by Allen Wyatt
(last updated August 15, 2016)
Ralph writes documents that need specific alpha characters to the left of each paragraph. These letters should appear in the margin, similar to line numbers. The characters are typically the same for the entire document, meaning they don't change from paragraph to paragraph. Ralph wonders if there is a way to automatically insert these characters next to each paragraph.
There are a couple of approaches you could use to accomplish this. First, you could type the alpha character at the beginning of each paragraph and press the Tab key. Then, format the paragraph so that it uses a hanging indent that puts the first line into the left margin a bit. This could be easily done using styles that could be applied to the paragraphs.
If you have lots of paragraphs you want to do this with, it can be tedious to type the alpha character and press Tab for each paragraph. Fortunately, it is easy to create a macro that can take care of the tedium for you.
Sub FmtParagraphs() Dim p As Paragraph For Each p In ActiveDocument.Content.Paragraphs If p.Style = "MyAlpha" Then With p.Range .InsertBefore "R" & Chr(9) End With End If Next p End Sub
The macro looks for any paragraph in the document that uses the MyAlpha style. (This assumes that MyAlpha" is the special hanging-indent style you created to effect this approach.) When it finds one, it inserts the letter "R" in front of the paragraph and then a tab character. You could easily modify this macro to check for a different style name or to add a different alpha character.
A similar approach is to define a style that utilizes a modified bulleted list. Instead of using a regular bullet, you could define the list to use the alpha character as a bullet. When applying the style to the paragraphs, the alpha character would appear automatically and you wouldn't need to type it or the tab to separate it from the main body of the paragraph.
Both approaches mentioned so far work quickly and easily for relatively simple documents. They won't work, however, if your documents include regular numbered or bulleted lists. In that case, you'll need to use a different approach—one that relies on text boxes for the placement of the alpha character.
The reason this approach may be preferable for complex documents is that it doesn't rely on styles. That means you can have a wide variety of numbered and bulleted lists in your documents, but still have the alpha characters positioned to the left of each paragraph, in the margin. Further, the text boxes can be formatted so that they are anchored to each paragraph and move with the paragraph as Word repaginates the document.
Of course, if you have a document that has 300 paragraphs in it, adding text boxes to each paragraph can be tedious, not to mention excruciating when you start to format each text box. Again, macros can help to relieve the tedium. The following macro can be used to automatically copy a selected text box to all the other paragraphs in a document.
Sub TextBoxesInMargin() Dim aShape As Shape Dim aPara As Paragraph Dim j As Long Dim shpTop As Single Dim shpLeft As Single Dim aRange As Range If ActiveDocument.Shapes.Count = 0 Then GoTo noTextbox If Selection.ShapeRange.Count <> 1 Then GoTo noTextbox Set aShape = Selection.ShapeRange(1) With aShape If .Type <> msoTextBox Then GoTo noTextbox If aShape.RelativeVerticalPosition <> wdRelativeVerticalPositionParagraph Then MsgBox "The text box must be positioned relative to a paragraph" Exit Sub End If shpTop = .Top shpLeft = .Left aShape.Select Selection.Copy End With For Each aPara In ActiveDocument.Paragraphs Set aRange = aPara.Range If Len(aRange.Text) > 1 Then ' only non blank paragraphs aRange.Select Selection.Paste Selection.ShapeRange.Top = shpTop Selection.ShapeRange.Left = shpLeft End If Next aPara Exit Sub noTextbox: MsgBox "Text box is not selected" End Sub
To use the macro, format a single small text box to hold your alpha character. Make sure the text box is anchored to the paragraph that you place it beside, and that it's position is correct relative to the paragraph. Once the text box looks just the way you want it to look, select it and then run the macro. The text box is copied and pasted beside every other paragraph in the document.
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