Working with Margins: MS Word

Dennis Faas's picture

Creating a document is as easy as starting Word and typing text. If you choose, you can work with Word's default settings. However, many documents require different layouts. It's important to know how to change the settings so that you can change the way the text looks on the page.

If you haven't changed the settings in your Normal template, you'll find the defaults (in the U.S. version of Word) to include top and bottom margins set to 1 inch, left and right margins at 1.25 inches, header and footer margins at .5 inches, gutter position left, paper size is 8.5X11 inches, portrait page orientation, section starts on a new page, and vertical alignment set to top.

Page setup options apply to the entire document in Word unless you have divided the document into sections.

Knowing how to set margins is necessary for submitting all types of documents. Margins are the boundaries to the left, right, top, and bottom of the document. They determine the space between the text in the document and the edge of the page.

It's important not to confuse margins with paragraph indenting. Margins affect the overall appearance of the document, whereas indents apply to specific paragraphs.

When you switch to Print Layout view (Ctrl + Alt + P), you can see darker areas on the left and right side of the horizontal ruler that indicate the margin area. If you don't see the horizontal ruler, choose Rule from the View menu. Top and bottom margin indicators on the vertical ruler appear as well.

If the vertical ruler doesn't appear, make sure that you are in Print Layout view, and choose Options from the Tools menu. Select the View tab and then click the Vertical Ruler (Print View Only).

Locate the Page Margins

  1. Create a new Word document.
  2. If you are not already in Print Layout view, switch to it.
  3. Hold the mouse over the right margin boundary on the horizontal ruler where the margin is located. The mouse pointer changes to a double-sided arrow when you hold it over the margin, and a ScreenTip appears that says "Right Margin."

Setting Margins

Word gives you two ways to set margins. you can click and drag margins in the ruler or open the Page Setup dialog box and type the desired margins. There are specific reasons for using each method; the method you choose depends on the complexity of your document.

Setting Margins with the Mouse

When you're working on letters and other short documents where the precise size of the margin is not important, you can control the size of a margin the easy way, by dragging the mouse to move the margin. This allows you to change the margin of a document and immediately see the result.

  1. Place the mouse over the right margin boundary on the ruler until the double-sided arrow and Screen Tip appear.
  2. It's important that you see a pointer and that the ScreenTip reads "Right Margin" and not "right Indent." Otherwise, you are changing the indent for the selected paragraph rather than the margin for the entire document.
  3. Drag the mouse to the left, moving the margin to the "5" for the five-inch mark on the ruler. The margin for the right side of the document is increased to approximately two inches.
  4. Click the Undo button on the Standard toolbar to undo the margin change. Keyboard users can press Ctrl + Z to undo an action.

To see the margin's measurement as you drag with the mouse, hold down the Alt key as you drag. If you don't want to use the keyboard, you can hold down the primary and alternate mouse buttons simultaneously as you drag the margin.

Setting Margins in the Page Setup Dialog Box

Dragging margins on the ruler is a quick way to change margins for a document. You may find though, that you don't have a lot of control with this technique because it can be difficult to determine the exact measurement on the rule. When you have to have a specific margin (i.e. school papers, legal documents), the Page Setup dialog box lets you plug in the precise numbers you need.

  1. Choose Page Setup from the File menu.
  2. You can also access the Page Setup dialog box by double-clicking anywhere along either the horizontal or the vertical ruler.
  3. Select the Margins tab.
  4. Change settings for the Top, Bottom, Left, or Right margins.
  5. Click the OK button to apply the new margin settings to the document or click Cancel to cancel the changes.

Here's a hot tip!!

You can set negative top and bottom margins in your document to create a "fixed" margin. This prevents the header and footer area from pushing text in the document up or down. To guarantee that there is always a one inch margin, type "-1" in the Top Margin and Bottom Margin settings. Now, now matter how much text is in the Header or Footer, the text in the document will start one inch from the top of the page and end one inch from the bottom of the page. One caveat using this setting – if the text in the header or footer is more than one inch long, it can overlap the document text.

Now go forth and create margins!

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