Using Headers and Footers

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Making the most of headers and footers

Important Note: This article is for Word 2007 and above. For an article for Word 2003 and earlier, see “Using Headers and Footers.”

I’m often surprised to find that certain Word users are completely unaware of the headers and footers feature in Word. In part, this is because, in earlier versions, Word’s designers hid it in an unintuitive location; in Word 2007 and above, users have no such excuse, since the tools appear both on the Insert tab of the Ribbon and on the contextual Header & Footer Tools | Design tab that appears when you access the header.

Users who come straight from a typewriter to Word don’t think of using headers and footers because they’re used to manually typing text at the beginning or end of a page. It may not occur to them that there is a better way. But the header/footer feature in Word is one of its most useful tools, one that users need to learn how to take advantage of.

When should I use a header or footer?

There are two situations in which you should immediately realize that a header or footer is required:

  1. Whenever you need to repeat text or graphics on a page. Usually such text will be a “running head” or “running foot” at the top or bottom of the page, but header and footer content is not confined to the top and bottom; it can appear anywhere on the page—in the same place on every page (but some content can be dynamic; for example, a page number can change on every page).

  2. Whenever you need to put text at the beginning or end of a document that will stay put and be out of the way.

Repeated text

One of the most common elements of a header or footer is a page number. Word makes it deceptively easy to insert page numbers. On the Insert tab of the Ribbon, in the Header & Footer group, are buttons to insert page numbers, a header, and/or a footer. What is not made clear is that most of the selections in the Header, Footer, and Page Number galleries are building blocks. If you insert a Page Number building block and then decide you want to add header content, you will find that inserting a Header building block will replace the Page Number (and vice versa). Those fancy building blocks can be effective once you learn to bend them to your will, but they are best avoided by beginners.

Text that stays put

The most common example of text that belongs in a header is a letterhead. You want to put that at the beginning of a letter, and you want it to be out of the way of other text you will add, so that it doesn’t get pushed down the page. Usually you don’t want it repeated on every page, so you use a special kind of header for it. This is discussed briefly below and in detail in “How to set up a letter template.

Another example is text you want to stay at the end of a document, no matter how much text you add to the document. You can put that in a footer. Again, you don’t want it repeated on every page, but there is a way to achieve that, too, as will be detailed below.

Accessing the header or footer

Header: The easiest way to access the header for editing is to double-click in the header space at the top of the page. If you don’t see this space, it may be that you have “white space between pages” hidden; double-click the area between pages to display it.

Footer: The footer cannot be accessed directly by double-clicking, but:

  1. You can double-click in the header area and then scroll to the footer, which will also be accessible.

  2. Alternatively, you can right-click in the footer area and choose Edit Footer (right-clicking in the Header area also displays Edit Header).

  3. Just for redundancy, Word provides a third method: On the Insert tab, in the Header & Footer group, you can click on Footer and choose Edit Footer, which will take you directly there (there is a corresponding Edit Header entry on the Header dropdown menu).

When the header and footer are active, you will see the contextual Header & Footer Tools | Design tab of the Ribbon, which contains tools specifically for working with headers and footers (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. The Header & Footer Tools | Design tab

At the far right of the tab is a button to Close Header & Footer, but you can accomplish the same thing just by double-clicking back in the document body area.

Important Note: In the Options group of the Header & Footer Tools | Design tab, there is a check box for Show Document Text. If the text in your document disappears when you access the header/footer (which can be quite disconcerting), this box is probably unchecked.

Setting header and footer margins

You may think your document doesn’t have a header or footer because you haven't created any content for them, but Word is reserving space for them. This called the header/footer margin, and it is defined separately from the top and bottom margins. Logically the header and footer margins should be smaller than the top and bottom margins, and in fact the default is 0.5″ for header and footer and 1″ for top and bottom.1

If you have already opened the Page Setup dialog to set page margins (on the Margins tab), you can switch to the Layout tab to set the header and footer margins (see Figure 2)

Figure 2. The Layout tab of the Page Setup dialog showing default header and footer margin settings.

If you have already accessed the header area, you will see the contextual Header & Footer Tools | Design tab, which allows you to set these margins in the Position group (see Figure 1).

Creating a header or footer

If you have nonprinting characters displayed, you will see a paragraph mark (¶) in the header or footer pane indicating the empty Header or Footer paragraph. This is where you will type. By default, the Header and Footer styles have a center tab stop at the center of the line and a right tab stop at the right margin. (If you are unfamiliar with these terms, see the article “Setting tabs.”)  You can use these built-in tab stops to place text at the left, center, and right of your header. If you have changed the side margins of your document, you will need to move these tab stops so they will be in the true center and at the new right margin. The easiest way to do this is using the ruler. Alternatively, you can use center- and right-aligned “alignment tabs,” which can be inserted from the Position group of the Ribbon; find more information about them here.

