Marginal Text

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Placing text in the margins

Users often ask how they can place headings, notes, or other text in the page margins. There are at least three ways to do this, depending on how much text is involved and its placement relative to the rest of the document.

“Outdented” headings

The simplest situation is one in which a heading or other text begins in the left margin and continues in the document body. This type of formatting was common in Microsoft’s own documentation for earlier versions of Word (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. An “outdented” heading

This type of formatting is easily achieved by giving the heading style a negative left indent (see Figure 2). Be sure you have allowed a large enough left margin to accommodate this “outdent.” In this example, with a 1.25″ negative indent, the default left margin of 1.25″ would obviously be inadequate.

Figure 2. Format Paragraph dialog showing negative indent

Large amounts of parallel text

If the requirement is actually for parallel columns of text, even if one column will have significantly more than the other, a two-column borderless table is usually the best solution. This keeps all the text inside the document body but allows text in one column to be kept in synch with text in the other column by starting a new row. This sort of layout can be used for meeting minutes, parallel translations, and the like (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Parallel columns of text

True marginal text

Sometimes, though, what you want is a heading or other small amount of text (or even a graphic) that is truly and entirely in the margin. You may even want it to alternate sides of the page if you’re duplexing. For this requirement, you need a frame. (Microsoft documentation illustrates this usage as well; see Figure 4.)

Figure 4. Framed text in the margin

Although framed text can be a bit fiddly to set up, in the long run it is not difficult to deal with because a frame can be part of a style definition. Once you have the frame set up the way you want it, inserting the properly formatted frame is as easy as applying a style. Here’s how to do it:

Start with a style

  1. You will need a specific style for your marginal text. If you’re going to use the style for headings, go ahead and use one of Word’s built-in heading styles. Otherwise, you may want to create a new style. For the purposes of this tutorial, we will define a new style called Margin Note.

  2. If you’re using a built-in style, apply it (from the Style dropdown list or the Styles and Formatting task pane).

  3. To create a new style:

  • Word 2000 or earlier, select Style from the Format menu, then click New… to open the New Style dialog (Figure 5a).

  • Word 2002 or 2003, click New Style in the Styles and Formatting task pane to open the New Style dialog (*Figure 5a).

  • Word 2007 above: In the Style pane (which is accessed via the dialog launcher arrow at the bottom right corner of the Styles group on the Home tab of the Ribbon), click the  the New Style button to open the Create New Style from Formatting dialog (Figure 5b).

The New Style dialog in Word 2003 and earlier

Figure 5a. The New Style dialog in Word 2003 and earlier

The Create New Style from Formatting dialog in Word 2007 and above

Figure 5b. The Create New Style from Formatting dialog in Word 2007 and above

  1. In the New Style or Create New Style from Formatting dialog, type a name for your style and use the dialog controls and the Format menu (see Figure 6) to define the font and paragraph formatting. You don’t have to get it perfect right now; you can always fine-tune it later.

Formatting options for a new style

Figure 6. Formatting options for a new style

  1. If you’ve used Format | Style, then when you click on OK to close the New Style dialog, one of the buttons in the Style dialog will be Apply. Click on that to apply your style to a text paragraph. If you’ve used the New Style button in the Styles and Formatting task pane, clicking OK may not apply your style; to do so, you will have to select it from the list in the task pane.

Insert and format a frame

Assuming that you’ve already modified the page setup to make the left or outside margin large enough to accommodate your marginal notes or headings, the next step is to apply a frame to your new style.

  1. Get access to the Insert Frame button:

  • Word 2003 and earlier: Display the Forms toolbar (View | Toolbars | Forms or right-click on any toolbar and select Forms from the menu).

  • Word 2007 and above: Getting to the Forms toolbar is considerably more complicated. First you must display the Developer tab.

    • Word 2007: Go to Office Button | Word Options | Popular and check the box for “Show Developer tab in the Ribbon,” then click OK.

    • Word 2010 and 2013: Right-click on the Ribbon and choose Customize the Ribbon. In the Customize the Ribbon and keyboard shortcuts dialog, check the box for “Developer” under “Main Tabs,” then click OK.

    Once you have activated the Developer tab, select it. In the Controls group, on the left side of the separator, the bottom right button is for Legacy Tools. This button opens a palette that includes the Legacy Forms tools, which include the Insert Frame button shown below (Figure 7b).

If you will be inserting frames often, you may want to add this button to the Quick Access Toolbar; you cannot do this directly from the Forms toolbar (although you can add the entire "gallery"), but you can do it. Click the arrow at the end of the QAT and choose More Commands... on the menu. Select the All Commands category in the Customize dialog and scroll down to Insert Horizontal Frame (the one that has the same icon shown here for Insert Frame). Add that to the QAT.

  1. Select a paragraph in your new style and click the Insert Frame button on the toolbar (see Figure 7).

Figure 7a. The Forms toolbar showing the Insert Frame button

Location of Legacy Tools button in Controls group on Developer tab   Insert Frame button in the Legacy Forms palette

Figure 7b. Location of Legacy Tools button in Controls group on Developer tab; Insert Frame button in the Legacy Forms palette

  1. You’ll see that the paragraph is now surrounded by a hashed border (Figure 8).

A framed paragraph

Figure 8. A framed paragraph

  1. You can, if you like, drag your framed paragraph into the margin and use the sizing handles to roughly size it, but eventually you will need to fine-tune the size and position in the Frame dialog. Right-click on the frame border and choose Format Frame from the shortcut menu. This opens the Frame dialog (Figure 9).

