Disappearing Column Formatting

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated July 29, 2020)


Matthew is a Teacher's Aid at a small school and recently Word has been resetting his documents to the default settings. For instance, he opens a new blank document, sets it up for two columns, types up his page, and saves the file. When he later reopens the document, Word has reset it to the default one-column setting. Matthew wonders if there is a way to keep the formatting for that document.

Word should definitely remember column formatting from one session with a document to the next with the same document. There are a few things, therefore, that could be happening.

First, it is a good idea to make sure that you are viewing the document in a manner that allows the columns to be displayed. If, for instance, you are viewing the document in Draft view, then the columns won't show on the screen—everything will show as a single column. So, use the View tab of the ribbon and check in the Document Views group to see what view is being used. If it is Draft view, switch to a different view.

You should also check to ensure that you have columns set up correctly. Make sure that you are using the Columns tool on the Layout tab of the ribbon. If your document uses sections, then the column changes you make should apply to the section in which you are working. If you later delete the section break at the end of the section, then the columns may automatically "disappear" if the following section has a different number of columns. (This is because section formatting—including the number of columns in the section—is stored in the break at the end of the section.)

If it was other types of formatting that was disappearing (such as character or paragraph formatting) it could be because changes are being made in other documents to which a common template is attached. For instance, if your problem document shares the same template with another document, and while editing the other document you make changes to the template, then those changes may be reflected in the problem document the next time you open it.

Finally, if it is none of these items, it is possible that the document is experiencing some corruption issues. Copy the text to a plain-text editor (such as Notepad) and then copy it back into a brand new document. You'll need to reapply formatting, but the document should not exhibit any corruption issues like the previous document did.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (13413) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016.

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 3 - 3?

2021-12-29 08:53:16


Thank you! It was automatically set to web layout. I switched to print layout and the columns reappeared.

2018-10-01 22:02:25

Ian Batty

Looking for help with Word 2007.

I'm creating a three-column index. That part works fine - entries appear correctly formatted with correct page numbers.

But I want to restrict the index to just two pages. I can reduce the font size, but a better move would be to adjust the default column width and to add line between.

I can do this explicitly, but every time I rebuild the index it goes back to the default settings.

These are the same as if I just set the body to three columns. This implies that the indexing function is calling up default column settings.

So.... how can I find the *default/master* settings that the indexing function is setting to, and adjust those default settings.

There doesn't seem to be a master "columns" style that I can get access to, so I'd appreciate any tips on how to *permanently* adjust column width and add line between.



2017-10-12 07:17:25


Thank you so much!

2017-03-27 12:14:59

Todd Sauve

Thank you for the article. This happened to me, I hadn't considered that possibility that Word changed my view settings. It had switched to "Web Layout". Changed it back to "Print Layout" and was much relieved to see my columns were still there. Now looking at it, the "web layout" might actually be easier to use when editing the document.

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