Clean Up MS Word

All formatting in Microsoft Word can, and should, be done with Microsoft Word Styles, rather than manually, or “by hand” (manually pressing the space bar to create a first line indent or pressing the enter key several times to create a new page).

A file that was formatted by hand may look great on the computer screen, but it may look terrible on the Kindle.

(We show you elsewhere on this site how to replace that manual formatting with MS Word Styles)

Our next step in the creation of a beautiful Kindle eBook is to get rid of all manual formatting.

In a separate article, we told you three ways to clear out old formatting.

They are listed below, in order of their affect on an MS Doc file.

Re-Apply Default Style to The Entire File

Select your entire file with CTRL-A, then apply your default Style.

This returns all Styles to the default Style (usually Normal) leaving all "manual" or "direct" formatting untouched.

This will remove all your MS Word Styles, such as Chapter Headings.

It will NOT remove "direct" formatting, such as "bold" (which you formatted with CTRL-B) and "italics" (which you formatted with CTRL-I).

It also won't remove certain formatting that you can't see.

Don't overlook the importance of that last statement:

It also won't remove certain formatting that you can't see.

You might think if you can't see it, it can't hurt anything, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Unseen -- or "hidden" formatting -- is one of the biggest causes of poorly-formatted ebooks.

It isn't "Word bloat", as some would have you believe.   Your file may have Word bloat, but the Kindle software knows to ignore it.

Much of the danger comes from formatting that conflicts from the proper format can't be seen for one reason or another.

A typo that was corrected using the wrong font is one example.

I once had a customer file with this kind of hidden error.

The manuscript was done in Times New Roman font, but typos had been corrected in Times font.... and the different font was invisible in the manuscript.

When the ebook was published, the different fonts made the text look ugly.

Another method of cleanup is:

Clear Formatting

This method clears all formatting, including bold and italics, but does not remove pictures and page breaks.

With some Word Processors, including MS Word, a "Clear All" command is available from the Menu.

Some other Word Processors, one being Atlantis, do not have a single command to "clear all", but, instead, have two commands:

Remove Paragraph Formatting with CTRL-Q
Remove Character Formatting with CTRL-SPACEBAR

The third method of clean up is:

The Nuclear Option
Clears out ALL old formatting, including pictures and page breaks, with what Mark Coker calls the Nuclear Option.

You must make the decision as to which of the above is best for your file.

But none of those will get rid of such things as extra spaces and extra paragraph returns, and extra tabs that we put in by hand to format our document… and it won’t get rid of stray spaces, periods, and commas, that we, or an editor, left in by accident.

We will have to go through and take out all that extra stuff the same way we put it in… by hand.

Cleaning Out the Clutter

It will be easier if we can see what we are doing, so we will make the formatting marks visible, as explained below:

The Short-Cut Key for “Show All Formatting Marks is:


If that doesn’t work for you, or you want a full explanation, go here:

Now that we can see all those extra marks, we can go through and take out the extra format marks. To make this easier, set your screen view to Draft or Normal, depending on your version of Word. (Main Menu|View|Draft or Normal).

Now look closely at all those funny marks (formatting symbols) on your screen.

You will probably see a lot of extra paragraph returns, the symbol for which is [¶].

That’s what publishers call a “pilcrow”.

Here is a “pilcrow” enclosed within square brackets [¶]. 

Can you see a pilcrow on your MS Word Taskbar? That’s a switch to show or hide all these formatting marks. They still can cause problems, though, even if they are hidden from view.

For our Kindle format file, we want just one paragraph return at the end of every paragraph. Space between paragraphs should be added by the MS Word Style, not with the paragraph return.

At the very least, extra paragraph returns can make your Kindle format file look messy.

At worst, a lot of extra paragraph returns can confuse MS Word to the point that it blows up your file. (That’s for any MS Word file… it has nothing to do with the Kindle.)

It’s easy to see why we must get rid of extra paragraph returns.

Some other things are not as easy to see, but just as important.

