Showing Word Processing Invisibles

Pages, Word and some other apps allow you to see what would otherwise be invisible characters like spaces, tabs and paragraph breaks. You can use these visual symbols to edit your documents with more precision.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Showing Word Processing Invisibles.

Hi, this is Gary with On this episode let's look at viewing invisibles in Pages and Word.

So every once in a while I get a message from somebody asking me what at these blue dots that are between every word in some document they are working on say in Pages. What those blue dots are, if you see them, are invisibles. In particular spaces. The reason you are seeing them is because under View, maybe by accident, you turned on Invisibles. So you have View, Hide invisibles or Show invisibles. You can see it turns them on and off.

In addition, to the spaces being represented as these dots you will see other characters as well. Like a return or end of paragraph character right there. If you use tabs, for instance, you will see these little arrows for each tab. These are what are called invisibles and can be useful to actually view them.

So what makes them useful is if you are writing a serious document and you want to make sure you have total control over what exactly is in the document it allows you to see things. For instance, what is the different between a single space and a double space. Well, you can't normally see it. You get this bigger space here if you don't have invisibles but it might not stand out right away, not on every line, and you might not spot that. But if you Show invisibles you can see these two dots here a lot easier. It is even more apparent, for instance, if the alignment was just left align. You can see it is very hard to tell that there are two spaces here but easier when you have invisibles.

Likewise, what is the difference between say a tab and several spaces. If you Hide invisibles these may look the same quickly to your eye. But if you Show invisibles it quickly stands out that maybe if somebody else was working on the document instead of hitting tab they used a bunch of spaces. You can replace that with a tab and see exactly what you've got there.

The main ones you see will be the space, the tab, and the paragraph mark. But there are other ones. For instance, if you've ever used a non breaking space. Say there are two words that you do not want to break up across lines even though there should be a visual space between them. You can actually select the space here and use Option space. Option space you can see is a different character. There is a dot with a small marking above it. That is a non breaking space meaning don't break this set of two words up over a line but make it look like a regular space.

If I were to Hide invisibles I can't tell the difference. It is much easier to tell what's going on if I turn on invisibles.

There are lots of other really good uses. For instance, how many, if you were including lots of spaces between paragraphs and you won't really know how many there are as it would be difficult to count them but now with invisibles turned on it is very easy to see how many blank lines there are between something.

The same thing with how many tabs are inserted before something. It is easy to see that with invisibles turned on.

Now you've got the ability to control the color of the invisibles right here in Preferences for Pages under General and there is a color control for that. So if you don't like that blue, or perhaps you are using that same color for some text and you want invisibles to stand out you can easily change them in Pages.

So you can find this kind of functionality on almost all word processing apps. The more advanced ones that is. You won't find it in TextEdit. You can find it in Microsoft Word, for instance. In Word you would go to Word Preferences and under View you've got Show Non Printing Characters. You actually have some more options here. I'm just going to turn on All and you can see now the dots and the paragraphs marks and the tabs and everything here.

You've got similar functionality, even a similar character here for that non breaking space. A lot of desktop publishing layout type programs also have Show invisibles because, of course, it is very important there to get the formatting and things between words exactly right on those.

So look for those. They could help you if you do precision layout or precision documents or also if you just accidentally turned it on you now know what it is and how to turn it off.

Comments: 5 Responses to “Showing Word Processing Invisibles”

    3 years ago

    Thanks! Didn’t know what “invisibles” meant before, and it’s so useful.

    Peter Ogilvie
    3 years ago

    Thank’s it has always been confusing when other non Apple users ask about
    “invisibles” Great video again.

    3 years ago

    That is also useful for editing. When I was teaching English Comp and trying to break students of the habit of putting 2 spaces after periods and other end punctuation marks, it was a help (also FIND and REPLACE with , for example). And it is a huge help in figuring out what is wrong with formatting!

    3 years ago

    Excellent little clip keeping me well informed about the uses of some of the unfamiliar items in pages. Your videos are so helpful. Please keep publishing them on the “how to’s” in pages.

    Ronald Shinn
    3 years ago

    Great to know about; I used to use Reveal Codes all the time in WordPerfect, but have not know I could do this in Word and Pages; thank you!

Comments Closed.