The Format Frame dialog

Figure 9. The Format Frame dialog

  1. You can experiment with the settings you need for your frame, but here are some suggestions:
    Width: Exactly 1″ (wider if you’ve allowed more space in the margin)
    Height: Auto (so it can expand to accommodate variable amounts of text)
    Horizontal position: Left or Outside Relative to Page
    Distance from text: 0.13″ (or more)
    Vertical position: 0″ Relative to Paragraph
    Distance from text: 0″

Note that “Relative to Page” is somewhat deceptive; you might think that “Relative to Margin” would be what you want. In fact, “Relative to Margin” puts the frame inside the margin, and “Relative to Page” puts it just outside the margin (how far outside depends on your “Distance from text” setting).

Remove the border

By default, a frame has a narrow box border, which you will probably want to remove. Select the frame itself by clicking on the hashed border (you’ll see six square black sizing handles) and remove the border as follows:

  • Word 2003 and earlier: Either (a) go to Format | Borders and Shading and select None or (b) click the arrow beside the Borders button on the Formatting toolbar and click on the No Border button in the flyout palette.

  • Word 2007 and 2010: On the Home tab of the Ribbon, click the bottom right button in the Paragraph group (by default its tooltip shows “Bottom Border,” but that tooltip reflects whichever button was last used). On the dropdown menu, click the button for No Border.

  • Word 2013: On the Home tab of the Ribbon, in the Paragraph group, click the arrow beside the Borders button. On the dropdown menu, click the button for No Border.

Update your style

Once you have the frame defined the way you want it, you need to add it to your style definition.

  • Word 2000 or earlier: Reselect the style in the Styles dropdown list; you will get the dialog shown in Figure 10. Click OK to update the style.

Confirmation of style update

Figure 10. Confirmation of style update

  • Word 2002 and 2003: Click the down arrow beside your style in the Styles and Formatting task pane and choose Update to Match Selection.

  • Word 2007 and above: Right-click in the paragraph and choose Styles, then Update [YourStyleName] to Match Selection. You can also right-click the style name in the Styles pane and choose the same option. If you have made the style a Quick Style, then you can right-click it in the Quick Styles gallery and update it the same way.

If you were paying attention to the New Style dialog, you will have noticed that Frame was one of the items on the Format menu. Once you are familiar with the frame concept, you can easily include the frame in your initial style definition and skip the steps in the previous three sections.

Use the style to insert marginal text

Whenever you want to insert a marginal note or heading, simply apply the appropriate style. You can do this before or after typing the text. Note the following caveats:

  1. If you’re working in Normal or Draft view, you will see the framed text, but it will not appear to be in the margin.

  2. If the text in the frame or the text it accompanies needs to have Spacing Before, then both styles will have to have it. For example, if your framed paragraph is a heading, and you want 18 points Space Before it and its accompanying paragraph, you must format both styles this way. Obviously, this formatting will not be appropriate for all body text, so you may want to have a special style for the body text that follows the heading. Select this style as the following style for your framed style, then make your regular body text style the following style for the special body text style. This will permit you to type your framed heading, press Enter to get a paragraph in the parallel text style, then press Enter again to get a regular body text paragraph.

  3. If the framed paragraph appears at the top of a page, any Spacing Before will be suppressed—but only for the framed paragraph. Its parallel body text paragraph (since it is actually the second paragraph on the page) will retain its Spacing Before. The only solution is to manually remove the Spacing Before (or apply the regular body text style) in final editing. If the framed text is a heading, you may want to plan on having all such headings start a new page and format the framed style and the style for its following paragraph accordingly.

Important Note: Word 2013 does not preserve Spacing Before after a manual page break, so further workarounds will be needed.

  1. A framed marginal note or heading cannot flow from one page to the next. This will not be an issue with headings, which are usually quite short and often begin a new page anyway. For marginal notes longer than a line or two, it could be a problem. If you will have many such, then a two-column table may be a more satisfactory formatting option.

Why a frame?

You might wonder why you should use a frame rather than a text box for this purpose. After all, a text box is much easier to insert. You may never have used a frame before and be quite unfamiliar with the concept; if you look for Frame on Word’s menus or in Word’s Help, what you’re likely to find (if anything) is the wrong kind of frame—the sort used for Web pages, which are quite a different thing. But frames have several advantages over text boxes:

  1. The chief advantage is that a frame can be included in a style definition, making inserting a frame a simple matter of applying a style. Text boxes cannot be inserted this way.

  2. Text boxes, being drawing objects, cannot be seen in Normal/Draft view. This may not be an issue for you, but many users do still prefer to work in Normal or Draft view.

  3. Text in text boxes, being in the drawing layer, is invisible to Word for many purposes. If you’re using your marginal paragraphs for headings, this is especially important. A heading in a text box will not be included in an automatically generated table of contents, nor can it be cross-referenced. Frames, being in the text layer, are fully accessible for these purposes.

Note: Although text in text boxes in Word 2007 and above is visible to Word, this ability is not backward-compatible, so if you are creating in Word 2007 or above a document that needs to be used by users of earlier versions, you should still prefer frames.

This article copyright © 2004, 2008, 2011, 2014 by Suzanne S. Barnhill.