Office Q&A: Placeholder formats and disappearing white space

This month, Susan Harkins shows you how to format PowerPoint placeholders and reclaim white space in a Word document.


Sometimes we look in all the wrong places for a solution, and that's frustrating. Often, the solution is simple, but we just can't find it. That's what happened to Mica and Neil. Mica wanted to change the shape of a placeholder in a PowerPoint slide; however, clicking in the gallery didn't change anything. Neil's problem was a bit more mysterious: The white space in his Word documents went missing. Luckily, the solution to both problems turned out to be straightforward.

I'm using Office 2016 (desktop) on a Windows 10 64-bit system. The PowerPoint solution will work in all Ribbon versions; the Word solution should work in Ribbon and menu versions. There's no downloadable demonstration file.

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Change placeholder border

After reading How to use picture placeholders for easy placement and cropping in PowerPoint, Mica asked how to change the default placeholder's square corners to rounded corners. To best illustrate Mica's solution, let's first insert a placeholder as follows:

  1. Click the View tab and then choose Slide Master from the Master Views group.
  2. Select any slide and click Insert Layout in the Edit Master group—for our example, the position of the new layout slide doesn't matter.
  3. In the new slide, delete any existing placeholders (or not—don't stress over this simple example). With the new slide still selected, choose Picture from the Insert Placeholder dropdown in the Master Layout group (Figure A).
  4. Drag inside the layout slide to insert the picture placeholder.
  5. Right-click the layout slide, choose Rename Layout, enter a meaningful name, such as FixedPicture1 (Figure B), and click Rename.

Figure A

Insert a picture placeholder.

Figure B

Name the placeholder for easy reuse in the presentation.

Once you have the placeholder on a layout slide for easy reuse in your presentation, you're ready to format it. In this case, we want to change the corners as follows:

  1. With the placeholder selected (in Master Slide View), click the contextual Format tab.
  2. Choose Change Shape from the Edit Shape drop-down in the Insert Shapes group (Figure C). Then, choose an AutoShape. Don't worry if you don't see the change in Master View
  3. Close Master View and return to Normal View.

Figure C

Choose the appropriate AutoShape.

To insert the layout slide with the placeholder, click the Home tab and choose the layout slide from the Layout dropdown, as shown in Figure D. As you can see in Figure E, the placeholder has rounded corners.

Figure D

Choose the custom layout slide.

Figure E

The picture placeholder is an AutoShape that you can format.

To change the shape of only one placeholder, work in Normal View. Select the placeholder in question and you'll find the same options listed above. The only difference is that you'll change only the one placeholder.

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Missing white space

This question hits my Inbox frequently, so it's worth repeating. Neil suspected something was amiss with Word's Normal template: The white space that represents the header and footer area of each page disappeared. Figure F shows the difference between what most of us see and what he was seeing. Notice where the cursor is in both shots. The header and footer are still there; the margins are still there—you just don't see them.

Figure F

Sometimes the white space disappears.

This happens when you accidentally double-click the top or bottom edge of the document. When your cursor hovers over this edge, it changes to the one shown in Figure G. It even displays a screen tip about what will happen if you double-click: If you double-click, Word hides the white space that represents your header/footer area.

Figure G

Don't double-click unless you want to hide the white space.

Users have no idea what's happened and frustration sets in when attempts to reclaim that space fail. Fortunately, the fix is simple—double-click that edge. It's a simple toggle. However, it's an application-level setting, which means the white space remains hidden until you reclaim it using the double-click. That explains why Neil thought something was wrong with his template.

Send me your question about Office

I answer readers' questions when I can, but there's no guarantee. Don't send files unless requested; initial requests for help that arrive with attached files will be deleted unread. You can send screenshots of your data to help clarify your question. When contacting me, be as specific as possible. For example, "Please troubleshoot my workbook and fix what's wrong" probably won't get a response, but "Can you tell me why this formula isn't returning the expected results?" might. Please mention the app and version that you're using. I'm not reimbursed by TechRepublic for my time or expertise when helping readers, nor do I ask for a fee from readers I help. You can contact me at

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About Susan Harkins

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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