Using Headers and Footers

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Making the most of headers and footers

Important Note: This article is for Word 2003 and earlier. For a version of this article for Word 2007 and above, see “Using Headers and Footers.”

I’m often surprised to find that certain Word users are completely unaware of the headers and footers feature in Word. In part, this is because Word’s designers hid it. When we think about the useful things Word has to offer, we usually expect to find them on the Insert menu: page numbers, date and time, AutoText, fields, symbols, comments, footnotes and endnotes, cross-references, indexes and tables, text boxes, pictures, frames, diagrams… Word has a lot of tricks up its sleeve, and the Insert menu is home to most of them. Yet Header and Footer is hidden on the View menu. Why would it occur to a user to view something that doesn’t yet exist? Word 2007 and above make it much easier to access headers and footers and provides new ways of working with them.

Users who come straight from a typewriter to Word don’t think of using headers and footers because they’re used to manually typing text at the beginning or end of a page. It may not occur to them that there is a better way. But the header/footer feature in Word is one of its most useful tools, one that users need to learn how to take advantage of.

When should I use a header or footer?

There are two situations in which you should immediately realize that a header or footer is required:

  1. Whenever you need to repeat text or graphics on a page. Usually such text will be a “running head” or “running foot” at the top or bottom of the page, but header and footer content is not confined to the top and bottom; it can appear anywhere on the page—in the same place on every page (but some content can be dynamic; for example, a page number can change on every page).

  2. Whenever you need to put text at the beginning or end of a document that will stay put and be out of the way.

Repeated text

One of the most common elements of a header or footer is a page number. You may already have figured out how to number pages using the Insert | Page Numbers command. For simple documents, this feature actually offers a great deal of power and flexibility: you can omit the page number on the first page, you can choose where you want it to appear (top or bottom, left, center, or right—even inside or outside for facing pages), and you can choose from a variety of number formats. You can choose to include a chapter number (see, and you can choose a starting page number. With care, you can even use this feature in documents with more than one section. If you know what you’re doing, you can edit the page field that Word inserts for you, to add text such as “Page” before the number.

Usually, though, in anything but the simplest type of document, page numbers inserted this way become difficult to use (especially if you want to combine them with other text). Moreover, if you decide not to use them, there is no way to “turn them off” from the Page Numbers dialog, and if you remove them incompletely (failing to delete the frame the page number is in), you can have puzzling problems down the line (see “Text at the top of the page is unaccountably indented”).

In any situation where you need more than a simple page number (even something as simple as “Page 1 of n”), you should use a header or footer. This includes book and chapter titles (or the name of the author) in books, section titles in reports, logos and letterheads in letters, watermarks, and so on.

Text that stays put

The most common example of text that belongs in a header is a letterhead. You want to put that at the beginning of a letter, and you want it to be out of the way of other text you will add, so that it doesn’t get pushed down the page. Usually you don’t want it repeated on every page, so you use a special kind of header for it. This is discussed briefly below and in detail in “How to set up a letter template.

Another example is text you want to stay at the end of a document, no matter how much text you add to the document. You can put that in a footer. Again, you don’t want it repeated on every page, but there is a way to achieve that, too, as will be detailed below.

Creating a header or footer

As mentioned above, even if you think your document doesn’t yet have a header or footer, you have to use View | Header and Footer to create one. This may seem illogical to you, but in fact, the header and footer already exist; they’re just empty until you put something in them.

Unlike WordPerfect, where the header and footer are at the top and bottom margin, and you have to add space between them and the document text, Word reserves space for the header and footer outside the top and bottom margins. They have their own distinct margins, which you set from the Margins tab of File | Page Setup in Word 2000 and earlier and on the Layout tab of Word 2002 and above (see Figure 1).1

Figure 1. The Layout tab of the Page Setup dialog showing default header and footer margin settings.

Once you have created a header or footer, you can open it for editing in Print Layout view by double-clicking on the existing content. To open it the first time, however (or to access it from Normal view), you must select View | Header and Footer. When you do this, Word opens the header pane and displays the Header and Footer toolbar (see Figure 2). This toolbar offers a number of useful buttons that will be discussed throughout this article. The first one you should find is the Switch Between Header and Footer button. If you are trying to create a footer rather than a header, this is what you need to get to the footer pane.

