Bidirectional Features in Microsoft Word

Tips and Tricks by the Wizard

Bidirectional Features in Microsoft Word


The tips and tricks that I shall share with you today have to do with bidirectional (Bidi) features in Microsoft Word.  

Microsoft Word was designed to work with multilingual documents. It is capable of fully representing writings of different languages and scripts including Bidi scripts (such as Arabic or Hebrew). Bidi scripts are written from right-to-left (RTL) while numbers and other scripts are written from left-to-right (LTR).

Word will automatically tag text with the appropriate text direction based on the keyboard language from which it was entered. Numbers and neutral characters such as spaces and punctuation can layout or shape differently based on its tagging.



Word has a number of options that affect settings for all documents and affect how contents are displayed. You can get to these options through Office button à Word Options à Advanced à Show Document Content.

  1. Digit Substitution: Specify the type of digits/numerals in a Word document. These can be different from what is specified in the OS Control Panel settings. See section 3, "Using the Hindi Numerals" in my 5 Access Settings for the Right-to-Left languages blog.
  2. Colored Diacritics: In Word you can change the color of diacritics by selecting the Use this color for diacritics option. For example, the following shows the diacritic as red. Diacritics
  3. Document View: This option affects how content is displayed in the whole document (Right-to-left or Left-to-right).

Word Options


Section Direction

You can change the direction of a section in your document by changing the Page Layout à Page Setup à Layout à Section direction field.

 Page Setup - Layout

This affects the text flow within that section including column flow and line numbering. Alternately, there is a checkbox in the Page Layout à Page Setup à Columns à More Columns dialog that will change the section direction to RTL if checked.


Also, if a gutter margin is needed, you can specify the Gutter position to be on the right or left side. If you have different odd and even headers and you choose Right, the gutters of odd-numbered pages will appear on the right, and the gutters of even-numbered pages will appear on the left.

Page Setup - Margins


Tables & Paragraphs

You can change the direction of the flow of cells in a table by changing the Table direction field in the Table Properties dialog.

Table Properties

The paragraph direction can be set by clicking on the appropriate button in the Paragraph chunk under the Home tab.


Most Bidi features depend on the editing language(s) enabled in Office. Please refer to the article How to type in my language using office 2010 if you are not familiar with the concept of an Office editing language.


Kashida Justification

You can add Kashidas to Arabic text and other related scripts to help in line justification. There are three types supported in Word, Justify Low, Justify Medium, and Justify High, which affect the number of Kashidas used.


Kashida (also known as tatweel) is a character elongation used in Arabic language to increase the length of words for justification. It does not affect the sound or meaning of the word. It is used in text justification instead of white space. Kashidas are entered automatically in line justification or can be entered manually using the Shift+J keys between two Arabic characters on an Arabic keyboard. Note: you can enter multiple Kashidas (see the following example).

No Kashida

One Kashida

10 Kashidas



L+Shift+J(10 times)+K





Character Properties

You can change the font, size, and style used to render complex scripts which is a superset of bidirectional text. You can do so in the Font dialog under the Font chunk in the Hometab. Under the Complex scripts section, you can choose the font, size, and style used to render complex scripts. 


Word automatically combines Arabic characters into ligatures as appropriate. However, if you need to separate characters (e.g., for part numbers), or want to show the initial, medial, or final shape of a character without typing a character after it (e.g., for educational purposes), you can insert Zero Width Non-Joiner (ZWNJ) or Zero Width Joiner (ZWJ) characters (respectively).

You can insert these characters by using the Symbol dialog (Insert à Symbols à Symbol à More Symbols). Open the dialog, select the font that you are using, enter the Character code for the special character that you want using the English keyboard (ZWNJ à 200C; ZWJ à 200D) and click on Insert. Note that the Symbol dialog will highlight a blank space if you follow this procedure, but it will show a description of the character so you will know that you have selected the correct one (see the following example).


It is also easy to insert these characters using the keyboard. With an English keyboard, type the character code in the document and follow it immediately with Alt+X. With an Arabic keyboard, you can simply press Ctrl+Shift+2 for ZWNJ or Ctrl+Shift+1 for ZWJ.

Here is some bonus information for advanced users. You can change the text direction tagging in the document by using built-in macros in Word by running the RtlRun macro to mark text as right-to-left or LtrRun macro to mark text as left-to-right. For more information on directional tagging, see Bidirectional text embedding and override.


If you have questions, I'm always available – just leave a note below and I will respond as soon as I can!

Happy Bidi Editing!

The Wizard

Oh, I must give credit to two of my apprentices, Ziad Khalidi and Mohamed Elkugia for their significant contribution on this article. Ziad is a Software Development Engineer and Mohamed is a Software Development Engineer in Test, both work at Microsoft with the Office Global Experience Platform team (GXP) based out of Redmond, Washington, USA. I'd also like to thank Peter Liang and Paul Suurs for their assistance on this article.


The example companies, organizations, products, domain names, email addresses, logos, people and events depicted herein are fictitious. No association with any real company, organization, product, domain name, e-mail address, logo, person, or event is intended or should be inferred.