As mentioned, the Header & Footer Tools | Design tab provides buttons for inserting many of the elements you might want to put in a header or footer.

  • The Header & Footer group, as mentioned above, provides access to galleries of Header, Footer, and Page Number building blocks, which should be used with care.

  • The Insert group allows you to insert a variety of information:2

    • The date and/or time.

    • Document info such as the filename or complete path, document title, and other document properties. [Note: This button was introduced in Word 2013. In Word 2007 and 2010, you can access Document Properties and Fields from the Quick Parts menu.]

    • Pictures from your computer or the Internet.

    • Quick Parts: These include AutoText entries, which you can create to meet your own needs; Document Properties; and Fields. [In Word 2007 and 2010, you'll need to use the Fields option to insert a filename or file path.]

What you can put in a header or footer

Anything. Really! Most of the time you’ll be putting plain text (and fields that create text), but you can also insert graphics, tables, and almost anything else you can put in the body of the document. Moreover, you are not confined to the header/footer area. If you change the wrapping of graphics, text boxes, or WordArt from “In Line With Text” to “Behind Text” (or some other wrapping style), you can place them anywhere on the page. This allows you to create, for example, a watermark that appears behind the text in the middle of every page, or a page number or other text that floats in the side margin rather than at the top or bottom. When you use Page Layout | Page Background | Watermark in Word 2007 or 2010 or Design | Page Background | Watermark in Word 2013 or above, this is what Word is doing behind the scenes. For more detail on adding content that is not limited to the header/footer area, see “How to put a header anywhere on a page.”

Helpful Tip: Because a watermark is just text or an image anchored to the header, if you have difficulty removing a watermark through the Watermark gallery, you can open the header pane and select and delete it manually.

Types of headers and footers

When you first access the header or footer, you will find yourself in a pane labeled “Header” or “Footer.” These are sometimes referred as the “primary” header and footer. You can, however, have up to three different kinds of header and footer in a given document or section.

On the Header & Footer Tools | Design tab, in the Options group, there are check boxes for “Different First Page” and “Different Odd & Even Pages” (see Figure 3). As shown in Figure 2, the same check boxes are found on the Layout tab of the Page Setup dialog.

  • If you check Different First Page, you will see a First Page Header/Footer on the first page of your document and the (primary) Header/Footer on the remaining pages.

  • If you check Different Odd & Even Pages, you will see an Odd Page Header/Footer on odd pages and an Even Page Header/Footer on even pages. If you have already added text to the Header/Footer, it becomes the Odd Page Header/Footer.

  • If you check both boxes, you will have a First Page Header/Footer on the first page of your document or section, followed by an Even Page Header/Footer (or an Odd Page Header/Footer if a section begins on an even page).


Figure 3. The Options group of the Header & Footer Tools | Design tab showing the “Different First Page” and “Different Odd & Even Pages” settings

One very common use for the “Different First Page” setting is letterhead.

What happens when you have more than one section

Often you will need more than three different headers or footers. Perhaps you want to restart numbering, or you may want a special (or blank) First Page Header at the beginning of every chapter or section. In this situation, you will need to insert a section break (Page Layout | Page Setup | Breaks). The type of section break you insert will depend on the situation. Perhaps you’ll want an Odd Page break to start a new chapter on a recto (odd, right-hand) page, but often a Next Page break or even a Continuous break will suffice.

Whenever you insert a section break of any kind, however, you get a new header/footer (or set of headers/footers if you’ve checked one or more of the boxes for different ones). By default, these are linked to the corresponding header(s)/footer(s) in the previous section, and in many cases you will not need to unlink them. You can restart page numbering and even change the number format without unlinking them: this is done in the Page Number Format dialog (see Figure 4), which you can access by selecting Format Page Numbers... from the Page Number dropdown in the Header & Footer group on the Insert tab or the contextual Header & Footer Tools | Design tab.

Figure 4. The Page Number Format dialog

You can even have a different running head in every chapter if you use a StyleRef field to pick up the chapter title (see Word’s Help under “Field codes: StyleRef field” for more information about this; for still more, see “Useful StyleRef Tricks”).

Whenever you do want to create a header or footer that is entirely different from the one in the previous section, however, you need to unlink the header or footer. You do this by clicking on the Link to Previous button in the Navigation group on the Header & Footer Tools | Design tab (to turn it off). Note that this can be done independently for each separate type of header and footer. For example, you can unlink the Odd Page Header in Section 2 from the one in Section 1 and leave the Even Page Headers linked. Unlinking the Footers doesn’t affect the First Page Footers. And so on.3


When your document has more than one section, you can quickly cycle through all the headers or footers in the document using the Previous and Next buttons in the Navigation group on the Header & Footer Tools | Design tab (in Word 2007, they’re labeled Previous Section and Next Section). This can help sort out difficulties caused by inappropriate linking or unlinking of consecutive headers/footers. Where it is not helpful, however, is when some of the sections have no visible header or footer. This is the case when there are Continuous section breaks in the middle of a page (such as when you have a multi-column section between two single-column sections). Since the header and footer of this “buried” section are inaccessible, numbering problems that arise there can be more difficult to solve.

For example, say that you have restarted numbering in Section 2. If you then insert Continuous section breaks around a multi-column section on page 3 of Section 2, you have created Sections 3 and 4, with numbering restarting in each (because each new section inherits the formatting of the previous one). Sorting this out can be very frustrating but can be approached in one of two ways:

  1. If page numbering is the only problem, you can put the insertion point in the multi-column section and open the Page Number Format dialog as described above (see Figure 4 and preceding text). Set the numbering to “Continue from previous section.”

  2. If the problem is inappropriate text, it may suffice to unlink later headers/footers and insert the appropriate text. But you can also sort out both text and numbering problems by inserting a temporary page break (Ctrl+Enter) in the middle of the Continuous section to make its header and footer available for editing. Once you’ve sorted out the problems, remove the page break.

Clever tricks with headers and footers

I mentioned that a common use of the First Page Header is for a letterhead or other text you want anchored to the beginning of a document. What about text you want to appear only at the end? For example, users sometimes want to put the filename and path just at the end of the document, not in the footer on every page. Unfortunately, Word doesn’t have a separate Last Page Header/Footer, but you can trick it into acting as if it did.

What you need for this purpose is a “conditional header/footer” created with an IF field. Using the above example, if you wanted to put the filename and path in the footer on just the last page of the document, you could insert the following field in the footer (or both the Odd Page Footer and Even Page Footer if you have them):

{ IF { PAGE } = { NUMPAGES } { FILENAME \p } }

This field tells Word that if the page number is equal to the total number of pages, the filename and path should be printed. Here’s how to insert the field:

  1. Type the word IF and a space.

  2. Press Alt+Shift+P to insert the { PAGE } field (unless you have field codes displayed, you will see the actual page number rather than the { PAGE } field code).

  3. Type a space, the equals sign, and another space.

  4. Insert the { NUMPAGES } field. On the Header & Footer Tools | Design tab, in the Insert group, click Quick Parts and select Field. In the Field dialog, select NumPages and click OK.

  5. Type a space, then insert the { FILENAME \p } field using Insert | Quick Parts | Field: FileName, checking the box for “Add path to filename.”

  6. Select all the text you have typed and press Ctrl+F9 to turn it into a field.

  7. Press F9 to update it. You should see the filename and path only on the last page.

Helpful Tip: Word 2003 and earlier have a Header and Footer toolbar with dedicated buttons for inserting the PAGE and NUMPAGES field, and an AutoText dropdown that includes an entry for “Filename and path,” making this process a lot quicker in those earlier versions. If you want to avoid all those trips to the Field dialog, you can use the shortcut in #6 above: type the field name manually and then select it and press Ctrl+F9 to turn it into a field; alternatively, press Ctrl+F9 to insert a blank field and then type the field name between the braces.

You can use the same type of field to insert any text you want to appear on just the last page. Use the following format:

{ IF { PAGE } = { NUMPAGES } "Text you want to appear on the last page" }

The “Text you want to appear on the last page” can be anything: several paragraphs of text, graphics, tables, an AutoText field—anything! Just type it, Copy it, and Paste it into the field.

Header and Footer building blocks

Word 2007 introduced the concept of “building blocks,” premade chunks of text and graphics than you can insert with a single click from a gallery of similar items. Among the building blocks are a number of attractive headers, footers, and page numbers. Although these can be a quick and easy way to dress up a document, some care is required in using them.

  • The Header, Footer, and Page Number building blocks are available in the Header & Footer group, which appears on both the Insert tab and the Header & Footer Tools | Design tab.

  • Building blocks are mutually exclusive; although they can be edited, they can’t be combined. If you insert one building block and then select a different one, the first one will be replaced.

Important Note: A Page Number building block inserted from the Top of Page or Bottom of Page gallery will replace a previously inserted Header or Footer building block. To insert a page number in the header/footer without replacing your selected header/footer building block, place the insertion point where you want the page number and choose Current Position (or just press Alt+Shift+P to insert the PAGE field). You can also insert a page number from the Page Margins gallery without affecting the current header or footer.

