Tips and tricks for copy fitting
Or: the best ways to get your document to fit to a page
Usually when you work in a word processing program such as Word, you are less concerned about making text fit on a page or within a certain number of pages than you would be in a page layout program, but occasionally you’ll want to keep a letter or résumé on a single page or compress other data into a prescribed space. The following article outlines some ways to do this; it assumes that you’re trying to squeeze in more text, but the same techniques can be used in reverse if you’re looking to pad your term paper.
Shrink to fit (not very well!)
Word has a “Shrink One Page” command that operates to reduce the length of a document by one page. Here’s where to find it:
Don’t count on this button to work very well unless you have just a small amount of text on the last page. The reason is that Word accomplishes the “shrinking” by reducing the size of every font in the document. Since it’s limited to half-point increments, there’s no very subtle way to do this. For example, in a test document containing one 14-point Heading 1, one 12-point Heading 2, and 10-point Normal text that ran just two lines over onto the second page, Shrink to Fit reduced the Heading 1 to 13.5 points, Heading 2 to 11.5 points, and Normal to 9.5 points. This got everything on one page, sure enough, leaving room for several more lines at the bottom. In the same document with ten extra lines, Shrink to Fit reduced the fonts to 12, 10.5, and 8.5 points, respectively, leaving about an inch of empty space at the bottom.
You may well conclude that you can do better than this on your own! Following are some techniques you can use.
This should always be your first line of attack. Cut the flab out of your document, eliminate repetition, etc., etc. Yeah, I know—you’ve already done that. Once a week, I have to get out a one-page newsletter. Sometimes I’m short on material and need filler, but more often I have more to put in than will fit. Some of it can be eliminated (often by postponing it till the next issue), but some of it must appear. I don’t claim that it always looks as pretty as I’d like, but I do manage to cram 12 pounds of material into a 10-pound sack week after week, so I’ve developed quite a few useful techniques.
Still on the subject of editing, combining two adjacent paragraphs into one (by deleting a paragraph mark) can often make all the difference; and as long as readability isn’t significantly compromised, this can also form a useful part of your first line of attack.
Your first impulse may be to shave the top and bottom margins. In a default Word document, these will be 1” (2.54cm) apiece. You could reduce them to 0.9” (2.29cm), and that might help. But the default left and right margins in Word 2003 and earlier are 1.25” (3.17cm); they can certainly be reduced. Even if you’ve already reduced them to 1” (which is also the default in Word 2007 and above), you can still reduce them some more. You’ll find that reducing the side margins by 0.1” will accomplish much more than doing the same to the top margins and won’t require you to change the header and footer margins (though you’ll need to adjust the right and center tabs in the header and footer, if you’ve used them—unless you used alignment tabs, available in recent versions).
Shrink One Page doesn’t have the entirely wrong idea. Sometimes reducing the size of the text is the easiest and best thing to do. Often the text is larger than it needs to be; for example, many of the letter templates I inherited from Word 2.0 use 13-point body text; this does look very nice (and helps to pad out a short letter), but when I’m pressed for space, 12-point works just as well.
Although there is a certain irreducible minimum type size for legibility, this size depends on the length of the line; text in narrower columns can be smaller. Novice newsletter editors often use much larger type than necessary in newsletter columns; not only is it unnecessary, it looks amateurish (see Typographical Tips from Microsoft Publisher).
Also, whenever possible, the same font size should be used for similar material throughout a document (though I violate this principle weekly in one block of newsletter text that must be crammed in). Assuming you use styles, the easiest way to achieve this consistency is to modify a style definition rather than apply direct formatting. How you do this depends on the version of Word you are using, but the late Word MVP Shauna Kelly’s article at “How to modify a style in Word” describes the process for most versions. An easy way to update a style is “by example”; in recent versions, you can do this using the “Update to match selection” choice in the Styles and Formatting task pane (Word 2002 and 2003) or Styles pane (Word 2007 and above)
Sometimes you can reduce the space between paragraphs (if any). For example, if a heading has 12 points Spacing Before, and you have several headings, it may be that reducing the space to 11 points (which will be undetectable) will be all that is required. Space between body text paragraphs rarely needs to be a whole line; half a line (6 points, say) can be plenty. The main thing you need to know here is that you’re not limited to the built-in 6-point steps in changing Spacing Before and After; you can type in any amount—in increments of one-tenth of a point!