Figure 2. The Header and Footer toolbar

If you have nonprinting characters displayed, you will see a paragraph mark (¶) in the header or footer pane indicating the empty Header or Footer paragraph. This is where you will type. By default, the Header and Footer styles have a center tab stop at the center of the line and a right tab stop at the right margin. (If you are unfamiliar with these terms, see the article “Setting tabs.”) If you have changed the side margins of your document, you will need to move these tab stops so they will be in the true center and at the new right margin. The easiest way to do this is using the ruler. You can use these built-in tab stops to place text at the left, center, and right of your header.

As mentioned, the Header and Footer toolbar provides shortcuts to many of the elements you might want to put in a header or footer. For example, there are buttons for inserting the page number, the number of pages, the date, and the time, and the AutoText menu offers boilerplate such as “Page X of Y” (where X represents the page number and Y the number of pages in the document) and “Filename” or “Filename and path.”2

What you can put in a header or footer

Anything. Really! Most of the time you’ll be putting plain text (and fields that create text), but you can also insert graphics, tables, and almost anything else you can put in the body of the document. Moreover, you are not confined to the header/footer area. If you change the wrapping of graphics, text boxes, or WordArt from “In Line With Text” to “Behind Text” (or some other wrapping style), you can place them anywhere on the page. This allows you to create, for example, a watermark that appears behind the text in the middle of every page, or a page number or other text that floats in the side margin rather than at the top or bottom. When you use Format | Background | Printed Watermark in Word 2002 or 2003, this is what Word is doing behind the scenes; if you have difficulty removing your watermark through the Printed Watermark dialog, you can open the header pane and select and delete it manually. For more detail on adding content that is not limited to the header/footer area, see “How to put a header anywhere on a page.”

Types of headers and footers

When you first select View | Header and Footer, you will find yourself in panes labeled “Header” and “Footer.” These are sometimes referred as the “primary” header and footer. You can, however, have up to three different kinds of header and footer in a given document or section.

On the Header and Footer toolbar, there is a button for Page Setup. Click this button and the Page Setup dialog opens to the Layout tab, where you can check either or both of two boxes: “Different odd and even” and “Different first page” (see Figure 3). If you check the first, you will see an Odd Page Header on odd pages and an Even Page Header on even pages. If you have already added text to the Header/Footer, it becomes the Odd Page Header/Footer. If you check the second, you will see a First Page Header/Footer on the first page of your document and the Header/Footer on the remaining pages. If you check both boxes, you will get a First Page Header, followed by the Even Page Header, and then the Odd Page Header.

Figure 3. The Layout tab of Page Setup showing the "Different odd and even" and "Different first page" settings

One very common use for the “Different first page” setting is letterhead.

What happens when you have more than one section

Often you will need more than three different headers or footers. Perhaps you want to restart numbering, or you may want a special (or blank) First Page Header at the beginning of every chapter or section. In this situation, you will need to insert a section break (Insert | Break). The type of section break you insert will depend on the situation. Perhaps you’ll want an Odd Page break to start a new chapter on a recto (odd, right-hand) page, but often a Next Page break or even a Continuous break will suffice.

Whenever you insert a section break of any kind, however, you get a new header/footer (or set of headers/footers if you’ve checked one or more of the boxes on the Layout tab). By default, these are linked to the corresponding header(s)/footer(s) in the previous section, and in many cases you will not need to unlink them. You can restart page numbering and even change the number format (using the Format Page Number button on the Header and Footer toolbar) without unlinking them, and you can even have a different running head in every chapter if you use a StyleRef field to pick up the chapter title (see Word’s Help under “Field codes: StyleRef field” for more information about this).

Whenever you do want to create a header or footer that is entirely different from the one in the previous section, however, you need to unlink the header and footer. You do this by clicking on the Same as Previous button on the Header and Footer toolbar (to turn it off). Note that this can be done independently for each separate type of header and footer. For example, you can unlink the Odd Page Header in Section 2 from the one in Section 1 and leave the Even Page Headers linked. Unlinking the Footers doesn’t affect the First Page Footers. And so on.3


When your document has more than one section, you can quickly cycle through all the headers or footers in the document using the Show Previous and Show Next buttons on the Header and Footer toolbar. This can help sort out difficulties caused by inappropriate linking or unlinking of consecutive headers/footers. Where it is not helpful, however, is when some of the sections have no visible header or footer. This is the case when there are Continuous section breaks in the middle of a page (such as when you have a multi-column section between two single-column sections). Since the header and footer of this “buried” section are inaccessible, numbering problems that arise there can be difficult to solve.

