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: Using Parallel Columns.

Using Parallel Columns

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated November 14, 2020)

Those coming to Word from WordPerfect may long for a way to create parallel columns, as could be done in WordPerfect. Those who never used WordPerfect, of course, may not even know what is meant by the phrase "parallel columns." In WordPerfect there are two types of columns you can create: newspaper columns and parallel columns. The difference between the two is how they behave in relation to a printed page.

WordPerfect's newspaper columns are essentially the same as the columns feature in Word. For instance, imagine that you have a two-column layout in a three-page document. Text begins in the first column of the first page. When the text reaches the bottom margin of the first page, the text continues at the top of the second column on the first page. When the bottom of that column is reached, text begins at the top of the first column on the second page, and so on. Columns are filled left to right, page by page. This is the same way that text "flows" in a newspaper, so WordPerfect referred to this layout as newspaper columns.

The parallel columns behavior is different, however. In a layout with two parallel columns, covering the same three pages, text would not wrap from the first column to the second on each page. Essentially, the columns are independent from each other, and are nothing more than a way to present side-by-side (parallel) text. When the bottom of the first column is reached on the first page, WordPerfect continues with the text at the top of the first column on the second page.

There is no equivalent to this in the Word world. Those who have been with Word since the DOS days may remember the old side-by-side paragraphs that could be used. This was, perhaps, the closest to WordPerfect's parallel columns. (Side-by-side paragraphs were a great feature in Word for DOS. I know of at least one user—me—who regularly misses the feature.)

The only workaround for this in Word is to use tables to emulate parallel columns. (In fact, if you import into Word a WordPerfect document that contains parallel columns, Word converts them to a table.) All you need to do is create a single-row table with either two or three columns. (If you use a three-column table, the center column can be used for white space between the outside columns.) Simply start typing in the left-most and right-most columns. Your table depth will expand, as necessary, even across multiple pages.

The only drawback with the table approach is that Word assumes you want a border around your table. You will need to remove the border from the table using any number of methods described in other issues of WordTips. You may also need to play with the table layout so that your columns are the desired width and that they appear "proper" in relation to the other text in your document.

Another potential drawback is if your single-row table runs a large number of pages in length. If your table fits on two, three, or even five pages, you should be fine. If it is longer than that, then you need to make sure you break the table into multiple rows, as appropriate for your content, otherwise your document could become unstable. (WordPerfect users shouldn't be too smug about Word's instability with large, single-row tables. A quick search through WordPerfect's Knowledge Base shows instability problems with excessively long parallel columns, as well.)

If you know that the content of your parallel columns will fit on a single page, you can also use text boxes. Simply place your text boxes side-by-side and place the text in them that you want. You can format the text boxes to appear as you desire. If your content runs multiple pages, you can also use linked text boxes to flow the text properly from one page to another.

Another way to emulate parallel columns is to use the regular columns feature of Word. This approach will only work if the content in the columns will fit on a single page. All you need to do is place the second-column content right after the first-column content. You can then separate the content by a column break (press Shift+Ctrl+Enter).

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1309) 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: Using Parallel Columns.

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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