A single space just before the beginning or end of a paragraph may not even be noticeable, but will result in those uneven first-line indents you hear people moaning about.

First line indents created with the space bar or with the tab key may be OK on your computer screen, but may not be consistent on the Kindle.

It’s better to get rid of them and add first line indents with your MS Word Style.

Random extra spaces, extra periods, or extra commas won’t blow up your file, but your Kindle text will be more beautiful if you delete them.

Here is a list of the most common offenders that you can delete with a simple search and replace.

In the list below, we will search and replace (The Word command is actually “Find and Replace”) and repeat until Word reports “0 found” or “none found”.

As an example, to get rid of extra paragraph returns, that would be:

Find All ^p^p
Replace with ^p

Then just repeat until Word returns "none" or "0" (zero)

The “Special Character” that allows you to search for a paragraph return is:
 ^p… that’s a caret (shifted 6 key) followed by a lower-case letter p. [^p]

And... that MUST be a lower-case letter p.

To find the “Special Character” that allows you to search for other items, do this:

Click CTRL-H
Click More at bottom of box
Click Special at bottom of box
Select the item you want from the “pick box”

Now, comes some human decision-making that we can’t leave to automatic Search and Replace.

I said before that you should never use manual formatting, but that isn’t true in the case of page breaks.

Sometimes you must use manual page breaks to get them right.

If yours are OK, just go to the next step… but if you have extra page breaks, resulting in blank pages, now is a good time to fix them.

The MS Word command “Clear Formatting”, which we used earlier, does not clear out “manual” page breaks, so we must take any extras out by hand.

To do that, search for Manual Page Breaks, then decide in each case if you really want a page break there, if not, leave “Replace with” blank and do a “Find Next”.

The Special Character for Manual Page Break is ^m.

So you would search for ^m, to check to see if those page breaks should be there or not… if not, just “find next” to go to the next page break.

It's also a good idea to look for "Section Breaks". They aren't needed in a Kindle file, and can cause problems. So, either delete them or replace them with page breaks, if needed.

The special code for "Section Break" is ^b (caret b).

Now, you are ready to get rid of problem-causing extra characters.

Here is a list of some of the most common offenders. 

Replace all 2 paragraph returns (^p^p) with 1 paragraph return (^p).
Repeat until Word reports "none" or "0 found”.

Continue in the same manner with “Find and Replace” each character until Word reports that it has found them all.

Replace All: two spaces one space
Replace All: space period with period
Replace All: space paragraph with paragraph
Replace All: paragraph space with paragraph
Replace All: three periods with ellipsis
Replace All: two periods with one period
Replace All: all tabs with nothing
Replace All: two commas with one comma
Replace All: space comma with comma
Replace All: comma period with period

Then, when you think it’s clean, look at your document in MS Word’s [Reading Layout]… that’s a Menu choice under [View].

You will see your document much as it will look to the end user… complete with paragraph breaks and page breaks.

When you page through the entire document, you will likely find page breaks where none are needed, and other places where they are needed but missing, and likely a lot of places where paragraph breaks are needed or missing… those will all be more obvious in this view.

I like to look at my entire file with page size set at regular page size first, because it's faster to page through fewer pages; but then I change page size to 3.5" x 5.1 inches and set the margin to .25 all around. That gives the closest possible to the Kindle pages size, for the final view.

For more, go here:

Click the photo of Birds on a Tight-Rope, to start your final steps towards publishing your manuscript to the Amazon Kindle.


  1. Re "Replace All: all tabs with nothing"

    How to I find a tab with Find and Replace? what symbol represents tab?

  2. postcardged said...

    Re "Replace All: all tabs with nothing"

    How to I find a tab with Find and Replace? what symbol represents tab?
    November 5, 2011 7:51 AM

    To find a tab, use "^t" (caret t).

    Be sure to use lower case t.

    Use the method I described in the article to identify "Special Characters" you don't know.

