Documents set for success margins

Set up your documents for success: margins

posted in: Editing | 0

In the previous blog post I looked at setting up your document and checking that the page size, orientation (portrait or landscape) and document language were correct. These are easy basic steps to ensure your document looks as good as possible. One particular area that often causes problems is margins. A margin is the space around the edge of the page. The standard Word margins are 2.54 cm all round, but sometimes you will need to change these, or you can ask your proofreader or copy-editor if they will help with this – I’m always happy to format documents to achieve consistency.


Basic choices margins
Basic choices of margins, or choose ‘custom’

Before you start

First, check whether your institution or journal has any special rules about the style of documents, especially if these are going to be printed. I am often asked to help with the formatting of Master’s and PhD theses, especially things like margins and line spacing. If a document is going to be printed into hard copy and bound then the width of margins is important. The margin that runs down the centre spine of a bound document is known as the gutter margin. If you are looking at a book opened out flat, this will be on the right-hand side of the left (verso) page and the left-hand side of the right) recto page. In Word these are called mirror margins. These are often set slightly wider than the margins at top and bottom, or the outside of the page in order to stop text from becoming trapped in the binding and, thus, making the document unreadable.

Set your page margin

Mirror margins
Customise or change mirror margins in this dialogue box

Let’s take a recent assignment I edited. My client’s university instructions were to format the document with ‘a left binding margin of 40 mm and all other margins 20 mm’. First, go to the ‘page layout’ tab – that’s the fifth one along the ribbon in Word 2013. Click on the first option ‘ Margins’. The normal setting, the one that will appear on all documents unless you specifically change it, has the same size margins of 2.54 cm on all four sides of the page. If you need to change the margins widths there are several pre-formed options, or click at the bottom to bring up another window to set your own ‘custom margins’. In this screen shot I’ve changed the margins to suit my client’s document, with the binding edge on the left. Every page will be the same. Remember that 40 mm = 4 cm; Word seems to prefer to work in centimetres rather than millimetres.

Mirror margins

If your document is going to be printed and bound book-style, then you may need to change the margins to mirror margins. This options sets a different layout for each of the two double pages, with the inside margin wider. In Word 2013 there is a pre-set option for ‘mirrored’ in which Word increases the size of the inside margin to 3.18 cm. If this does not meet your requirements then it is easy to change the width of mirror margins, too. First, on the margins drop-down menu make sure you have changed the type of margins from ‘normal’ to ‘mirrored’, then click the custom margins tab at the bottom. This will bring up the page layout dialogue box in the centre of the screen. You’ll see that the margins are set to mirrored, with the diagram of two opposite pages. As in the example opposite the sizes are set, you can then change the width, up or down, of the inside margin (that’s the one that is usually wider), or indeed any of the others, as necessary.

I hope that this post has shed some light on changing the margins on your document. Please do get in touch if you need any help with this, or any aspect of proofreading, editing or formatting your next assignment.