Why does the appearance (or layout) of my document change when I open it on a different machine?
Here's a typical question from a Word user:
Because Word is a WYSIWYG application, it will always try to represent on screen the result you will get if you print on the printer that is currently selected. Unless you have changed the active printer in Word, this will be the printer set as the Windows default.
Changing printer drivers will almost always change the layout at least slightly and sometimes radically. So what causes a change in printer driver?
There are a number of ways to minimize the changes that can occur when you change printers or drivers:
Don't use hard page breaks! Using hard page breaks (Ctrl+Enter) just makes matters worse. For example, suppose you have inserted a page break at the end of every page. If the copy that fits on one page using one printer then runs just one line over using a different one, you’ll end up with alternate pages containing only a single line of text and a page break, thereby doubling the length of the document.
Instead, use style and paragraph formatting to keep text together. Judicious use of “Keep with next,” “Keep lines together,” and “Page break before” formatting will keep important sections together. These settings are found on the Line and Page Breaks tab of the Paragraph dialog, accessed from the Format menu (or shortcut menu) in Word 2003 and earlier; in Word 2007 and above, use the “dialog launcher” arrow in the bottom right corner of the Paragraph group on the Home or Page Layout tab of the Ribbon or the Paragraph… entry on the shortcut (right-click) menu.
There is also a Compatibility Option, “Use printer metrics to lay out document,” that may make a difference. In Word 2003 and earlier, find this check box at Tools | Options | Compatibility. In Word 2007 and 2010, go to Office Button | Word Options | Advanced or File | Options | Advanced, scroll to the very bottom, and click on the + beside “Layout Options.” This option is not available in Word 2013 and above.
What works best to preserve the look of your document, however, is to select the printer on which you will ultimately be printing the document (even if it is not connected to the printer where you're editing). Then you will know exactly where the page breaks will fall. Of course, that won't help if you need to email the document to others—but the other suggestions will.
If you are emailing the document to others and preserving the page layout is critical, one solution is to email your document in Adobe PDF format. In Word 2003 and earlier, you will need to have Adobe Acrobat or one of its cheaper clones (CutePDF and PrimoPDF are free downloads that are frequently recommended); for Word 2007, you can download the free Microsoft Save as PDF add-in (no longer available directly from Microsoft). Word 2010 and above have PDF authoring built in.
This article copyright © 2003, 2016, 2023 by Suzanne S. Barnhill.