Columns Basics
Columns Basics


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Where Do I Go From Here?

You can do lots more with columns, like adding vertical and horizontal lines, adding drop caps, using tables in columns, inserting graphics and charts, and so on. WordPerfect has great information in the Help system. Simply search through the Help Index for "columns".

Columns Basics

Maybe you've already experienced the confusion of finding your place again and again in the middle of a long paragraph of text. It's hard to keep track of which line you're on and you have to keep looking back to the left margin to find the beginning of the line again. Newspaper editors figured this out a long time ago and they started the practice of molding wide paragraphs into narrow columns.

So you know what columns are—now you want to figure out how to use them. When you finish this article, you'll have everything you need to get started with the Columns feature. You'll know the difference between newspaper and parallel columns. You'll be able to define newspaper columns and move around in them comfortably. You'll be able to adjust the width of the columns and the space between them. Last, but not least, you'll be able to turn columns off and then back on again.

Types of Columns

Basically, there are two types of columns: newspaper and parallel. The easiest way to figure out which one you want to use is to open  the Columns dialog box (figure 1) and look at the samples. Choose Format, Columns, (then choose Define in 7/6.1). In the Type of Columns (Type in 7/6.1) section, you'll see that Newspaper columns are selected by default.


Figure 1. When you open the Columns dialog box, the default settings are for 2 newspaper columns. The sample page shows you how this type of column is formatted.

 When you read the newspaper, you'll see text in newspaper columns. Text is formatted down to the bottom of one column before moving over to the next column. The sample page shows text formatted into straight newspaper columns. If you choose Balanced Newspaper and look at the sample page (figure 2), you'll see that the two columns are  the same length. As you type, WordPerfect automatically arranges the text so that the columns are always the same length.


 Figure 2. Balanced newspaper columns are always the same length, no matter how much text you type. WordPerfect does the math and automatically transfers the lines of text from one column to the other.

Parallel columns are different in that you decide when you're ready to move to the next  column. They used to be enormously popular until the Tables feature came along. Tables are so much easier to use than parallel columns, most of us use them to format  text into columns instead. See the section titled "Parallel Columns vs Tables" for more information.

Defining Newspaper Columns

Since the vast majority of users create newspaper columns, this "how-to" section focuses on creating newspaper columns.

Note: Always set the left and right margins before you define columns so WordPerfect calculates the column margins using all the available space.

 Position the insertion point where you want the columns to start, then choose Format,Columns, (then choose Define in 7/6.1). In the Columns dialog box, type the number of columns and choose the column type. Watch how the Column Widths section changes to reflect the new number of columns and their respective widths. If you need to set up  columns with specific widths, type the new measurements in here. By default, there is a ½ inch space between the columns (called the "gutter"), which you can change if you need to. When you're all done, choose OK.

Moving Around

 Scrolling around can be a little confusing since the insertion point won't jump to the next column until it reaches the bottom of the current column. The fastest way to move around in newspaper columns is to point and click in the text. When you click the left mouse button, the insertion point moves to where the mouse pointer is positioned.

Try some of these keyboard shortcuts:

Keyboard shortcut

Moves the insertion point

Alt+left arrow

one column to the left

Alt+right arrow

one column to the right


to the top of the column


to the bottom of the column

Changing the Column Widths

I haven't set up columns yet where I haven't had to fool around with the column widths after I've entered the text. I like using the mouse to resize the column margins, but you can enter exact measurements in the Columns dialog box.

 In WordPerfect 8/7, you can use the mouse to click and drag the column guidelines. These are the gray (red in 7) dotted lines you see around the columns. If you don't see the column guidelines, choose View , Guidelines, Columns.

Note: You should always position the insertion point where you want the changes to take affect. Otherwise, you may adjust the column widths halfway down the page and end up with mismatched columns.

To adjust the width of a column, point to a column guideline and wait until the mouse  pointer changes to a thick line with arrows on either side. When you click and drag a column guideline, a bubble appears telling you the column width and the gutter width as  you drag the mouse (figure 3). A vertical guideline shows you how things will look when you release the mouse pointer. Notice that clicking and dragging the guidelines adjusts  the column width by increasing or decreasing the gutter space.

Figure 3. When you click and drag a column guideline, a vertical guideline appears to  show you where the new column margin will be when you release the mouse button. A bubble appears telling you the column width and the gutter width as you drag the mouse.

To adjust the column widths without changing the gutter spacing, point in the gutter (you'll see a double line with arrows as a mouse pointer). Click and drag the gutter space to a new position. The bubble that appears tells you the widths of the columns on either side of the gutter.

 WordPerfect 6.1 users can use the column markers on the Ruler to adjust the column and gutter widths. The same principles discussed above apply here, except you are  dragging the column markers instead of guidelines, the mouse pointer doesn't change to a double-arrow and only the position of the new right margin for the column is indicated on the right side of the status line.

Turning Columns On/Off

When you define columns, you automatically turn them on at the same time. You can  turn the columns off for a while and then pick them up later in the document if you need to. To turn off columns, choose Format, Columns, Discontinue (Off in 7/6.1). When you're ready to turn them back on, choose Format, Columns, (then chooseDefine in 7/6/1). The definition you created earlier is still in effect, so you can just choose OK.

Parallel Columns vs Tables

So often, the information we have to work with is easier to organize and understand if we  put it into side-by-side columns. You can accomplish this with parallel columns, but I think you'll find that the Tables feature is easier to use and a lot more flexible. Here are some of the advantages of using the Tables feature:

  • When you first create a table, you'll see lines around each cell. Don't let these scare you off—you can easily turn them off, or you can have some fun with them by changing the style or the color. If you do decide to turn off the lines, table guidelines (which don't print) can be activated to help you see the dimensions of the columns.
  • Moving around in a table is simpler than in parallel columns, so entering and editing text is faster and a lot less frustrating.
  • Tables offer a wealth of formatting options. For example, you can set up numeric formatting so you don't have to type trailing zeros or currency symbols. A Decimal Align option guarantees that your figures are lined up on their decimal points, regardless of the number of places to the left or right of the decimal point.  You don't have to jump through hoops to rotate text so you can have column headings down the left edge of the columns, rather than across the top.
  • Tables have the "block protect" option built-in. If a single column in a row spills over to the next page, the entire row is moved down. You never have to worry about items in a row being divided by a page break.
  • You can split and join cells in a table. For example, rather than turning columns off and on for heading (or explanatory) text that you want to extend across the  top of the columns, you can join all the cells in a row together into one big cell. Any text typed into this cell extends all the way across the page (specifically, within the left and right margins of the table).

So that's the "skinny" on columns. Now that you know the essentials, you're all set to go out and create documents that are guaranteed to keep readers from losing their place.


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Copyright © 1999 Laura Acklen. All rights reserved. Company and product names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their  respective companies.

The article on this page is for informational purposes only. Use it entirely at your own risk. No representations are made regarding the use, or the results of the use, of this article in terms  of it's correctness, accuracy, reliability, or otherwise. You are strongly advised to make backups of all relevant files before implementing the information you find here.


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