  3. Hi CJ,

    First of all, thank you for this awesome site!!! I wasn't getting anywhere with the Kindle directions or anyone else's "how to" guides. Everything has worked out perfectly per your instructions, but I'm having some trouble with the character commands.

    Where do you find the characters necessary to make the changes? I'm not sure what character to use for the "replace all two spaces one space" and so forth in regards to all the other instructions on the replacement list. I've successfully replaced all the ^p^p and ^t, but don't know the symbols that signify the other commands. The only space commands on my “Special” menu are Nonbreaking Space and Whitespace.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated. :D

  4. Hi melika,

    In the interests of trying to keep my explanation as "easy" as possible, I didn't try to show the keystrokes where they are just regular key strokes... so "replace two spaces with one space" is just find "press the space bar twice" and replace with "press the space bar once".

    The same is true for multiple periods and/or multiple commas, and other punctuation marks.

    You'd be surprised to find how hard it is to write a complete book... no matter how good you are... and not accidentally type extra spaces and or extra periods, commas, and others.

    But... back to Special characters.

    They should show up in the list when you choose "Search and Replace" (or CTRL_H) then Special at the bottom of the menu box.

    What software are you using?

  5. Hi CJ,

    Fantastic! I replaced the “. space space” with “. space” and it got rid of all the extra spaces after the periods--2,445 in total!

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but did you have an article about how to fix the spacing between chapter headings and the first paragraph? I remember reading that somewhere. I already got rid of the extra paragraphs, so should that fix the problem? The headings are also left-aligned for some reason, even though I “justified,” “centered,” and put them in “Heading 1” style.

    I know. Everything looks beautiful in Word. The panicking doesn’t start until you upload it to Mobi and see how seasick everything looks. :)

    I’m actually putting out two Kindle/CreateSpace novels (republishing one and launching a new one), so this is good practice for me. The one I’m working on now is the shorter of the two, which makes it much more manageable to use as a guinea pig. :)

    I’m using Windows 7/Microsoft Office 2010 on a Vaio laptop.


  6. Thanks for reporting in, Melika.

    The best thing about Word is the worst thing about Word... it is so forgiving... sometimes it will look great even when the code isn't correct.

    It's amazing how much better the pages of your book will look when you do that clean up.

    One thing I don't think I talked about enough... that is to be sure to save a backup and check your file carefully at each step.

    Yes, I have talked often about Headings and spacings, but don't know which one you saw.

    Try again as you progress with your clean-up, and check back if the problem doesn't clear up.

  7. Hi Cj

    Great guide. Everything worked for me, except I have one small problem. The first sentences of each of my chapters are indented by 5 spaces when I view on Kindle Previewer.

    Originally, while typing the manuscript on Word, I manually indented these sentences and subsequently removed the indentations manually, however they are still appearing in Kindle Previewer despite no longer appearing visible in Word.

    Looking at Paragraph Format, everything is set to zero. No changes have been made there.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  8. Starjammer,

    Kindle indents by default... so it is behaving exactly as it is programmed to act.

    The way to defeat that default behavior is to enter an indention of .01... the smallest indent you can enter.

    That is so small that it looks like no indent.

    If you try to indent by 0, MS Word thinks you made a mistake and will "help" you by adding an actual indent.

    That's typical behavior of MS Word... it tries to do what it thinks the human wants... and sometimes it guesses wrong.


  9. (I have word 2003 set to show formatting marks.) If I hit "tab" for an indent it shows the little arrow. However, if I use the ruler to set the indent, there's no format mark shown at all. So, is it okay to use the ruler for paragraph indents? I know you said Kindle just ignores your indents and sets its own, but would other e-readers be happy with my solution?

  10. Jan,

    No, I wouldn't use the ruler for that first line indent.

    Although it might work, it's always best to avoid "direct" formatting if you can.

    The best thing for you, I think, is to modify that paragraph Style to add the first line indent that you want.

    Anything you put in that first line indent will disable the Kindle software's automatic first line indent.

    Enter "disable" into the search box under the "birds on a tight-rope" photo to read an article on the subject.

