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Toward a more uniform page length in Word

Word users often ask how to make the bottom margin (or the distance between footnotes and text) exactly the same on every page. Perhaps they are trying to balance facing pages in a duplexed document, or they may be trying to adhere to manuscript guidelines that require a certain number of lines on each page. For a number of very good reasons, it can be almost impossible to assure that the text on every page stops at the same point. It helps to understand the factors at work and how to work around them.

Factors at work

Margins

Margins establish a maximum page length. When you set the top and bottom margins of an 11″ U.S. Letter page to 1″, you are defining a document body area that is 9″ high. You can fit no more than 9″ of text into that space; often it will be less. For example, if you are filling the page with text in the default Normal style (that is, 12-point Times New Roman with Single spacing in Word 2000 or above), the result will be as illustrated in Figure 1. Note that there are 46 lines of text on the page, but they don’t entirely fill the area defined by the margins. If you measure from the bottom of the page to the bottom of the last line of text, the margin will actually be 1¼″.

Figure 1. A page of text in default Normal style

Line Spacing

If you change the line spacing to Exactly 14 points, you can exactly fill the page with the same 46 lines, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. A page of text with 14-point line spacing

If you change the line spacing to Double, the result will be as shown in Figure 3. Note that there are 23 lines of text on the page (as you would expect), but the effective bottom margin is even larger—effectively 1.4″.

Figure 3. A page of double-spaced text

Double spacing is really too “spacey” for 12-point text. It is equivalent to line spacing of 28 points or more. Line spacing of Exactly 24 points is equivalent to 3 lines per inch (72 points = 1 inch), which is the same as “double spacing” on a typewriter. As shown in Figure 4, 27 lines of text with line spacing of Exactly 24 points will fill the margin area neatly.

Figure 4. A page of text with line spacing of Exactly 24 points

Note for Word 2007/2010 users: The default Normal style in Word 2007 and 2010 uses 11-pt text (in the Calibri font) with 1.15-line spacing and 10 pts Spacing After. Without the Spacing After, this allows only 42 lines of text for the same 9″ page. Using Single spacing for 12-pt Calibri still permits only 44 lines. Changing to Single spacing for 11-pt Calibri allows 48 lines. So it can be seen that the amount of page content described above cannot be matched without changing the font to Times New Roman. The principles explained in this article, however, remain the same.

Widow/orphan control

All the examples above depend on having a solid block of text, with no paragraph breaks near the bottom margin. When paragraph breaks enter the picture, more variations in page length may be introduced as a result of “widow/orphan control,” which is enabled by default in Normal style (and therefore in all other styles) in Word. “Widow/orphan control” prevents a paragraph from being broken in such a way that a single line appears at the top or bottom of a page.

What this means is that if there is room for only the first line of a paragraph at the bottom of a page, Word will move the entire paragraph to the next page, leaving an empty line space. On the page shown in Figure 4, for example, this would result in just 26 lines of text on the page instead of 27. The effect is even more dramatic on a double-spaced page, as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5. A page of double-spaced text showing effect of widow/orphan control

If the paragraph that begins at the bottom of the page is only three lines long, then obviously it cannot be split across a page break at all, so even if there is room for two lines of the paragraph at the bottom of the page, the entire paragraph will move to the next page, leaving two blank lines, as shown in Figure 6. The effective bottom margin in this example is 2.13″.

Figure 6. A page of double-spaced text showing effect of widow/orphan control with three-line paragraph.

Headings

So far we have seen the amount of variation in page length that is possible with body text alone. When headings are added to the mix, the situation is further complicated, for two reasons: (1) headings usually have some Space Before, and (2) by default headings are formatted as “Keep with next.” Both of these conditions are necessary: you want a heading to be set off from preceding text by some extra space, and you certainly don’t want a heading to fall at the bottom of a page while the paragraph that follows it moves to the next page.

In single-spaced text, when a heading followed by a three-line paragraph falls at the bottom of a page, the result could be as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7. Heading followed by three-line paragraph, showing effect of “Keep with next” and “Widow/orphan control” formatting in single-spaced text

Obviously, the effect is even more dramatic on a double-spaced page, as shown in Figure 8. The effective bottom margin in that example is more than 2½″.

Figure 8. Heading followed by three-line paragraph, showing effect of “Keep with next” and “Widow/orphan control” formatting in double-spaced text

Footnotes

When footnotes are added to the mix, all hell breaks loose, as Figures 9 and 10 illustrate. In this example, the body text has line spacing of Exactly 24 points. As you will recall from Figure 4, a solid block of this text fills the page neatly. The Heading 1 paragraph in this example has been modified to have 24 points Space Before and 0 points Space After. It is followed by a three-line paragraph. The heading and following paragraph will fit on the first page even with a one-line footnote. As soon as the footnote runs to two lines, however, the heading and following paragraph are bumped to the next page.

