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On Document Style: Headers and Footers

Yesterday I told a story about Annabelle playing pretend, whether that meant announcing herself to be a ferocious dragon to scare off things that go bump, or an innocent young babe to get away with outright disobedience. Either way, there’s magic in a little bit of delusion.

And if you read the article when it went live yesterday…swing back by today. I finally added an illustration to it, and it’s just about the most adorable illustration you’ve ever seen.

Establishing Document Information

I’m not supposed to be talking about Annabelle today, though. I’m supposed to be talking about document design, carrying on a series I started a few weeks ago on finishing a fully-formatted document.

That’s a bit of a broad topic, because “document” covers too much ground, and so does the toolset available under the heading “fully-formatted.” There are a handful of style elements that are critical to creating a professional-looking document, though, and their elements are pretty consistent no matter what document type you’re working with.

One of the most important of those is the statement of your document type itself. A good template not only tells an author where to put critical information, it also tells a reader at a glance exactly what they’re looking at. In the same way, the header and footer elements of your page setup can inform (or remind) a reader exactly what they’re looking at any time they glance at any given page of the document.

Remember that, the next time you’re reading a professionally-formatted document — whether it’s a textbook or a memo from middle management. Look over the header and footer and see just what information is there. Chances are good you’ll find a page number, giving you constant context for the information you’re evaluating. You’ll also probably find the document’s title repeated, and may find something more detailed, whether it’s the document’s form number, its preparation date, maybe a chapter heading, or even just key words for the current section.

Whatever elements are included, they serve as an anchor on every single page of the document, reminding you what it is you’re reading, and where you currently are within that information.

Establishing Author Information

One of the most valuable of those elements (although, admittedly, I might be biased here), is author information. That’s where yesterday’s story fits in, because there are certain things that take on different meaning coming from, say, a dragon, than they would from a toddler — and even that would come across differently than it would from an infant.

As readers we constantly evaluate the information we’re reading based on who it is providing that information to us. And I’m going to tell you the same thing I’ve been telling my creative writers for the last three weeks: it’s your job to tell your readers everything they need to know before they need to know it.

That’s why your title page comes at the front of the document, and it’s why the name of the author is one of the most common elements to stick in a header. The very first line of every single page in the document tells the reader exactly who it is that’s telling them this.

Managing Section Breaks in Microsoft Word

So…you’ve seen headers and footers, you’ve got a basic idea what they’re for and how you should use them…but how do you use them? The short answer: it depends. On your writing software, among other things.

I’ve promised to walk you through document setup in Microsoft Word for this whole series, so that’s what I’ll show you. If you want to skip ahead, I’ll tell you that Headers and Footers are a Page Layout element that you’ll want to View — the caps in that sentence should be enough to cover your software version, one way or another, for at least the last decade. If you’re using something older than that, you’re on your own.

If you don’t feel like sleuthing it out, just come back tomorrow. I’ll provide screenshots, and walk you through setting up headers and footers in Microsoft Word.

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