Word's disappearing white space and control defaults

These two Word tips aren't related, but users often inquire about them: what happened to my white space and how do I make a formatted control the default?

Instructions and figures are for Office 2010. Instructions for 2003 and 2013 are given when significantly different.

Users frequently ask for help with the same issues. Two Word questions that I've seen a few times over the last few months are:

  • What happened to the white space at the top and bottom margin?
  • Can I save a custom control's setting as the default for subsequent controls?

Both have easy solutions that I'll share with you today.

Show/Hide white space

A misplaced double-click is the culprit in the mysterious disappearance of the white space (header/footer section) at the top and bottom of each page. That's why it confuses users - they have no idea how it happened, so they have no idea how to restore the white space.

By default, Word displays a full sheet of paper with white space in between. The onscreen borders represent the edge of a single sheet of paper. You can hide the white space between sheets by double-clicking the top or bottom of any page. There's no real pro or con to either setting. It's strictly a user-preference setting.

To illustrate, move your mouse pointer over the top edge of the onscreen document. When the opposing arrow icon appears, Word will hide the white space if you double-click the edge. In Word 2007 and 2010, Word displays the tool tip, which makes the action more obvious, but it's still easy to reset this default without realizing what you've done.

The good news is, you can reclaim the white space the same way you lost it - simply double - click the top or bottom edge. Hover the mouse pointer over the edge until Word displays the opposing-arrow pointer. The double-click acts as a toggle.

If you support users, you can change the default to no white space out of the box by setting the White Space Between Pages In Print Layout View option in the Display options. For better or worse, users can still reset it with a simple double-click.

Reset control defaults

Users often spend a lot of time setting a control's formats just right for the job at hand. If they're going to insert multiple controls using the same custom set of formats, they can copy the control as needed. If, however, users routinely reset a few defaults for every new control in all new documents, it's more efficient to reset the control's defaults, permanently.

Fortunately, doing so is simple:

  1. Insert the control and format it appropriately - not for the job at hand, but by changing those few formats that you use in every control.
  2. Right-click the formatted control.
  3. Choose Set As Default controltype from the resulting shortcut menu.

That's it! Wasn't that easy? When you insert a new control, Word will remember the new formats until you change them or close Word.

Wait… I said permanently, didn't I? There’s the trick though - getting Word to retain the defaults permanently. To do so, open Normal.dotm (using the Trusted Templates shortcut in the Open dialog’s Favorites bar). With Normal.dotm open, follow the instructions above. Delete the formatted text box, save Normal.dotm, and then close it. All new text box controls in documents based on Normal.dotm will have your custom defaults as long as you use the Draw Text Box option.

You should find templates for Word 2003 in C:\Documents and Settings\user name\Application Data\Microsoft\Templates. If you're using Word 2013, you'll find templates in C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Templates or C:\Users\username\Documents\Custom Office Templates.

You’ll find this functionality available with most controls, shapes, and objects in all of the Office applications, not just Word.


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.


how to fix this disappearing white space (margin) issue and what created it. Thanks for this article on a simple but not otherwise apparent fix.


I never want table rows to break across pages. It's annoying to have to change this setting on every table I create. I have a Quick Part defined, but I would love to be able to permanently change the default setting for this. I tried the second tip but there is no Set as Default on the Shortcut menu. Suggestions? I'm using Office 2010.

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