Figure 9. Text with a one-line footnote

Figure 10. Effect of an extra line in the footnote

The above examples illustrate some of the factors at work to make page lengths uneven. In pages with long footnotes, widow/orphan control in the footnotes may add to the problem if the footnote reference falls so close to the bottom of the page that the footnote must be continued on the next page. And if either body text or footnote text is formatted as “Keep lines together” (which prevents Word from breaking a paragraph at all), the effect is further exaggerated.

If you set the footnote position to “Below text” instead of “Bottom of page,” the space between text and footnote will be uniform, but the bottom margin will not. This is a choice you have to make.

Workarounds

The approach you take to achieving a more uniform page length will depend at least in part on your reasons for doing it. If you are following guidelines that require a set number of lines on a page or exact margins, you will have to do everything you can to maintain that number of lines or those margins, without regard for the appearance of the page. If, on the other hand, you are trying to balance facing pages for a more attractive appearance in a printed book, you will need to be prepared to do some labor-intensive hand tweaking.

The Procrustean approach

Set the required margins and adjust your line spacing to produce the required number of lines per page. This setting is made on the Indents and Spacing tab of the Format | Paragraph dialog (see Figure 11).

Figure 11. Paragraph dialog showing line spacing set to Exactly 24 points

On the Line and Page Breaks tab of the same dialog, clear the check box for “Widow/orphan control” and any others that are checked (see Figure 12).

Figure 12. Paragraph dialog showing all Pagination options disabled

The artistic approach

First of all, you should know what sort of goal you are shooting for. The following extract from The Chicago Manual of Style explains page makeup and discusses “bad breaks.”

Makeup is a highly skilled procedure. If the text is merely divided mechanically into portions of equal length, without regard to where the divisions fall, some of the pages that result are bound to be unacceptable logically or aesthetically: they will incorporate bad breaks. Common examples of bad breaks are the following:

A widow, that is, a short line—one word or two or three little ones (some say anything less than a full line)—at the top of a page.

A recto [right-hand, odd] page that ends with the first part of a broken word. [Some editors discourage breaking words between pages at all.]

A subhead falling at the foot of a page or column. A subhead should be followed by at least two lines of text.

A section break consisting of a blank line (or a type device in an otherwise blank line) falling at the head or foot of a page or column. Such a section break should, if possible, be preceded or followed by at least two lines of text.

An extract beginning on the last line or ending on the first line of a page or column. There should be at least two lines in either place.

A footnote that does not begin on the same page as its reference. At least two lines of the note should fall on the page containing the reference before the note continues onto the next page.

Bad breaks can often be eliminated without resetting type, by adjusting page lengths. Although a page is intended to have a standard number of lines, the designer usually permits the typesetter to let pages run one line long or one line short, so long as facing pages match. By this means, lines can be moved forward or backward to eliminate the bad break.

An alternative or ancillary method is to lengthen or shorten a paragraph in the vicinity of the bad break. Often a one-word paragraph ending can be pulled up by resetting a line more tightly, or a full line can be reset looser to run over. (“Save a line” and “Make a line” are the proofreader’s directions for these operations.) Sometimes, too, a paragraph can be lengthened or shortened by slight rewording that does not change the meaning. This, of course, requires the cooperation of the author or editor or both, and the device cannot be used with reprinted material. Again, if the subheads are set with a fair amount of white space above and below them, this space can sometimes be reduced or increased to save a line or make a line. This works particularly well when two subheads fall on the same page and the stolen or added space can be split between them. (With computer-controlled typesetting, word spacing for a whole paragraph or page can be easily altered to avoid bad breaks….)1

Note that Word is already set up to help you meet (or exceed) some of these requirements. Others (such as letting a page run a line long) are not practical. Word does have a setting designed to make page lengths uniform, but most users find its effects unsatisfactory. This is the Justified setting for vertical alignment (see Figure 13).

Figure 13. Layout tab of Page Setup dialog showing Justified vertical alignment

This setting has no effect on extra space between text and footnotes (as in Figure 10) unless the footnote placement is set to “Below text” instead of “Bottom of page.” As can be seen in Figure 14, although this does not affect line spacing within paragraphs, it does create extra spacing between paragraphs that, when it is as extreme as in this example, is quite unattractive.

Figure 14. Effect of Justified vertical alignment on a short page with footnote

Worse still, pages ending in a page or section break are also stretched to fill the page (as shown in Figure 15).

Figure 15. Justified vertical alignment applied to a partially filled page

The bottom line, therefore, is that there is no way to achieve uniform page length without considerable work on your part, “saving” or “making” lines as needed. In many cases, the sensible approach is to live with uneven pages. You can make this appear more intentional by starting major divisions (Heading 1, say) on a new page. If the problem is mostly caused by footnotes, you can use endnotes instead. You can certainly abandon widow/orphan control: it’s very common nowadays to see single lines at the ends and beginnings of pages. Whatever approach you take, however, it is bound to involve some compromises.

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1The Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers, 14th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), pp. 801–802.

This article copyright © 2004, 2008, 2011 by Suzanne S. Barnhill.