Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, and 2013. If you are using an earlier version (Word 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Word, click here: Margins for All Documents Changing.

Margins for All Documents Changing

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated June 23, 2017)


Dick wondered why, when he changes the margins of one document in a series of many, does Word change the margins of every document. From all he's ever read about Word that is not supposed to happen.

Dick is right; this is not supposed to happen. Word documents are based on templates, and when you create a document the margins are set according to the setting in the template you use. (If you don't instruct Word to use a specific template, it still uses the Normal template to create the document and the document's margins are based on what is in the Normal template.) If you later change the margins in the template, Word doesn't change the margins in any existing documents based on that template. It does, however, affect any documents you create in the future that are based on that template. If you have a whole series of documents based on the same template and you change the margins in one of the documents then the margins in the other documents (and in the template on which they are based) remain unaffected.

So, if your document margins are changing in some way not described above, there could be a couple of things at play. First of all, it could be that what you are seeing is not based on margins but on some other formatting setting. For instance, let's say that your document has margins of 1 inch and that your paragraphs all use the Normal style. (This is the default style used unless you create some other styles to apply to your paragraphs.) By default, all your paragraphs start 1 inch from the left edge of the paper.

Let's say that you later change the indent on the paragraphs in the document. You select all the paragraphs and drag the indent marker on the Ruler to the right by half an inch. Now it appears that your margin is at 1.5 inches, but it isn't really. What is really going on is that your margin is still at 1 inch and your paragraph indent is at .5 inches.

This normally wouldn't cause a problem, and only the current document would be affected. However, if you have the "Automatically Update" checked for the Normal style (on the Modify Style dialog box), then the change you just made to the Normal style (the changed paragraph indent) is "written back" to the Normal template. This means that all future documents based on the Normal template will have their paragraphs indented by .5 inches. In addition, if your other documents have the "Automatically Update Document Styles" check box selected (in the Templates and Add-Ins dialog box that is used to link the template to the document), then all those existing documents will have their Normal-styled paragraphs updated to reflect the new paragraph indent.

That's a lot of "ifs," but it is not an unusual scenario. If this scenario reflects the reality of how your documents are set up, then the only way to fix it is to turn off the two mentioned check boxes and then make changes to the documents individually.

If the above scenario does not reflect what is happening in your situation, then there could be other things affecting your documents. For instance, there could be some macro running behind-the-scenes that checks to see when margins get changed. The macro could then update other documents or templates to reflect the changes. This situation should be easy to recognize; just check to see if there are any macros associated with your documents. If so, check them out and see what they are doing.

So far I've assumed that you really are working with separate documents. If your documents are being handled as a single unit in some way, then none of what I've described really applies. For instance, if you are using a master document and subdocuments, then the subdocuments will, by design, use the margin settings of the master document instead of whatever margins may be set in the subdocuments. Closely related is the scenario of opening a new document and using the Insert tab of the ribbon to add new documents into the current document. The original, individual documents (and their margins) remain unchanged, but when they are inserted in the current document they adopt the margins of that new document. You can try to get around either of these situations by judiciously using section breaks between the documents and independently setting margins within each of the sections.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (8252) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, and 2013. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Margins for All Documents Changing.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


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What is 8 - 2?

2017-07-20 08:29:11



Historically, the problem isn't confined to margins -- there can be lots of things that can change, and the only thing that matters (in the long run) is the settings and/or equipment on the final output device. Up until that point, everything can be fluid.

For this reason, whenever I've worked with printers, I don't leave the output device up to them. I create the output on MY systems, only sending them a PDF file. If I send Word documents, there have always been problems.

Good luck with getting this one resolved. I know from personal experience it can be a headache.


2017-07-19 21:33:41


Hi, Allen!


I just spent thirty minutes on the phone with someone from Microsoft, and her best answer to my issue: "Ask the community." Sigh!

While my issue isn't exactly like you mentioned, it's close enough, and not only is it baffling me, it's causing my graphic designers a lot of heartache. In fact, one got so frustrated that she walked out on me.

Anyway, the problem, as I said, is similar. I set up the defaults for margins, paper, and layout for a paperback book. I've been doing this for years, and I've never had any issues. I then gave my graphic designers the page count, which is how they know how wide the spine has to be.

When I uploaded the documents for the interior and exterior, both were off! On twelve books!

I finally discovered that the "Paper" setting had changed from my "custom" setting of 5.5" x 8.5" to a "Word Default" setting titled 5x8 inch (Borderless), and the width and height below it changed to 5.35" x 8.35".

To say the least, I was baffled. But, I remained calm, until it did it again, and again, and again. And it won't stop. I've tried everything but throwing the computer across the room, which I considered, but everything I read assured me that wouldn't help. I even took a short video, thinking that maybe if I uploaded the video someone could help.

Have you heard of this happening? I'm really lost about what to do. Not one print company offers printing of a 5.35" x 8.35" book. So what is Word thinking, and how can I fix it?

Sorry for the long comment, but this has to be something that might interest you, I hope.

Thank you in advance for any suggestions you have.

2015-02-20 08:16:27


Will: It could be any number of things. First, make sure you have non-printing characters displayed. (Click the Show/Hide All tool on the Home tab of the ribbon -- it looks like a backwards P.) That will allow you to see where Word thinks the paragraphs actually end.


2015-02-20 02:27:23

Will Porter

Ok holy crap, really need someone's help here, please respond here or email me at

So when I highlight a specific paragraph I want to alter the margins on, Word ALWAYS tries to change the margins for like 2-3 paragraphs above it, OR for the entire document.

I think I've tried everything, messed with the ruler and arrows, tried custom margins and "apply to: selected text" and it STILL does all this wacky shit, creates a whole blank page between the selection and what's beyond it.

This is incredibly frustrating. WHY Word must you arbitrarily change things in ways which I do not specify!? CURSES!!!

Any help is greatly appreciated!!

2013-04-16 09:11:45

Glenn Case

I have seen similar things happen if you change printers (or print drivers.) This is especially suspect if the changes occur when you view the document from another machine (say at home, where you have a different printer which may have differnt printable area capability from those at work.)

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