Change text alignment options in Word 2010

The four text alignment settings are deceptively simple, and there are quite a few hidden tricks and tips for this feature, as you'll learn in this tutorial. When should you use Left, Center, Right, or Justify? Another frequent question is how to change the default alignment for new documents in Word 2010? Changing it will save you quite some time if you need to create documents other than left aligned (the default). Note that this tutorial focuses on your horizontal alignment settings; vertical alignment options will be covered when we talk about tables, whose cells can have no less than 9 alignment combinations!


Basic Word alignment settings

You will find the four text alignment buttons under the "Home" tab in the Word 2010 ribbon. Here's a screenshot of the default setting, where "Left" is selected; note that which button is current highlighted automatically changes based on the current position of the insertion point (blinking cursor).
Basic text alignment settings in Microsoft Word 2010

Tip: default alignment for new Word documents is "left" (see below how to change the default alignment). If the current alignment button is something other than the default, clicking again on that button will restore the default alignment.

Visual Communication 101: when should you use each alignment option?

This tutorial is about Word 2010, so we won't hijack it into a layout presentation primer, but here are a few, basic pointers. Since most non-designers make the mistakes we'll help you avoid, this may help your documents stand out from the crowd, quite useful for application papers or resumes. No design rule is ever absolute, so take what you can from these and adapt them as needed!

Align differently a single line of text

The text alignment commands in Microsoft Word (2010 and earlier versions) work at the "block level": this means that the "object's" alignment applies to the entire container. This is why you don't need to select the current paragraph to change its alignment; as long as the insertion point (blinking cursor) is inside the paragraph, clicking another alignment button will affect that entire paragraph, not just the current line.

But what if you want to change the text alignment of a single line of text? All you need to do is create a paragraph, and minimize its upper and lower margins - this gives you the effect desired: right-click on the single line in question, choose "Paragraph", and reduce the "Spacing / After" to "0" (zero). If needed, also reduce the previous paragraph's "Spacing / After" to zero.

Another way to force a separate alignment on a single line of text consists in adding a table to your document, since each row (and each cell) can have its own alignment.

Change default alignment for new Word documents

Whenever you customize the text alignment setting of a paragraph (or other text object), it only affects that particular block. To customize your default alignment settings for Microsoft Word, click on the arrow button under "Paragraph" in the "Home" tab, as shown on the screenshot below:
Configure default text alignment settings in Word 2010 Word 2010 will open a "Paragraph" dialog, which lets you customize the text alignment options (among others) for the current paragraph. Once you have changed alignment, click on the "Set As Default" button at the bottom of the dialog before clicking "OK", and Word will "remember" these settings as the default in the future - you can of course change your default alignment back to anything else in the future.

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