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Margins for All Documents Changing

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Margins for All Documents Changing.

Dick wondered why, when he changes the margins of one document in a series of many, does Word change the margins of every document. From all he's ever read about Word that is not supposed to happen.

Dick is right; this is not supposed to happen. Word documents are based on templates, and when you create a document the margins are set according to the setting in the template you use. (If you don't instruct Word to use a specific template, it still uses one called Normal.dot to create the document and the document's margins are based on what is in Normal.dot.) If you later change the margins in the template, Word doesn't change the margins in any existing documents based on that template. It does, however, affect any documents you create in the future that are based on that template. If you have a whole series of documents based on the same template and you change the margins in one of the documents then the margins in the other documents (and in the template on which they are based) remain unaffected.

So, if your document margins are changing in some way not described above, there could be a couple of things at play. First of all, it could be that what you are seeing is not based on margins but on some other formatting setting. For instance, let's say that your document has margins of 1 inch and that your paragraphs all use the Normal style. (This is the default style used unless you create some other styles to apply to your paragraphs.) By default, all your paragraphs start 1 inch from the left edge of the paper.

Let's say that you later change the indent on the paragraphs in the document. You select all the paragraphs and drag the indent marker on the Ruler to the right by half an inch. Now it appears that your margin is at 1.5 inches, but it isn't really. What is really going on is that your margin is still at 1 inch and your paragraph indent is at .5 inches.

This normally wouldn't cause a problem, and only the current document would be affected. However, if you have the "Automatically Update" checked for the Normal style (on the Modify Style dialog box), then the change you just made to the Normal style (the changed paragraph indent) is "written back" to the Normal.dot template. This means that all future documents based on the Normal.dot template will have their paragraphs indented by .5 inches. In addition, if your other documents have the "Automatically Update Document Styles" check box selected (in the Templates and Add-Ins dialog box that is used to link the template to the document), then all those existing documents will have their Normal-styled paragraphs updated to reflect the new paragraph indent.

That's a lot of "ifs," but it is not an unusual scenario. If this scenario reflects the reality of how your documents are set up, then the only way to fix it is to turn off the two mentioned check boxes and then make changes to the documents individually.

If the above scenario does not reflect what is happening in your situation, then there could be other things affecting your documents. For instance, there could be some macro running behind-the-scenes that checks to see when margins get changed. The macro could then update other documents or templates to reflect the changes. This situation should be easy to recognize; just check to see if there are any macros associated with your documents. If so, check them out and see what they are doing.

So far I've assumed that you really are working with separate documents. If your documents are being handled as a single unit in some way, then none of what I've described really applies. For instance, if you are using a master document and subdocuments, then the subdocuments will, by design, use the margin settings of the master document instead of whatever margins may be set in the subdocuments. Closely related is the scenario of opening a new document and using the Insert menu to add new documents into the current document. The original, individual documents (and their margins) remain unchanged, but when they are inserted in the current document they adopt the margins of that new document. You can try to get around either of these situations by judiciously using section breaks between the documents and independently setting margins within each of the sections.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (8251) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Margins for All Documents Changing.

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