What Are Formatting Marks?

Formatting marks occur in word processing software such as Microsoft Word and Pages for Mac, and they reflect formatting changes that occur throughout a document. Although these marks are usually invisible to the user by default, the user can change the word processing software's settings to display specific marks or all marks. Doing this can be helpful as a troubleshooting tool when a document's layout does not seem right, or when a document does not print out as it is formatted on the screen.

One common formatting mark is a left arrow used when the user breaks a line of text without using a new paragraph. Some other common marks include a right arrow to show tabs inserted and a backwards "P" that indicates a new paragraph has been created. Single dots are used to show spaces, and conditional hyphens are displayed as dashes with lines coming down off their right sides.

Word processing programs also commonly have a page layout view that shows the various parts of a document. For example, Pages for Mac displays formatting containers as gray boxes around items like text boxes, headers, columns and the body section of a document. Microsoft Word's page layout view lets users adjust the placement of charts and other embedded items in a document.