3 ways to perfect your columns in every document


by Julie Duncan


Microsoft Word 2000/2002/2003/2004/2007/2013

Operating Systems:

Microsoft Windows, Macintosh


It’s easy to set up columns in Word, but unfortunately it’s also easy to end up with a dissatisfying product because you just can’t quite make the document look right. Instead of allowing your lack of column know-how to hold you back, master our techniques to conquer any column problems you may encounter.

To create columns that suit your document’s needs, we’ll:

  • Insert columns in your document and enable typing in each column separately.
  • Restrict your columns to part of the document so you have the maximum flexibility in your layout.
  • Balance text evenly between two columns so you maintain perfect symmetry.
  • Align text in the left and right columns vertically for professional-looking results.

Although columns can take your document from a text-heavy mess to an attractive and streamlined missive, many users avoid them because they aren’t always easy to format. But if you master the basics, you can use columns to provide greater document flexibility and additional layout options. To get you started on the right foot with columns, we’ve focused on three readers’ questions with techniques that address the most common column problems.

Use Print Layout view: Before beginning the procedures in this article, be sure to switch to Print Layout view by selecting View | Print Layout from the menu bar. This way, your screen will look just like the figures in this article.

Column basics

I need a quick tutorial on columns. I’ve never been successful using them since I switched to Word from another word processing program. How can I set up a 2-column document that allows me to type in either of the columns at any given time?

Columns are a snap once you learn the right tricks for creating them. We’ll set up the two-column document you requested, and then we’ll ensure that Word allows you to type in each column separately, rather than simply flowing text from one column to another.

To create a two-column document:

  1. Open a new Word document.
  2. Click the Columns button Columns on the Standard toolbar, and then select 2 Columns from the Columns dropdown list, as shown in Figure A.

Once you’ve created the 2-column document, the ruler’s appearance changes to display your two columns and the margin between them, as shown in Figure B.



The Columns button allows you to create as many columns as you’d like with just a click.


IME18003b1 IME18003b2

The Ruler changes between these images to show a regular (1-column) layout and a 2-column layout.

Type in any column

Now that we’ve created our columns, notice that you can only type in the left column. Let’s set up the document so that you can type in the right or left column at any time. We’ll also show the invisible formatting marks so you can observe the change easily.

To allow typing in either column:

  1. Click the Show/Hide ¶ button ShowHide on the Standard toolbar to display invisible formatting, if necessary.
  2. Select Insert | Break from the menu bar.
  3. In the resulting Break dialog box, select the Column Break option button, as shown in Figure C, and click OK.

Now you can click in the right or left column and add text and graphics to each one.



A column break allows you to type in whichever column you like.

Limit columns to part of the document

I want columns in my document, but not the entire document. Can I insert columns for the information at the beginning of the document, and then make regular text follow those columns?

Your procedure for creating columns in only part of the document depends on whether you’ve already started the document and typed its text or you’re starting from scratch. We’ll show you both methods.

Download: If you’d like to follow along with our example, you can download our sample file Partial Columns.doc from the URL given at the beginning of this article.

To set up partial columns if you’ve already created the document:

  1. Open your document or follow along with our sample document.
  2. Click the Show/Hide ¶ [...]
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