Making Columns the Same Length

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated January 30, 2017)


Don is working with documents that have two columns and then a section of one column and then a larger section of three columns. In the three-column section, Don wonders how he can get the three columns to be the same length as each other.

This concept of making column lengths (or, more precisely, column depths) the same as each other is referred to as balancing. Balanced column depth provides a more pleasing appearance on the printed page, but it can be more complicated than one would expect. The biggest complication is calculating the vertical space required for the columns. The reason is because vertical space is affected by such settings as line spacing, paragraph spacing (before and after), and font sizes used. Also affecting vertical text flow (from column to column) will be things like your "keep together" and "keep with" paragraph settings, as well as whether there are objects within the columns (graphics or text boxes) around which the text must flow.

Since this flow of text among the columns can be affected by so many different things, it is best to allow Word, itself, to do the balancing. The easiest way to force Word to make the "tough decisions" is to simply put a continuous section break after the text in the third column. Follow these steps:

  1. Position the insertion point at the end of the text in the third column.
  2. Display the Page Layout tab of the ribbon.
  3. Click on the drop-down arrow at the right of the Breaks tool. Word displays a number of types of breaks you could enter.
  4. Choose the Continuous option. Word inserts the section break.

That's it; Word does its best to balance the depth of each of the three columns. If you later add text, delete text, or change formatting in the three columns, Word will once again automatically attempt to balance out the columns.

It should be noted that column balancing in Word is not as precise as it is in specialized page layout software such as InDesign or Framemaker. In such software balancing is accomplished by adding very small increments of space between each line in a column, whereas in Word the balancing is more "rough" in nature. For most purposes short of professional publishing, though, the Word approach will be satisfactory.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (12862) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, and 2013.

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 0 + 2?

2017-07-31 13:32:47


I'm using mac word 2011 and it will not make the columns even! this is what I see after going from 1 column to 3: (see Figure 1 below)

If I try to add a column break at end of column 2 before Mosher thinking they will move to column 3, this is what it does. It will not move the bottom of the 3rd column down! (see Figure 2 below)

Figure 1. 

Figure 2. 

2017-01-30 17:12:54

Anthony Nott

A beautiful result from a simple solution!

2017-01-30 09:50:45

Benjamin C. Morin

Dr. Kannan

If you are saying that the thesis summary should be a max length of 1500 characters, that means that it should be no more than 300 words. Five strokes equals to one typing word; thus 1500 strokes divided by 5 strokes equals 300 words.

I hope this helps.


2017-01-30 09:28:23


Does the continuous section breaks allow the table headings to continue across the entire table?


2017-01-27 00:51:27


Thanks so much, was a great tip!

2016-10-25 17:08:27


Wow, thanks for the great tip. I would have never thought of that.

2016-05-19 05:18:03


PhD Thesis summary max length many words...reply

2013-12-30 10:03:37


Great tip... I think.
For novices like myself its hard to follow without some step by step diagrams. If I haven't had this issue or I'm not familiar with the nomenclature I can't visualize the problem or the fix. Can you include some illustrative diagrams or screen captures in your tips?

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