The height of Word’s Auto or Single line spacing depends on the font size, of course, but also on the font. Some fonts with larger “x-heights” are designed with more “leading” (space between lines), and some fonts are more closely spaced. In general, this results in a pleasing appearance that can’t be bettered. But if you’re strapped for space, you may want to reduce the space between lines (through the Paragraph dialog). There are two ways to do this:
Exact line spacing
If you always use Single line spacing, you may have no clue how this translates into an exact number of points. For years I “knew” that the default line spacing (or leading) was 120% of the nominal font size—that is, 12 points for 10-point type, for example. This turns out to be true only for Times New Roman; some trial and error is required to find out what it is for other fonts. But regardless of what it is, you can use less. Word allows you to adjust line spacing in increments of a tenth of a point, so you can get considerable control over the spacing. If you reduce the spacing to, say, 11.8 points for 10-point type, you should see considerable difference over the course of a page.
Multiple line spacing
Since the default setting for Multiple line spacing is 3 (that is, triple spacing), it may not have occurred to you (it had certainly never occurred to me till someone else pointed it out) that you can enter a number less than one. But using “multiple” line spacing of .99 or .98 can be all it takes to make your copy fit, and the reduction is undetectable. And the best thing is, you can do this without having to figure out how many points Single spacing is.
One of the most powerful ways to compress text is with Word’s character spacing, which is set on the Character Spacing or Advanced tab of the Font dialog. Although, if you choose Condensed spacing, the default setting is 1 point, this is much more than you’re likely to need (and would be quite noticeable in body text). If you condense your text by just 0.1 point (that’s right, one tenth of a point), you’ll see a dramatic difference in line breaks, yet the compression is imperceptible. In fact, the resulting spacing is roughly equivalent to WordPerfect’s “optimal” spacing. This feature is so useful that I have put a button on my toolbar to condense text by 0.1 point.
Don’t neglect the possibilities of end-of-line hyphenation. Although I prefer to hyphenate manually (and sparingly), a hyphen in just the right place (especially if combined with condensed character spacing) can often pull up enough text to “lose” a line or more.
Blank paragraph at the end of the document
If your document ends with a table, or a drawing object such as a text box, or a text frame, or a continuous section break (to balance columns), it will be followed by a blank paragraph; and this paragraph may force your document onto another page. To fix this, format that paragraph as either Hidden or 1‑point text, with single line spacing, and no space before or after the paragraph. It helps if you create a style for the purpose and store it in your template; if you do, set the “Style for following paragraph” to be either “Normal” or “Body Text.”
Space after the last text paragraph in a column
In addition to the above, if you have a column break and the column is full to bursting and the last paragraph has (as a style attribute) some Spacing After, the column will overflow. You can solve the problem by removing the column break, but that sometimes causes other odd problems; you can, however, also solve it by removing the Spacing After. I don’t know why Word doesn’t suppress Spacing After before a column break, but it doesn’t.
Naturally, there’s a limit to how much you can compress or condense text without its being noticeable. Don’t expect miracles. And be consistent: don’t apply these methods piecemeal. If you’re going to change the line spacing, change it for the entire document, or at least for a discrete block of text in a given style (if you’re working with something like a newsletter that uses several different styles). If you’re going to condense text, always select at least an entire paragraph. If you’re going to take out space before a heading, modify the style so that all the headings have less space.
This article copyright © 2002, 2017, 2023 by Suzanne S. Barnhill. This article first appeared at the Microsoft Word MVPs’ collaborative website, where it was enhanced by then-webmaster Dave Rado’s judicious editing. I am indebted to fellow Word MVP Jay Freedman for the macro above.