How to align header or footer content to the left and right margins in Microsoft Word

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Sometimes alignment tabs aren’t enough if the aligned text stretches to the other margin. When this is possible, use a table to control wrapping.

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Image: PixieMe/Adobe Stock

The article How to align content to the left and right on the same line in a Word document, as the name suggests, shows you how to use a special tab to align content at the margins on the same line. You can do the same thing in a header, but there’s another way to align content to the left and right margin, and it has an advantage over the tab: You can automatically wrap content at the right margin so it doesn’t run into the content at the right margin.

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to use a table to align content to the left and right margins in the header or footer in Microsoft Word. This technique works in the header, footer and body of the document, but I’ll work in the header. You can download the demo for this Word tutorial.

SEE: Google Workspace vs. Microsoft 365: A side-by-side analysis w/checklist (TechRepublic Premium)

I’m using Microsoft 365 on a Windows 10 64-bit system. Word for the web retains a header and you can even open it and modify it a bit. However, you can’t insert a table.

How to avoid a bad wrap in Word

When using a special tab to align content to the left and ring margins on the same line, you might run into a problem if the content at either margin is longer than one line can manage. Figure A shows a simple example of what you might run into. This happens because users don’t fully understand how to use alignment tabs in the header.

Figure A

The content at the left margin is too long to accommodate the content at the right margin.

By default, the header has two alignment tabs: center and right. We can best illustrate the default setup with a quick example:

  1. Open the header area by double-clicking the header space.
  2. Enter your name and then press Tab, which will move the cursor to the center of the header.
  3. Enter the date and press Tab again. This time, Word sets the cursor at the right margin.
  4. Enter Page 1. As you enter the content, the right-alignment tab pushes characters to the left of the margin.

As you can see in Figure B, you are able to use the center and right alignment tabs without doing a thing. This default comes with many benefits:

  • You don’t have to set the alignment tabs.
  • You can change the margins and the alignment tabs will accommodate.
  • You can change the page orientation and the alignment tabs will accommodate.
  • You can change the paper size and the alignment tabs will accommodate.

My advice is to use the default alignment tabs when possible.

Figure B

The header has alignment tabs set by default.

If the content at the left margin is so long that it wraps at the right margin, there is no way Word can keep the right aligned content on the first line (Figure A). Fortunately, there’s an alternative: Use a table.

How to use a table to align header content in Word

The problem at hand — text at the left margin that wraps at the right margin displacing right-aligned text on the same line — is rare. However, when it arises, you’ll want a quick and easy solution. In this case, we’ll insert a table that contains two columns, one for the content at the left margin and one for the right-aligned text, all on the same line. You could also add a third column for centered text.

To insert a table into the header, open the header area and do the following:

  1. Click the Insert tab.
  2. In the Tables group, click Table.
  3. In the resulting dropdown, draw a table with two columns and one row (Figure C).
  4. Drag the center border to the right to accommodate lots of text in the first column. To do so, hover over the border until the cursor turns into the double-arrow cursor. Then click and drag.

Figure C

Draw a two-column table.

Figure D

The table forces the content on the left to wrap where you want.

With the table in place, you can control when the text on the left wraps to the next line, as you can see Figure D. However, you might not want to display the table borders. To turn off the borders, do the following:

  1. Select the table by clicking the movement handle in the top-left corner of the table.
  2. Click the Borders dropdown in the mini menu.
  3. Choose No Borders from the dropdown (Figure E).

Figure E

Choose No Borders to turn off the border display.

Figure F

Even though the table is controlling the wrap, you don’t know a table is there.

As you can see in Figure F, the header now has no border lines. If someone were to open the header and start poking around, they’ll find the table, but viewers won’t see it.

If you add a table to a Word footer, you might see additional white space under the table. That’s because Word always includes a hard return after the table. To eliminate this extra white space, use Show/Hide in the Paragraph group on the Home tab to display hard return symbols. Select the symbol after the table in the footer and set a font size of 1. Doing so won’t eliminate the white space, but it will be so small that you won’t notice it.


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