It never fails… you’re up against a deadline, you make some tweaks to your margins, then suddenly your Word document layout goes berserk.
The worst part? It may take hours to fix it and you only have a few hours before the report is due.
Many Microsoft Word formatting mishaps can be avoided. Or at least you can reduce how often they happen by planning ahead.
Planning your Word document
Just like a writer creates an outline before writing, you should create a document plan or template before typing your Word document.
Most disasters occur because the content is finished and formatted then document level changes – such as margins or page size – are changed afterwards.
Document-level formatting decisions should be made before you start typing. These can be set up using the formatting buttons on the ribbon (such as page size and orientation), by selecting a pre-made template in the New document window, or by creating your own template using styles.
Start with general document properties then work toward more specific properties such as paragraph formatting and font size.
Step One: Select a document type
Before you start inserting content into Microsoft Word, you need to decide what type of document you are creating. Is it a brochure, book, report?
Each type of document requires a different layout and formatting. For example, if you are creating a 3-fold brochure, the columns, margins, and page orientation need to be set up first. If you are creating a booklet, it is essential to set the page size before writing the content.
If you don’t have time to set up the document yourself, Microsoft Word offers free templates for many types of documents. You can find the templates by clicking File > New. You can make changes to Microsoft templates to customize them for your needs.
Step Two: Set the page layout
Once you decide what type of document you want to create, set the page size, margins, and orientation.
Changing the page layout options at the end of the document creation process causes more broken Word documents than any other problem.
You should also plan ahead for headers and footers. Do you want different headers for odd and even pages? Do you want page numbers in the footer to run consecutively through the document, or start over with each chapter?
The actual headers and footer content can be added after you finish writing the document, but you need to plan how they are going to be implemented so you can create section breaks while you are working. It is difficult to add section breaks once you have finished writing a book-length document.
Step Three: Create paragraph styles
To set paragraph styles, launch the Paragraph dialog box from the Home tab.
You can control paragraph and line spacing, alignment, indentation, page breaks, hyphenation, widow and orphan control, and tabs. You can wait until you are finished writing to tweak some of these settings, but they need to be set before you create any manual page breaks.
Select the options you plan to use most often. The options can be overridden in individual paragraphs, if needed. Just highlight the paragraph then select the new settings.
If you are creating a document more than a few pages long, I highly recommend creating styles for setting paragraph and font options, and applying the styles instead of using manual formatting. Paragraph formatting and fonts can be changed document-wide by changing the style instead of manually changing each paragraph after the content is written.
Step Four: Select fonts
Fonts should be uniform throughout your document. Select one or two fonts then stick with them. Choose one font for headings and one for the body.
Font size and font-family changes alter the size of the document, so make sure to change the fonts before you set manual page breaks or if your document has to be a certain page length.
Fonts can be set on the Page Layout tab, either by selecting a Theme or by clicking Fonts and selecting a font theme. The fonts you select on the Page Layout tab will show at the top of the font list on the Home tab.
Step Five: Start writing
Now that you have your document formatting set up, you are ready to start typing. You will find that pre-planning the layout allows you to concentrate on writing instead of how the document looks.
Here are a few tips that help reduce Word document disasters:
- Wait until the document is finished (including the headers and footers) before adding manual page breaks. Always start at the front of the document and work your way to the end. Use manual page breaks only when absolutely necessary.
- Don’t create line breaks or page breaks by pressing Enter multiple times. Set the line-height by launching the paragraph properties window and selecting the appropriate Line Spacing. Create space between paragraphs by setting either the Before or After point size.
- Instead of pressing the spacebar multiple times to create indents, use tabs or the Paragraph Indentation settings.
- Save your document as soon as you create it then save it regularly as you work. If you are creating a complex document, save a copy before making any major formatting changes that might break the formatting.
By spending a few minutes pre-planning your documents and following a few simple tips, you can avoid those last minute Microsoft Word formatting disasters.
Do you have any tips for avoiding broken Word documents? Share them in the comments below!
Screenshots by Sue Huckle