Create and Use Newspaper Columns: MS Word

Dennis Faas's picture

Although tables are used to present text that must remain in side-by-side columns, they would be clumsy to use when creating a newsletter.

MS Word provides a different feature that lets you create "snaking" or newspaper-style columns, where the text flows down the page in a narrow column and then continues to the next column. To establish this multi-column format, you'd use the Columns button in Word.

Newspaper-style columns are used whenever you have a lot of text to fit on a page, particularly a large page. If the pages were printed in long lines that ran the width of the page, the text would be quite difficult to read, and not much fun to look at. Using multiple columns eases reading by limiting the length of the lines to about 6 to ten words: enough for the eye to scan across easily.

Newspaper-style columns also make it easy to lay out a page. You have more flexibility to add small blocks of text, pictures, advertisements, et cetera, because the text can flow around them, in one column or another. Having a number of places for the eye to land makes a page inviting, even if just for a quick scan.

Often it's easiest to begin with existing text (for example: a document that has already been typed). To do so:

  1. Change the margins to .5 inches or less. Newspaper-style columns require less margin space because the columns are narrower, and they need more room for the columns to hold text.
  2. If necessary, change to the paper size you will use for the document.
  3. Click the Columns button and drag to define how many columns you will use.

The document will then be reformatted with the number of columns you selected and changed to Print Layout view. The columns are evenly divided across the width of the page, with .5 inch spacing between the columns. The ruler shows column markers denoting the width of the columns and spacing between them.

Change your mind about the number of columns? You can modify the structure easily:

  • Change the number of columns by clicking the Columns button and dragging again. To return the document into regular, one-column text, drag to 1 Column.
  • Change the column widths by dragging the column markers on the ruler.
  • Choose Format | Columns to see the dialog box.

In the Columns dialog box:

  • Offers several present column formats
  • Lets you specify uneven column widths and spacing
  • Has a check box that applies a line between the columns
  • Has an Apply To list box to specify which portion of the document will get the new formatting.

The choices you made are reflected in Print Layout view and Print Preview, where you can see the line between the columns, the exact column width, and the placement of the text in snaking columns.

When you apply newspaper-style columns, Word automatically changes to Print Layout view. This is handy to view the columns side-by-side, exactly as they will appear when printed. But Print Layout view is not so handy for editing text. When you are on the bottom line of the left column, what key should you press to go to the top of the next column? Page Down? Right Arrow? Yes, but that's very awkward!

If you change to Normal view, you will not see the columns side-by-side. Instead you will see one long, narrow column, although the ruler reflects the correct column settings. This long flow of text is ideal for editing the text.

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