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: Understanding Point Sizes.

Understanding Point Sizes

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated February 28, 2015)

A point is a typographical term for a unit of measure. It is roughly equivalent to 1/72 of an inch. Points are understood and used extensively by everyone in the publishing trade, particularly in design, typesetting, and printing. They are most commonly used with type specifications. Word uses point sizes to specify the height of all the fonts it uses. Thus, when you use a 12-point type, you are using one that occupies a character box approximately 12/72 (or 1/6) of an inch high. Likewise, 72-point type uses a character box that is about one inch tall.

In typesetting, points are also the measurement of choice when specifying line leading (as discussed in the next tip). It is not uncommon to specify type in the format 10/12, meaning 10-point type on 12-point line leading.

If you are familiar with points, you can use them as a standard measurement in Word. When entering a measurement in points, simply use the characters pt at the end of the measurement. Alternately, you can set your default measurement to points by choosing Options from the Tools menu, then clicking on the General tab and changing the Measurement Units selection to Points.

Remember that points, in Word, are approximate values. Whereas Word considers a point equal to 1/72 of an inch, in professional typography a point is equal to 1/72.27 of an inch. This may not sound like much of a difference, but if you are dealing with a large number of points the "error" can accumulate and make Word unsuitable for some purposes, especially exacting typesetting work.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (161) 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: Understanding Point Sizes.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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