For example, say that you have restarted numbering in Section 2. If you then insert Continuous section breaks around a multi-column section on page 3 of Section 2, you have created Sections 3 and 4, with numbering restarting in each (because each new section inherits the formatting of the previous one). Sorting this out can be very frustrating but can be approached in one of two ways:

  1. If page numbering is the only problem, you can put the insertion point in the multi-column section, select Insert | Page Numbers…, click the Format… button, and set the numbering to “Continue from previous section.” Provided you are careful to click Close rather than OK to exit the Page Numbers dialog, this will work (if you click OK, you’ll have inserted a new page number).

  2. If the problem is inappropriate text, it may suffice to unlink later headers/footers and insert the appropriate text. But you can also sort out both text and numbering problems by inserting a temporary page break (Ctrl+Enter) in the middle of the Continuous section to make its header and footer available for editing. Once you’ve sorted out the problems, remove the page break.

Clever tricks with headers and footers

I mentioned that a common use of the First Page Header is for a letterhead or other text you want anchored to the beginning of a document. What about text you want to appear only at the end? For example, users sometimes want to put the filename and path just at the end of the document, not in the footer on every page. Unfortunately, Word doesn’t have a separate Last Page Header/Footer, but you can trick it into acting as if it did.

What you need for this purpose is a “conditional header/footer” created with an IF field. Using the above example, if you wanted to put the filename and path in the footer on just the last page of the document, you could insert the following field in the footer (or both the Odd Page Footer and Even Page Footer if you have them):

{ IF { PAGE } = { NUMPAGES } { FILENAME \p } }

This field tells Word that if the page number is equal to the total number of pages, the filename and path should be printed. Here’s how to insert the field:

  1. Type the word IF and a space.

  2. Click the Insert Page Number button to insert the { PAGE } field (unless you have field codes displayed, you will see the actual page number rather than the { PAGE } field code).

  3. Type a space, the equals sign, and another space.

  4. Click the Insert Number of Pages button to insert the { NUMPAGES } field.

  5. Type a space, then select “Filename and path” from the AutoText menu to insert the { FILENAME \p } field.

  6. Select all the text you have typed and press Ctrl+F9 to turn it into a field.

  7. Press F9 to update it. You should see the filename and path only on the last page.

You can use the same type of field to insert any text you want to appear on just the last page. Use the following format:

{ IF { PAGE } = { NUMPAGES } "Text you want to appear on the last page" }

The “Text you want to appear on the last page” can be anything: several paragraphs of text, graphics, tables, an AutoText field—anything! Just type it, Copy it, and Paste it into the field.

More information

This article has scratched the surface of several subjects covered in greater depth in other articles.


1The header margin determines where the top of the header will be; the header then extends downward from that point, pushing into the document body if necessary. Similarly, the footer margin determines the baseline of the bottom line of text in the footer, with additional lines extending upward toward or into the document body. This isn’t altogether obvious from Word’s display: the dotted line around the header encloses an area from the header margin to the top margin of the document, which makes sense, but the dotted line surrounding the footer extends from the top of the footer to the bottom of the page, which can be misleading. Once you have gained some experience of how headers and footers work, however, you will no longer find this disconcerting. [Back]

2Note that all of the buttons and most of the AutoText entries insert fields that will update automatically. For example, the Page field shows a different page number on every page, and the NumPages field (which inserts the number of pages) changes as you add pages to the document. What you might not realize is that the Date and Time are also fields that will update every time the document is opened. If you want the date the document was created (a date that will not update), use the “Created on” AutoText entry, which inserts a CreateDate field (for more on date fields, see “Making a date”). [Back]

3One caveat about multiple headers and footers in a section: the “Different first page” setting may be selected for each section individually, but the “Different odd and even” setting affects the entire document; if you check it for one section, it will be enabled for all. If you want the odd and even headers/footers in a specific section to be the same, you will just have to copy the text from the Odd Page Header/Footer into the Even Page Header/Footer (or vice versa). When you do this, make sure you haven’t introduced an extra paragraph. No matter how carefully you select the material to be copied (omitting the paragraph mark) and the paragraph to paste it into (including the paragraph mark), you will inevitably get an extra, empty paragraph that you will have to delete. If you don’t, the header/footer will be higher or lower on one page than on the other. [Back]

This article copyright © 2004, 2008, 2011, 2014, 2018 by Suzanne S. Barnhill. Thanks are due to Office MVP Beth Melton for advice on the update for Word 2007; Beth is also the author of the referenced article on alignment tabs.