Section Breaks

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In Word, the purpose of a section break is to isolate one part of the document from the rest. The new, isolated section can then be formatted differently to the rest of the document.

This is particularly useful when printing novels because the page numbering of the three parts – front matter, back matter and chapters – is usually different for each part.

For example, a typical novel may have no page numbering for the front matter, but the chapters will have Arabic numerals [ 1, 2, 3 ], while the back matter has Roman numerals [ i, ii, iii ].  To complicate matters further, both the Arabic and Roman numerals are required to start at ‘one’.

The only way to set different page numbering, and number styles, for different parts of a book is to ‘isolate’ each part using section breaks.

As a general rule, most books need to be broken up into three sections – one for the Front matter, one for the Chapters and one for the Back matter – but you will only need to set two section breaks manually. The third section break is set automatically by Word and includes the parts of the document that are left over – i.e. that remain outside the manual section breaks.

There are four types of section breaks in Word:

  1. Continuous – sets a section break but allows the text to continue on the same page.
  2. Next Page – starts the new section on the next page.
  3. Odd Page – begins a new section and attempts to start it on the next, odd-numbered page.
  4. Even Page – this section break works in the same way as the Odd Page break, but it attempts to start the new section on the next even-numbered page.

All of the section breaks have their uses, but I recommend using the ‘Next Page’ section break only.

Apart from choosing the correct type of section break, there are also do’s and don’ts governing how and when to set section breaks. These include:

  • Do your formatting and set your ordinary page breaks first.
  • Always begin inserting section breaks from the end of the document, not the beginning.
  • Always set the section break command in front of the new section, not at the end of the previous section.
  • Unlink the sections, starting with the last one.
  • Do not try to format the page numbering until the section breaks have been unlinked.

How to set a Section Break

To set the first section break, navigate to the end of the document and click just in front of the first word of the Back Matter [see Front Matter, Back Matter & ISBNs].

Next, open the Layout tab on the Ribbon and click the Breaks option:

This will open the Breaks menu which contains options for Page and Section Breaks.

From Section Breaks, click the Next Page option.

Word inserts the section break, but you won’t see it on the page because it is hidden inside the Headers and Footers.

Headers and Footers are located in the white space above and below the area where you type:

How to open Headers and Footers

The easiest way to open ‘Headers and Footers’ is to double click the blank spaces above or below where you type the text on the page.

Note: to close ‘Headers and Footers’, simply double click inside the body of the page – i.e. inside the area where you type.

As well as displaying repeating text, such as the name of the author, Headers and Footers also display section breaks. 

With Headers and Footers open, you should now see something like this:

Note: the Header displays ‘Section 2’ even though only one section break was set. That’s because Word counts the area of the document outside the section break as a section as well, so that area automatically becomes ‘Section 1’.

Same as Previous’ indicates that the current section is ‘linked’ to the previous section and shares its formatting.

You will not be able to change the formatting of individual sections until they have been ‘unlinked’, but you should set all the section breaks before you ‘unlink’ them.

To set the final section break, navigate to the very first chapter of your document and click in front of the first word of the chapter heading.

Next, open the Layout tab and click ‘Breaks’.

Select ‘Next Page’ from the list of section breaks.

Now if you open ‘Headers and Footers’ again, you will see that Word has updated the number of sections to three – i.e. the two that you set and the one that Word set to contain everything else in the document.

Once all the section breaks have been set, you are ready to unlink them.

How to unlink the Section Breaks

As before, navigate to the end of your document, to the first page of the Back Matter [where you set the section break].

Double click inside the top margin of the page to display the Headers and Footers.

Opening ‘Headers and Footers’ automatically opens the ‘Headers & Footers Tools – Design’ tab [as shown below].

Note: if you do not see these options, click Design on the tab.

The first thing you should notice is that the command ‘Link to Previous’ is highlighted on the Ribbon. This shows it is active.

To unlink Section 3 from the earlier sections, click the Link to Previous option to deselect it. Once ‘Link to Previous’ is deselected, the Header for Section 3 should no longer display ‘Same as Previous’:

With ‘Headers and Footers’ still open, click inside the Footer and deselect the ‘Link to Previous’ option from there as well.

After you have unlinked Section 3, find the first page of Section 2 and unlink the Header and Footer as for Section 3.

Once you have Sections 2 and 3 unlinked, you will have three, completely separate areas in your Word file, each one ready to be formatted in a different way.

The next chapter will look at setting up different page numbering, and page number formatting, for each of the three sections in your book file.

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About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

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