From the Word forum: ‘How to remove a stubborn line in Word?’

MacTop@officeformac.com asks:

How to remove a stubborn line in Word 2004?

It is not a page break or a table border or a format style. it is a solid thin line that goes all across the page horizontally and a bit beyond the page borders on the left and right. If I place the cursor over it, it becomes an up-down scrolling icon. If then I click and drag and drop, an extra space is added between the text paragraphs.

Stubborn line

MVP Bob Jones (aka CyberTaz) responds:

What you have is a Paragraph Border most likely applied as a Bottom Border to the paragraph above the line. Click in that paragraph then go to Format> Borders & Shading. On the Borders page click the icon for None.

Bob’s answer appears simple and it really is simple. It can be difficult, however, to understand because it requires exact attention to some details.

First, this is feature and not a bug. Many bugs really are features that users just don’t yet understand. This feature is in both Word for Mac as well as Word for Windows and spans many versions—MacTop is using Word 2004 while my screenshots in this post are from Word 2011.

What would have helped MacTop understand what is happening? A few things.

Word can make lines in several ways

A line can be a simple row of underscores from the keyboard. It can be a single border of a table. It can be an AutoShape arrow without ends. The four lines in this image were create in four different ways:

Four lines created in different ways in Word

Select All reveals many secrets

The easiest way to determine how a line was created is to click anywhere on the page and select Select All from the Edit menu.

Select all lines in Word

Immediately, the highlighting on the page reveals that these lines aren’t all the same. Note how the second line has a couple of indented lines above it and how the fourth line is isn’t highlighted just on top but top, bottom, left and right. The first and third lines may look similar but they’re not. Note that the third line’s highlighting extends beyond the right side of the line but doesn’t do this for the first line.

Still not sure how these lines were created?

Show non-printing characters

Answers often lie in what can’t be seen. A nicely formatted page in Word is more than lines of text. It contains tabs to indent paragraphs, returns to end paragraphs and and table cells to contain information. But don’t lose site of the fact that sometimes a line is really just a line.

To view non-printing characters select Preferences… from the Word menu and then click the View button. Under the Nonprinting characters section select All. Or easier, type Command + 8 to quickly toggle this option on and off.

Word nonprinting preference

This will reveal tabs, spaces, paragraphs and more.

Viewing nonprinting characters in Word

Line 1 is a paragraph with a border applied below it.

Line 2 is a 5×2 table with only the bottom border showing.

Line 3 is a row of underscores ( _ ) typed on one line ending with a return (note the paragraph mark).

Line 4 is WordArt.

What was MacTop’s answer?

His problem was indeed as Bob had suggest and the same as Line 1 in the examples above. He had a bottom border applied to a paragraph.

Note that removing the border must be done exactly as Bob describes. The border itself cannot be selected. Simply put the insertion point (just click) before the paragraph immediately above the border.

Insertion point before paragraph

Select Borders and Shading… from the Format menu. Click the highlighted bottom border button to remove the line. Note in the preview to the right that the border disappears after clicking the button.

De-select the bottom border button

After clicking the OK button the stubborn line is gone. Keep in mind that a border can also be applied to the top of a paragraph or even to the sides. Examine each nonprinting character not just the one above a border.

Line removed

Use Select All and the preference to display nonprinting characters liberally during document revisions to remove unneeded paragraph returns and other hidden characters as well as to troubleshoot formatting problems.

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10 comments to From the Word forum: ‘How to remove a stubborn line in Word?’

  • OffiX

    Great tip. Thanks. BTW, the cursor must be placed above or below the line to delete it, depending on the case.

  • Robert

    This is a problem I’ve struggled with many times. I’ll highlight the lines above and below the horizontal line, and it still won’t delete. It’s good to know that this article is around in case I need it again!

  • choiceweb0pen0

    Just had this issue too. It should be easier to remove, but until then, thanks for the explanation.

  • Excellent. Saved hours of trouble and increased my understanding of the control of Word features in a fantastic way. Very exact and clear! I do a lot of form design and this REALLY helps!

  • Krayola

    I have solved this problem in seconds thanks to this post. I was beginning to despair! Putting your cursor in place then seeing what’s really happening under format/borders, and simply clicking off the rogue ‘border’ is the trick. No amount of selecting or deleting otherwise got rid of it! Never again will I be clever and ‘draw a line’ between paras. Or maybe I will, now I know how to get rid of it! THANK YOU FOR SAVING LOTS OF PEOPLE TIME AND ENERGY.

  • 3PONR2

    Thank you!

  • The screen shots helped a lot and this method worked! Thanks!!

  • Amar

    Thank you very much. This worked for me!

  • Philippa

    Thank you for a logical and comprehensive post! I thought I was going to have to re-type a 20-page document because of this “feature” (applied by a colleague who has since left our company). Your blog was one of the first results in Google, so you were easy to find too.

  • James Henson

    Thank you so much for this! I was going crazy trying to fix it on my own.