There is a lot of confusion surrounding soft returns in Word (or anywhere else, for that matter!). A soft return in Word can sometimes mean a line break caused by word wrapping. Word wrapping is another term we should explain! As you type your document, Word starts a new line when you’ve used up all the space available in the current line. However, Word is smart and doesn’t break up lines in the middle of a word. This is called “word wrapping”: when the word you are currently typing will make the current line exceed its maximum allowed width, that word wraps onto the next line where you cant continue typing seamlessly.
So, a soft return can refer to the natural wrapping of text onto a new line.
A soft return can also be “forced” by the typist when they are not yet at the end of the current line.
Usually, you will press enter to mark the end of the current paragraph and to start a new one. Marking paragraphs out like this allows Word to apply paragraph attributes like spacing between paragraphs or first-line indentation. However, you can insert a non-paragraph line break, also known as a soft return, by pressing shift-enter, for cases where the text should start on a new line but none of the other side effects of starting a new paragraph are required.
When Would You Use A Soft Return In Word?
Check out this address typed using Enter key presses at the end of each line, combined with the default settings that Word applies to paragraphs (remember, when you press Enter, you are starting a new paragraph):
It looks OK, but the spacing is too much. We need to get rid of that spacing so that between each line. To do that, we use soft returns by pressing shift-enter at the end of each line. Then we get the following address: