Aligning text with pleading line numbers in Word (substantially rewritten)

August 8, 2009 at 3:44 pm 1 comment

One of the most common questions I hear from training clients and others in the legal profession has to do with text that is out of alignment with the line numbers in pleading paper. The problem usually occurs in documents that are based on a pleading template originally generated by Word’s “Pleading Wizard” (a deprecated / retired feature that was available in versions of the program prior to Word 2007).  Because of the way the Wizard stretched the line numbers to make them equidistant and to fit them within the space allocated for text — assuming a 1″ top margin, a 1″ bottom margin, and a 12-point font — the line spacing of the line numbers ended up being a fraction of true double-spacing.

Why Applying True Double-Spacing Doesn’t Work

People often attempt to fix the problem by applying true double and single spacing to the document text.  Doing so usually makes things worse.  That is because of an aspect of typography called “leading” (rhymes with “sledding”), which refers to the vertical distance between lines of type – often adjusted to improve readability.

As a result of leading, true double spacing varies between 220% and 270% of the size (height) of your chosen font, and true single spacing varies between 110% and 135% of the size (height) of that font.[1]  Thus, if your body text font is Times New Roman set at 12 points, double-spaced lines actually are spaced about 27.6 to 28.8 points apart. (A “point” is a unit of measurement that refers to the height of characters.  There are 72 points in a vertical inch.[2])  By contrast, the Pleading Wizard compresses the area where the line numbers appear, resulting in line spacing (i.e., line height) for the line numbers that is significantly smaller / more compressed vertically — typically 22.75 points. (I often call this figure “pleading double spacing” to differentiate it from true double spacing.)  Thus, applying true double spacing usually results in text that is “taller” than the pleading line numbers.

Changing the Line Spacing in the Document to Match That of the Line Numbers

To fix the problem, you must start by determining the existing line spacing for the pleading line numbers in your document.  To do so, open the header editing screen by double-clicking within the white space at the top of any page  (or, alternatively, right-click at the top of any page, then choose “Edit Header”).  Next, right-click somewhere within the line numbers and choose “Paragraph.” When the Paragraph dialog opens, note the figure shown under Spacing, Line spacing.  Usually it is set at “Exactly” a certain number of points – for example, 22.75 pt, or 23.15 pt, or 24 pt, or some such figure.  Note:  This figure can vary from document to document, because template designers often tweak the line spacing of the pleading line numbers, whether the original template was created with the Pleading Wizard, downloaded from the Internet, or created from scratch by some ambitious techie.

Make note of this figure.  To get the text to align with the pleading line numbers, you’ll need to adjust the line spacing of the “pleading double spaced” paragraphs in the document to match it. Just select each of those paragraphs, open the Paragraph dialog, and change the line spacing to “Exactly” and the number of points you noted for the line numbers.

You’ll also need to select any “pleading single-spaced” paragraphs in your document and use the same technique to apply “Exactly” spacing that is half the number of points set for the line numbers. In other words, if the line numbers are spaced Exactly 22.75 points apart, you’ll need to set the “pleading double-spaced” paragraphs at 22.75 points and “pleading single-spaced” paragraphs at 11.375 points. (Word usually changes the 11.375 pt to 11.4 pt. That’s fine.)

Why Not Simply Adjust the Spacing of the Line Numbers?

People sometimes ask – logically enough – why it’s necessary to change the line spacing of all of the text in the document to match (or, in the case of “pleading single spacing,” be exactly half of) the spacing of the line numbers.  Wouldn’t it be simpler to change the line spacing of the line numbers?

Although the idea seems sensible in theory, it doesn’t work well in practice.  More often than not, changing the line spacing of the line numbers causes one or more additional problems.  Sometimes, for example, it hides some of the line numbers.  If you then drag the bottom margin of the “frame” that contains the line numbers in order to show all of the numbers, the body text might not appear on the last numbered line of the page, in which case you have to change the bottom page margin.  Also, if there are section breaks in your document, you need to tweak the spacing of the line numbers – and maybe also the “frame” that contains them – in each section.  Now this apparently simple solution is looking more and more complicated.

