Three ways to display text in the margin of a Word document

Use these simple methods to display text and graphics in the left or right margin of a Word document.

You might think adding text to the margin of a document is a job for publishing software, but Word can handle it.  You can use a negative left indent for text that starts in the left margin and then extends into the body of the document. When you want to position text completely in the left margin, alongside normal text, you can use a text box, a column, or even a table. The text box is the easiest method to implement and maintain.

Negative left indent

This first method for displaying text in the margin is the easiest - you simply apply a negative left indent as follows:

  1. Select the text.
  2. Click the Paragraph group's dialog launcher (the small arrow in the bottom-right corner). In Word 2003, choose Paragraph from the Formatting menu.
  3. Click the Indents and Spacing tab, if necessary.
  4. In the Indention section, enter a negative Left value, such as -.75.
  5. Click OK.

If you apply this format often, consider creating a style. This method is certainly easy, but the text extends to the right, beyond the margin - it isn't confined to the margin. For that, you can use a text box.

Margin text box

When you want to drop text into the margin, as a special visual element, the negative indent won't do. Fortunately, a text box is easy to insert, format, and position. Before you try this, however, be sure to disable Word's drawing layer, as follows:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options (under Help). In Word 2007, click the Office button and then click Word Options. In Word 2003, choose Options from the Tools menu.
  2. Click Advanced in the left pane. In Word 2003, click the General tab.
  3. In the Editing Options section, uncheck the Automatically Create Drawing Canvas When Inserting AutoShapes options. (In Word 2003, it's in the General Options section.)
  4. Click OK.

You can still use all the drawing tools; you just won't have the added headache of working in layers. Now, let's add the text "Use Quick Styles" to the left of the formatting paragraph in the example document, as follows:

  1. Click the Insert menu and Click Text Box in the Text group. Then, choose Draw Text Box (from the list below the gallery options). In Word 2003, choose Text Box from the Drawing toolbar (View, Toolbars, Drawing).
  2. Use the mouse to drag and drop a text box of the approximate size in the margin. Notice that the box is about the same height as the paragraph - that will help us center the text later.
  3. Enter the text "Use Quick Styles."
  4. On the Contextual Format ribbon, choose Middle from the Align Text dropdown in the Text group.
  5. Choose No Outline from the Shape Outline dropdown in the Shape Styles group.
  6. Next, click the Home tab and click Italics in the Font group and Center in the Paragraph group. You can also change the font's color, face, and so on.

In Print Layout (view), Word easily displays the text. You can move the box or apply most any formatting that you like, as long as the drawing layer is disabled. (For more information on Word's drawing layer, read 10+ ways to avoid drawing layer headaches in Word.)

Anchor to the header

We could easily quit here and have a comprehensive review of adding text to the left margin, but let's push on. You can also anchor margin text to the header and Word will display it on every page! First, open the header by double-clicking the header section. In Word 2003, choose Header and Footer from the View menu. The technique is essentially the same in both versions, but the header section looks different.

With the header in edit mode, and the cursor in the header section, repeat the steps above to add a text box, format it, and position it in the right margin. As you can see below, I used WordArt and rotated the text box. Then, with the header still in edit mode, I moved it to the right of its corresponding section, within the body of the document. When you're done, close the header.

In this case, you probably wouldn't want to display this text on every page, but the technique itself is sound. To edit the text box, you'll have to work in the header - remember, the text box is actually in the header, regardless of where you position it.

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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