    And... thanks for the suggestion to create a better path to navigate through the various articles... that is high on my to-do list... and I am gradually working through.



  11. Jan,

    I forgot to say...

    Don't use the Tab key for indents... it will cause uneven indents and make your pages look messy.


  12. Thanks. I never dreamed it was so involved.

  13. Awesome site with great content and I have a problem with Kindle formatting that I'd really appreciate some advice with.

    The problem is that certain words at the end of lines are broken as you can you here...

    Thanks in advance

  14. Gary,

    Are viewing your file with the on-line "Simple Previewer?

    (That's what it looks like.)

    Skip over that option and choose the Enhanced Previewer (text below is copied from that option).

    Download your sample file AND the downloadable Kindle Previewer (link below), and view it on your own computer.

    Your ebook may be just fine!



    Enhanced Previewer
    If you did use any Kindle Format 8 features, or if you want to see what your book will look like on multiple devices (Kindle Fire, Kindle, Kindle DX, iPhone and iPad), we recommend you use the enhanced previewer.
    Download Book Preview File
    Download Previewer: Windows | Mac

  15. This was amazing. Best guidelines and advice I've found on this subject. MANY thanks.

  16. This is a very useful post indeed. As a Kindle author, I always hate it when the formatting goes wrong once I have converted my Word doc, via Calibre, into Mobi format. A common problem that recurs with me is the misaligning of chapter headings, even though I have checked that my Styles for the headings are set to "Align = Center".

  17. Hi Cj,

    Thanks so much for your informative blog. I have a question, and I’d be happy to compensate you for an answer!

    I have a friend who worked with a publishing service he now wants to move away from. I got the final word.doc from them, and then Bob and I have made modifications to the cover and the book.

    My problem is that even if I turn off the show Markup option (select show Final not show Final with mark-up and turn off all the Show Comments, etc.) I’m still seeing the last two rounds of changes in the html file. I've sent you and email where I’ve attached an image to show you what I mean.

    I did turn on Show Formatting and I did find some extra hard returns where the edits had been made and I removed those and STILL! the htm document (saving as Web Page, Filtered as Amazon suggests) shows the mark-up. Madness!

    Would be so greatful if you could help. And again, happy to pay for it 


    Kim Northrop

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. OMG CJ you ROCK. Thank you so much. I kept turning off Track Changes but didn't Accept the changes. I *knew* I was missing one simple thing. Jeez. And I spent HOURS on this. So relieved. Thanks!

  18. Help! I am going nuts with this. I formatted my novel on Word 2010 using the tab, decided the pre-set tab was too much and went through all 362 pages spacing in each paragraph indent. Tried to load to Kindle Direct and, depending on the Kindle or iPad used, paragraph indents were all over the board. Discovered your site this morning and tried to follow your various suggestions but am going crazy with this. Do you clean up this problem for a fee if I were to send you my manscript, or can you recommend someone who can handle this for me? I'd rather be writing my next novel!

    1. Oh my goodness, Patrick, I'm so sorry you didn't find my site before!

      That was SO much work, and could have been avoided if you had just started right in the first place.

      I stay overloaded all the time, and I don't trust a lot of conversions services, but I can recommend Hitch, owner of

      I know she would do a good job for you if she can get to it.

      If not, come back and I'll see if I can talk you through it.

  19. I have a problem that consistently appears with every upload to Kindle for review. Many words at the right margin overlap to the next line, as in the word starts on one line, and continues on the next line. My pag is 3.5 inches by 5.1 inches, with .25 inch margins all around. why am I consistently seeing these wrapover words ? Is there something that I can do in my word doc to stop this from happening once it converts to HTML, which is then converted to the Kindle format ?

    1. You are trying to take too much control, John.... don't do that... Let the software do the work.

      For one thing, you don't need to set the page size or margins.

      That's because text is "re-flowable"... it adjusts to fit Kindle screens from very small to large, so you are over-riding the correct format if you set a margin or page size.

