Understanding Frames and Text Boxes

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated January 2, 2012)

If you are a relatively new user of Word, you may not be familiar with the term frame. Prior to Word 95, the only way to place boxed text in a document, independent of the main document text, was to use a frame. In Word 97, Microsoft made the switch and focused almost exclusively on text boxes. In modern versions of Word, if you want to insert a frame, you need to either customize your toolbars or go through a rather convoluted process. This is described in a previous issue of WordTips.

The relationship between frames and text boxes may be confusing to some people. Why, for instance, should one be used in preference to the other? If text boxes are the latest-and-greatest thing, then why didn't Microsoft simply make frames more robust rather than come out with text boxes in addition to frames?

According to Microsoft sources, even though frames continue to be available in the latest versions of Word, in most cases you should use a text box in preference to a frame. Text boxes provide nearly all the advantages of frames, along with many additional advantages. For example, text boxes allow you to do the following, which cannot be done directly with frames:

  • Create links that allow text to flow from one text box to another.
  • Create watermarks.
  • Use most of the formatting options on the Drawing toolbar, including 3-D effects, shadows, border styles, colors, fills, and backgrounds.
  • Select from a greater variety of text-wrapping options.
  • Change the orientation of text within a text box.
  • Group text boxes together and collectively change their alignment or distribution.

This is not to say that text boxes are suitable for all uses. Indeed, text boxes cannot handle some Word features, which are available in frames. You should use frames if you want to use text that contains the following:

  • Comments (annotations).
  • Footnotes.
  • Some fields, such as AutoNum, AutoNumLgl, AutoNumOut, TC, TOC, RD, XE, TA, and TOA.

The upshot of all this is that you need to carefully consider how you will be using your frames or text boxes in order to determine which is the best for you. If you are still in doubt, you can always start with a text box and later convert it to a frame, if you discover you can't do what you want.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1055) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

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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