Nobody wants a two-page document when one will do, but often that's exactly what you get. You've probably spent a lot of time perfecting the formats you use in your Word documents, so changing those to force content to fit on a single page is often counter-productive. Instead, try these simple tips to force overflowing content onto a single page.
Start by applying the tips in order — proceed down the list, only if needed. You'll seldom use more than one or two of these tips in the same document. Being familiar with the possibilities is the key to getting the right results every time.
1. Edit with no mercy
The best way to make content fit on a single page is to reduce the content. If you're over by only a few lines or even a paragraph, removing a few characters here and there might suffice:
- Combine paragraphs where logical.
- Remove superfluous adjectives; adverbs are seldom required in business documents.
- Compound sentences can usually be reduced.
- Replace large words with smaller ones; the smallest word that gets the job done is the best.
- Reconsider the audience and remove content that doesn't apply.
- Remove the following words: actual/actually, basically, especially, essentially, just, really, simply, totally, thus, and very. There are lots of words that are virtually meaningless in today's writing due to overuse. How many ways could you reduce the size of the last sentence:
- Many words are meaningless in today's writing due to overuse.
- Many words are rendered meaningless by overuse.
- Overuse has rendered many words meaningless.
- Remove The at the beginning of a sentence (it's almost always possible).
- Remove extraneous words and phrases: as a result, therefore, however, and of course. Retain these only when the pause is important to make or redirect a point.
- Rework prepositional phrases by using the object as an adjective. For instance, the blue dress is superior in style and uses fewer characters than the dress of blue.
Be careful that you don't change the content's tone from friendly and conversational to dry and unimaginative. It's difficult to edit your own work; for tips on doing so, read "10+ ways to improve your writing by self-editing."
2. Shrink to Fit
If editing doesn't do the trick, Word' Shrink to Fit feature is worth trying. This feature reduces the font size by half-point increments until it reduces the document by a page. In Word 2003, you'll find Shrink to Fit on the Print Preview toolbar. In Word 2007, check the Print Preview tab. It's not readily available in Word 2010 and 2013, but you can add it to the Quick Access Toolbar (QAT) as follows:
- Click the Customize Quick Access Toolbar drop-down.
- Choose More Commands.
- In the resulting dialog, choose All Commands from the Choose commands from drop-down.
- Select Shrink One Page in the resulting list to add it to the QAT list (Figure A).
- Click OK to add Shrink to Fit to the QAT (Figure B).
Every time you click Shrink to Fit, Word reduces the document by a single page. It doesn't reduce the entire document to one page with a single click. It might take multiple clicks to achieve the results you want. When this feature works, it's quick and easy, but be prepared to tweak the results.
3. Paragraph and line spacing
Consider reducing the spacing between paragraphs, headings, and so on using the following guidelines:
- Change Line Spacing from Multiple (the default) to Single.
- Remove the automatic spacing after paragraphs by checking the Don't add space between paragraphs of the same style option (Figure C).
- For headings, reduce the Spacing Before (or After) by a point or two, which you'll hardly notice.
- For textual paragraphs, reduce the space between up to half the font size.
- The latest versions of Word defaults to 1.15 line spacing, which is good for online text but unnecessary for printed documents. Change this setting to 1 line for printed documents.
These options are available by clicking Line and Paragraph Spacing in the Paragraph group — or click that group's dialog launcher. You can mix and match these options for the best results, but you'll seldom need them all in the same document.
4. Use smaller font
Instead of changing the spacing, or in combination with reduced spacing, you can reduce the font for the body text. A printed document can go as low as 10-point without impacting readability, but 12 is preferable. If the document's font is larger than 12, begin by reducing it to 12. Continue to reduce a little at a time — in .1 increments. Columnar font size can be smaller than that used for full-length lines.
5. Reduce margins
My least favorite tactic is to reduce a document's margins. Word's default margins are near perfect for most documents, and reducing them reduces readability (in my opinion), so approach this change conservatively. Make changes in small increments — 0.1 at a time.
6. Reduce header and footer
Re-evaluate the necessity of header and footer text. If your document has both, consider combining their contents into one. If they're not essential to the document's purpose or required by your organizational conventions, remove them.
A little is more
The key is to find the option that changes the composite document the least. Start with #1 and continue on as needed. Combining two or more options achieves good results. Any of the options discussed in this article can cause problems if used too aggressively.
Styles shine in this situation. It's much easier to change (or reverse) a style than to update the entire document manually.
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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.