or after a hard paragraph return (ENTER).

If you’re commonly in the habit of pressing ENTER between short lines of text in your notes, OneNote will consider each line to be a separate paragraph and therefore apply the line spacing you entered in the Before and/or After boxes. This will then have similar results as entering the same value into the Line spacing at least box.

I mention this because you may not always be aware how imported text was originally formatted at the source. If the result from values you enter in the Paragraph Spacing dialog box doesn’t quite match your expectations, simply try other values until you reach the result you want.

If you don’t seem to be having any luck with your particular selection of text, try to change one value at a time. If necessary, undo it (even if nothing seemed to happen) and then try another value. Experimenting with all three values at once in the Paragraph Options dialog box may make things more confusing until you get the hang of each of the three spacing options.

Can I really not see where my paragraph breaks are?

Although there is no explicit Show/Hide Formatting command in OneNote like there is in Word, OneNote 2010 does drop a little hint about where it considers a new paragraph to begin. To see this, move the mouse pointer over the left margin of any of your text lines and look for a 4-headed arrow icon to appear next to certain lines of text.

Text paragraph icon in OneNote 2010

This little icon lets you do all kinds of clever things (most of which are documented in my new book for OneNote beginners), but simply revealing the icons by moving the mouse over your text will show you where the underlying paragraph marks are. To create a new line break within text, press CTRL+ENTER. To create a new hard paragraph, press ENTER within your text.

I hope this tip is useful. Based on your recent feedback in our first-ever OneNote Blog Poll, I plan to shine a light on some of the other hidden features in OneNote in this sort of quick tip format.

As always, we value your feedback, so please leave a comment to let us know if these kinds of posts are helpful and what sorts of features you would like to see covered in a future tip!

– Michael C. Oldenburg