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: Self-Adjusting Column Widths.

Self-Adjusting Column Widths

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated April 19, 2014)

When setting up a Word document, it is typically most efficient to define your document margins first, then your page layout, then your paragraphs, and finally your individual character formatting. The reason for moving from the "larger picture" toward the smaller when formatting is because changes in the more encompassing elements affect those with a smaller scope.

An example of this is using columns in your document. Columns are a page-layout attribute, and Word allows you to effectively set whatever number of columns you need. These columns are evenly spaced within the document (provided the Equal Column Width check box is selected in the Columns dialog box), or they are set to the specific widths you indicate.

Column widths are always set based on the available horizontal space, between the page margins. What happens if you go back and change the page margins after you set your column widths? The answer depends on the setting of the Equal Column Width check box.

If the check box is selected, the column widths are self-adjusting. Word automatically adjusts the width of all columns to reflect the space available based on the new margin settings. If the check box is not selected, however, then Word only adjusts the width of your left-most and right-most columns. If you have only two columns, this is not a big deal. If you have more than two columns, however, the center columns remain their original width and the outside column widths are changed. If you have more than two columns in your document, you will want to check column widths to make sure they still reflect your needs.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (13069) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, and 2013. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Self-Adjusting Column Widths.

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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