Using a Line Break When Necessary After “Pleading Single-Spaced” Text

Even after applying “Exactly” line spacing to all of the text in the document, you might find the transition between “pleading single spacing” and “pleading double spacing” tricky.  In particular, “pleading single-spaced” headings and block quotes that span an even number of lines (2, 4, 6, etc.) can be problematic; when you press the Enter key after typing the text, the cursor usually ends up between line numbers.

Rather than fiddling with the line spacing, which often causes more headaches, try this simple solution:  Place the cursor at the very end of a “pleading single-spaced” paragraph (a heading or a block quote) and press Shift Enter before pressing the Enter key.  Shift Enter creates a Line Break (sometimes called a Soft Return), which extends the “pleading single-spaced” paragraph by one line rather than creating a new paragraph.  Usually, that is sufficient to bump the following paragraph down so that it is aligned with a pleading line – assuming that all of the “pleading single” and “pleading double” paragraphs in the document are formatted correctly.[3]

Other Possible Causes of Misalignment

The inconsistency in line spacing between the line numbers and the text is the most frequent cause of the alignment problem, but there are other factors that can contribute to it.  For now, I’ll go over only two other “usual suspects.”

Page Setup — Page Margins and Header/Footer Distance From Edge

Sometimes you can fix text alignment problems in pleadings by fiddling with the top and/or bottom page margin.

When you launch the Page Setup dialog (by clicking the dialog launcher in the lower right-hand corner of the Page Setup group on the Page Layout / Layout tab[4]), you might notice that the margins for the pleading are negative numbers. This seemingly odd phenomenon is actually by design in Word. I’ve never quite understood the reasoning behind it, but if you’re interested you can read more about it in MS Knowledge Base Article 211611.

Be careful to note the original margins in case your changes don’t work and you have to restore them.

If changing the page margins doesn’t work, try changing the distance of the header and/or footer from the edge of the virtual paper.  You can do so from within the Page Setup dialog (click the Layout tab and navigate to “Headers and footers” – “From edge”) or by going into the header or footer editing screen (double-click in the white area at the top or bottom of a page or right-click in that area and choose “Edit Header” or “Edit Footer”), then adjusting the settings in the “Header from Top” or “Footer from Bottom” box in the Position group.

Compatibility Options

Other little-known settings that can affect text alignment in pleadings are located under “Compatibility Options.”

In pre-Ribbon versions of Word, you can find these settings by clicking the Tools menu, Options, Compatibility tab.  In Word 2007, click the Office Button, Word Options, Advanced, and scroll all the way down to — and click the plus sign to the left of — Layout Options.  In Word 2010 and later, click the File tab, Word Options (or Options), Advanced, and scroll to Layout Options.

In particular, look for “Don’t add extra space for raised / lowered characters,” “Don’t add leading (extra space) between rows of text,” and “Don’t center ‘exact line height’ lines.” I would suggest testing one option at a time, since otherwise you won’t necessarily know which of the three options worked.  (Note that some of those options are not available in versions later than Word 2010.) I’ve had particular success fixing alignment issues by enabling the last option (“Don’t center ‘exact line height’ lines”). Your mileage may vary, as they say.

There are some additional features that can affect text alignment. But the troubleshooting tools I’ve provided here should be of considerable help.

Keep in mind that it’s usually best to try the least drastic remedy first, and also remember that more than one setting could be causing the problem. Troubleshooting by reviewing the settings in the Paragraph and Page Setup dialogs might turn up a relatively easy fix.

Good luck!

[1] For more information about line spacing in Word, and the effects of “leading,” see this post.

[2] For more information about points, see this post (entitled “What Are Points, Anyway?”).

[3] If you can’t get it to work and you’re working on deadline, consider clicking within the paragraph that won’t quite align with the line number, launching the Paragraph dialog, and adding 3 points or 4 points of “Spacing Before.” Just remember that the additional “Before” space will be copied to the following paragraph when you press the Enter key (because paragraph formatting instructions are contained in the paragraph mark at the end of every paragraph – whether visible or not – and are copied to the following paragraph when you press Enter).  I don’t recommend this method unless you’re in a time crunch and you need a “quick ‘n’ dirty” solution.

[4] Another way to open the Page Setup dialog is by clicking the Page Layout / Layout tab, clicking the Margins drop-down, then clicking Custom Margins.

Note: This article, first published in 2009, has been substantially rewritten as of 3/22/2016.

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