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Tech Tuesday: Getting rid of extra paragraph returns (or tabs or line breaks) in Scrivener


[UPDATE: Scrivener 3 now supports many of these replacements via Edit>Text Tidying.]

There’s a temptation when writing in Scrivener (or a word processor) to press the Return key twice at the end of a paragraph to give it that nice, visual break. Problem is, when you’re setting up your manuscript for submission or publication, those extra lines leave big gaps.

To avoid the temptation, make sure you set your default format to have at least 12 points after the paragraph. This setting is accessible under the Line Spacing drop-down in the format bar by clicking Other.

But that only helps you from here on out. Sure, you can clean up those extra lines in your word processor after compiling, but what if you’re trying to create an e-book?

If you’re currently stuck with a manuscript with an extra carriage return after each paragraph, here’s how to fix it.

NOTE: You can also replace other non-printing characters—such as tabs or line breaks—with the same procedure. The shortcut key combinations for supported non-printing characters are:

  • Paragraph Return: Option+Enter (Mac) or Ctrl+Enter (Windows)
  • Line Break (soft return): Control + Enter (Mac) or Shift + Enter (Windows)
  • Tab: Option+Tab (Mac) or Ctrl+Tab (Windows)

Alternatively, Mac users can right-click (Control+click) on the text box in the Project Replace window, click Insert, and choose the desired non-printing character from the list.

Replacing Invisible Characters (Mac and Windows)

Finally, the Windows version of Project Replace can handle non-printing characters (as of 4 August 2016)! To eliminate extra paragraph returns in your entire manuscript, do the following.

1. Go to Edit—>Find—>Project Replace.

2. In the Replace text box, press Option+Enter (Mac) or Ctrl+Enter (Windows) twice. A pilcrow (paragraph return) character appears for each time you press the key combination.

3. In the With text box, press Option+Enter (Mac) or Ctrl+Enter (Windows) once.

You've just set up Scrivener to find all the double paragraph markers in your manuscript and replace them with a single paragraph marker.

4. Deselect all the check boxes in the Scope and Affect (Mac only) sections, except for Text, so that you don't affect anything else like Notes or Synopsis, as shown in the images below. If you only wanted this to apply to documents you've selected in the Binder, choose “Selected documents only.”

Mac project replace window


Windows project replace window


5. Click Replace. NOTE: Once you get through step 6, this cannot be undone and applies to the entire project (unless you chose “Selected documents only”).

6. Read the warning and if you're confident that you have everything set up correctly, click OK (Mac) or Yes (Windows) to proceed.

A bar at the bottom left of the window displays the progress. The replacements might take a few minutes if you have a lot of them to work through.

7. When the bar reaches the end (Mac users will receive a notice showing how many documents were changed), click Close to close the Project Replace window.

You’ll want to take a quick look through your documents to make sure Scrivener didn’t miss any extra lines. Turning on the invisible characters (Format—>Options—>Show Invisibles) makes it easy to check for problems. A miss might happen if you inadvertently put a space or tab character on the blank line (second paragraph return line) without realizing it.

Mac users can hide the invisible characters by going to Format—>Options—>Hide Invisibles. Windows users, return to Format—>Options—>Show Invisibles to remove the checkmark.

Good luck!

Need more help? Sign up for an online class, read more Scrivener articles, or schedule a private training session. If you don't already have it, you can download Scrivener here.

{Updated 26 Jan 2017}