      Go back, as this article tells you, to Styles and format your body text as explained... that should give you well formatted pages.

  20. Can I ask about formatting Chapter Headings or does KDP do this automatically? Or do I need to set them with style sheet using Heading 1?

    1. Rowena,

      Yes, you should always Styles, and Heading 1 is a good choice for Chapter Headings.

      Make sure it has a "page break before" built into the Style, so your Chapters will always start on a new page.

  21. Okay, first thank God for this gem of a site. It is extremely helpful and I will subscribe. I have 2 questions. Will the imitation page-break lines affect the upload? If so, how do I delete them? Many thanks!

    1. Hi Valarie,

      I'm glad you found this site!

      Yes... you should clean out EVERYTHING you put in by hand... such as Manual Page Breaks... which you are (I think) calling "imitation page breaks".

      Look in this article for how to remove them.

      Usually, by building a page break into Chapter Headings, and into tags for your images, that will format your page breaks properly.

      Let me know if you need other page breaks you can't figure out.

  22. Thanks for the site! My book is complete and I am in the process of formatting it for upload. I changed the margins to .25 all around and the size to 5.1 x 3.5 and worked on cleaning up the format from there. I was surprised to see here that you said you don't have to do that, that when you upload it, it will format itself for the Kindle. One question I have is: I have quoted material in a "Quote" style which is indented on left and right, but when I look at it in Reading Mode in Word, the right text goes all the way to the regular right margin. Will this not happen when I upload it to Kindle?

    1. Hi Duke,

      Your margins may work as you have them now... but it is easier to let the Amazon software handle the page size and margins.

      Remember, the page must be "reflowable" so it can display properly on devices as small as a smart phone and as big as an iPad.

      To answer your question as to whether the "right hand indent" of your Quote style will display properly on Kindle devices:

      On the older Kindle devices, the answer is "no"... the text will go all the way to the right margin.

      The earlier Kindles could not control a right hand indent, but that problem has been solved with newer Kindles.

      On newer Kindle devices, the answer is "yes"... the block will be indented correctly.

  23. Hi CJ,

    is there any way to remove the manual indents? Like Patrick, I have 300 pages of work with manual indents for paragraphs.

    It looks terrible in Kindle.

    Thank you.

    1. Sure..

      That's the magic of working with MS Word.

      Manual indents are either tabs or spaces.

      They have to be removed manually, but you can do it with MS Word's Search and Replace, and it shouldn't take more than a few minutes... just look for articles on this site for How to Clean Up MS Word.

      Here’s one:

      Here's the way I would handle a big file like that:

      (As always, save a copy of your original file in a safe location… so you can always go back if you mess up.)

      First, I’d modify the basic style... either Normal or Body Text, depending on the original, to have proper the indent.

      I would select the entire file with CTRL-A, then re-apply my basic Normal Style, formatted as I want it.

      Then, I would go through and clean up all the “trash” (See Clean Up MS Word articles.)

      Unless someone has done a massive job of proofing that file, there are bound to be other “manual” errors… such as extra spaces, extra paragraph breaks, even missing page breaks and extra page breaks.

      Then, I would go back through and re-apply all Headings, bold and italics, and so forth.

      Remember to keep a copy of your original file with all the formatting you want, and just go through, page by page, and put back the formats you want.

      You will squirm at the idea of having to go back and re-apply all your formatting, but you can probably finish the whole thing in half a day vs. days and days of trying to fix errors manually.

  24. Hey CJ,

    Thanks for the amazing advice in this article. My manuscript looks a thousand times better already. Just one quick query - how do I replace 3 periods with an ellipsis using the find and replace tool? As in, what do I type into the replace box to create the ellipsis? I'm not sure what the correct formatting is - there seems to be various opinions online how they should be presented (space, 3x periods, space/ space, 3 x periods/ space period space period space period space) Thanks!

  25. Just published my first book this week and a couple of formatting issues were driving me bananas. Based on the preview, it looks like your tips helped me fix them all! I can't wait for the new file to go live.