In Microsoft Word, you can insert and format columns to structure your document. This is great for creating a newsletter, brochure, or magazine style layout. This guide shows you all the hidden tweaks for managing columns in Word.
How to Add Columns in Word
You can add columns to your Word document before or after you insert your text. Apply the columns to the whole document or a specific portion, like a paragraph or section.
Add Columns to the Entire Document
If you already have content in your document, you’ll see it shift when you apply the column layout. This is helpful to determine how many columns would work best.
- Place your cursor at the start of the document. Go to the "Layout" tab, and open the "Columns" drop-down menu in the Page Setup section of the ribbon.
- Choose whether you want two or three columns. One column is the default.
- Alternatively, choose left or right when the document has two uneven columns.
As you continue to add text and other elements to the document, you’ll see that the columns carry over to the additional pages.
Add Columns to Part of the Document
If you only want to add columns to a portion of the document, this is also an option. It allows you to condense part of the text, like a paragraph, into its own block.
- Select the text that you want to turn into columns.
- Go to the "Layout" tab, open the "Columns" menu, and choose two, three, left, or right, as described above. Alternatively, select "More Columns," then choose "Selected text" in the "Apply to" drop-down box.
- The existing content will be formatted into columns.
Add Columns to a Section of the Document
If you format your document with section breaks, you can change one of those sections to use a column format.
- Place your cursor in the section you want to change.
- On the "Layout" tab, open the "Columns" drop-down menu, and choose the number of columns or alignment. Alternatively, choose "More Columns," then select "This section" in the "Apply to" drop-down box.
- That section will be formatted with columns.
Any content you add to the section will be in a column format, but the rest of the sections remain intact.
Note: to present data in a structured manner, create a table in Word.
How to Customize Columns in Word
The nice thing about columns in Word is that you can customize how they appear. You may want different column sizes or a line between the columns.
- Go to the "Layout" tab, open the "Columns" menu, and select "More Columns."
- The "Presets" at the top are the same layouts as the "Columns" drop-down menu. Choose one of these, and make adjustments to it if you would like. Alternatively, insert a number in the "Number of columns" box for more than three columns.
- By default, all columns are the same width. To make your columns different sizes, uncheck the box for "Equal column width" in the "Width and Spacing" section, then adjust the measurements for "Width" (column size) and "Spacing" (space between the columns) of each column to be your desired size.
- To add lines between the columns, check the box near the top on the right for "Line between."
- Use the "Apply to" drop-down box to choose where to apply the column layout: this section, this point forward, or the whole document. Optionally, check the box for "Start new column."
- Click "OK" when you finish to see your new layout.
How to Use Column Breaks in Word
When you add columns to your document, you may notice that the columns don’t break where you want them to. For example, near the end of a page. To remedy this, add manual column breaks.
Add a Column Break
Add a column break in just a few steps.
- Place your cursor at the start of the line where you want to insert the break.
- Go to the "Layout" tab, open the "Breaks" drop-down menu, and choose "Column" below "Page Breaks."
- The content will move to keep your text or other items together in that column.
- If you want to view the actual column break marker, go to the "Home" tab, and select the "Show/Hide" button in the "Paragraph" section.
Remove a Column Break
If you later decide the column break doesn’t work for you, you can remove it.
- Place your cursor at the start of the line where you initially inserted the column break. If necessary, turn on the "Show/Hide" button on the "Home" tab to be sure you’re in the right spot.
- Press Backspace on Windows or Delete on Mac to remove the column break.
Tip: add a background to your Word document to change its entire look.
How to Work With Images in Columns
One additional element to consider when formatting your document with columns is images. When you insert a picture in a column, that image scales down to fit within the column boundaries.
However, if you resize the image by dragging a corner or edge, it will be cut off.
If you want to use a full-size image that spans across the columns instead, remove the column formatting from the image itself.
- Select the image, go to the "Layout" tab, open the "Columns" menu, and choose "one."
- You will have room to resize your image.
- Drag to resize your image to see it span across the columns.
Note that when you do this, the content that was originally above the image in the column stays above the image, with the remainder below. You can also select the image and use the "Wrap Text" menu on the "Picture Format" tab to choose how to place the text around the image.
How to Remove Columns in Word
If after you add columns to your document, a portion, or a section, you decide to remove them, you can simply return the document to a one-column layout.
- Place your cursor at the start of the document, or select the portion or section. Go to the "Layout" tab, open the "Columns" menu, and choose "one."
- Your columns will vanish, and your document will return to its original layout.
Tip: before you head off to the printer, convert your Word document into a PDF. This preserves formatting, regardless of who opens the file.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there keyboard shortcuts to add column breaks in Word?
If you want to save time and not use the menu and ribbon, use keyboard shortcuts to add column breaks in Word instead.
On Windows, press Ctrl + Shift + Enter, and on Mac, press Command + Shift + Return.
How do I insert a section break in Word?
Section breaks come in four forms in Word. Use a Next Page, Continuous, Even Page, or Odd Page section break.
Place your cursor where you want the break, go to the "Layout" tab, and open the "Breaks" drop-down menu. You’ll see the types below "Section Breaks" with their descriptions.
Can I insert placeholder text to test column layouts in Word?
If you want to use placeholders to test column layouts before adding your actual content, use a few different commands, depending on the text you want. Check out our how-to for ways to insert dummy text in Word.
Image Credit: Pixabay. All screenshots by Sandy Writtenhouse.
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