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Some MS Word users have encountered an error that states, “This is not a valid action for footnotes.” This issue usually arises when attempting to delete extraneous carriage returns, or paragraph spacing, between footnotes at the end of document pages. However, some of the carriage returns are footnote markers that you can’t delete without erasing the note itself. This is how you can erase additional carriage returns and spacing for footnotes without the error message.

Display the Paragraph Marks

One of the best ways to edit footnote spacing is to display the paragraph marks in Word. You can do that by pressing the ¶ button on Word’s Home tab. That will display paragraph breaks in the document. Having done that, you might see footnote marks as below.

1 Footnote 1¶

2 Footnote 2¶

3 Footnote 3¶

4 Footnote 4¶

This gives you a clearer view of the paragraph breaks. If your footnote marks are the same as those in example above, delete, with the Backspace key, the paragraph break symbols at the end of the numbered lines. Then the footnotes should be more like those shown below.

1 Footnote 1¶

2 Footnote 2¶

3 Footnote 3¶

Adjust Paragraph Indent and Spacing

Alternatively, you might find that you can fix the footnote spacing without deleting any paragraph breaks. You can adjust indent and paragraph spacing for a specific note from the Paragraph window. This is how Word users can adjust before/after paragraph spacing for notes.

  • First, select a footnote with the cursor.
  • Then right-click to open the context menu, and select Styles from there.

  • Select Apply Styles and press Modify to open the window directly below.

  • Click Format > Paragraph to open the window in the snapshot below.

  • Now you can check the before and after spacing values on that window. Click the up/down arrows on the Before and After value boxes to adjust the paragraph spacing for the selected note.
  • You can also configure the line spacing value by clicking the arrow buttons on the At box.
  • Press the OK button to apply the new formatting.

Set up a Macro That Erases Double Returns in Footnotes

MS Word has a handy macro tool that can fix the “not a valid action for footnotes” error. As such, you can set up a macro that erases all double returns from footnotes for you. I already have the code for such a macro, which you can set up as follows.

  • First, click the View tab and press the Macros button.
  • Enter a title for the macro in the Macro name text box, and press the Create button to open the Visual Basic Editor window.
  • Erase the Sub and End Sub lines, which are otherwise included within the code, so that the macro window is empty.
  • Now copy and paste the following code into the macro window with the Ctrl + C and Ctrl + V hotkeys.

Sub CleanReturnsInNotes()

‘To clean returns in endnotes rather than footnotes,

‘change “Footnotes” to “Endnotes” in the following line:

NoteCount = ActiveDocument.Footnotes.Count



With Selection.Find

.Text = “^p^p”

.Replacement.Text = “”

.Forward = True

.Wrap = wdFindContinue

.Format = False

.MatchCase = False

.MatchWholeWord = False

.MatchAllWordForms = False

.MatchSoundsLike = False

.MatchWildcards = False

End With


On Error GoTo TrapTheError

While Selection.Find.Found


‘The following line may trigger an error!




GoTo TheEnd


ErrorCount = ErrorCount + 1



If ErrorCount < NoteCount Then Resume Next


End Sub

  • Next, click File and select the Close and Return to Microsoft Word option.
  • You’ll need to be in Draft view to run the macro. So click the View tab, and press the Draft button.
  • Now you can click References and Show Notes. Place your cursor at the very top of Word’s Notes pane.
  • Select the View tab, click Macros and select the macro you just set up to clear returns in footnotes.
  • The macro will weave its magic when you press the Run button.

Erase All Empty Paragraph Marks With Kutools for Word

Kutools is an add-on that has a plethora of handy MS Word tools. One of those is a Remove Pars button on the Kutools tab that you can press to erase all empty paragraph marks or manual line breaks from a Word document. So that tool might also help remove extraneous carriage returns from footnotes. Although the add-on is retailing at $39, you can download a two month free trial from this page.

So that’s how you can fix note spacing without a “not a valid action for footnotes” error. Just remember it’s how you’re editing the footnote carriage returns that’s generating the error message.