  • Most of the Header and Footer building blocks contain content controls; some of these, as in the Blank and Blank (Three Columns) building blocks, are merely placeholders; they are replaced by the text you type. But some of the content controls are bound to document properties: if you fill in the Title property here or in another Title content control elsewhere in the document (in a Cover Page building block, for example), all the Title controls will update automatically.

  • If you want to add text in addition to the content controls, you will need to use the arrow keys to exit the controls; this can take a little practice.

  • If you have experimented with header and footer building blocks and decided you don't want to use any of them, open the Header or Footer gallery again and choose Remove Header or Remove Footer.

Creating headers and footers from scratch

Although the building blocks make it easy for you to create a well-designed header or footer that matches other elements in your document, it can be awkward to modify their default content or design; you may want more complete control over what goes into your header and footer. There are basically two ways to start from scratch: (1) just open the header and start typing and (2) use the Blank or Blank (Three Columns) building block.

If you have worked with headers and footers in previous versions of Word, you will know that the Header and Footer styles include a center-aligned tab stop at the center of the line and a right-aligned tab stop at the right margin. Unfortunately, if you have changed the document side margins from the default 1″, the tabs will not be correctly placed unless you modify these styles. The Blank (Three Columns) building block, however, has content controls aligned left, center, and right according to your current margin settings, and they will adjust if you change the margins. This might be a good reason (if you want this type of layout) for using the building block instead of just typing text in the empty header.

Important Note: The magic behind the self-adjusting nature of the Blank (Three Columns) building block content controls is another new feature in Word 2007: alignment tabs. This is not the place for a complete discussion of how they work; suffice it to say that they are designed to be adjustable. You can read more about them in this Microsoft Office Online article. As noted in the article, although they are available only from the Header & Footer Tools, alignment tabs may be used anywhere in a document.

Other changes from previous versions

As noted above, access to the header and footer, as well as to the Page Number Format dialog, are easier in Word 2007 and above. But users of previous versions may find themselves occasionally wishing for some of the features of the Header and Footer toolbar, such as the dedicated buttons for Insert Page Number and Insert Number of Pages, as well as the AutoText menu that included “Filename” and “Filename and path.” Although AutoText still exists in Word 2007 (and AutoComplete was restored for AutoText in Word 2010), there is nothing on the Header & Footer Tools | Design tab that is exactly comparable to the AutoText menu on the Header and Footer toolbar. Its functions are replaced as follows:

  • The Document Property menu accessible via the Quick Parts button offers such properties as Author and Publish Date. These are inserted as content controls. Some (such as Author) are populated automatically; others (such as Publish Date) require you to fill them in (Publish Date has a popup calendar for selecting the date). Note that, while these are not exactly equivalents of such entries as "Created by," you can type the required text and insert the variable data as document properties.

  • The Quick Parts menu also includes Field..., which opens the Field dialog, allowing you to insert such fields as CreateDate (the equivalent of the date in the "Created on" AutoText entry in previous versions). You will also need to use this to insert a FileName field (the equivalent of the “Filename” AutoText entry); as noted above, checking the box for “Add path to filename” will give you the equivalent of the “Filename and path” AutoText entry.

  • “Page X of Y” is available in the Page Number building block galleries; note, however, that by default the numbers (but not the text) will be bold. If you prefer nonbold numbers, you can remove the bold formatting and save the result as a new building block for ease of insertion.

More information

This article has scratched the surface of several subjects covered in greater depth in other articles.


1The header margin determines where the top of the header will be; the header then extends downward from that point, pushing into the document body if necessary. Similarly, the footer margin determines the baseline of the bottom line of text in the footer, with additional lines extending upward toward or into the document body. This isn’t altogether obvious from Word’s display: the dotted line around the header encloses an area from the header margin to the top margin of the document, which makes sense, but the dotted line surrounding the footer extends from the top of the footer to the bottom of the page, which can be misleading. Once you have gained some experience of how headers and footers work, however, you will no longer find this disconcerting. [Back]

2Many of these buttons insert fields that will update automatically. For example, the PAGE field shows a different page number on every page, and the NUMPAGES field (which inserts the number of pages) changes as you add pages to the document. What you might not realize is that the Date and Time are also fields that will update every time the document is opened. If you want the date the document was created (a date that will not update), use the CREATEDATE field instead (for more on date fields, see “Making a date”). [Back]

3One caveat about multiple headers and footers in a section: the “Different first page” setting may be selected for each section individually, but the “Different odd and even” setting affects the entire document; if you check it for one section, it will be enabled for all. If you want the odd and even headers/footers in a specific section to be the same, you will just have to copy the text from the Odd Page Header/Footer into the Even Page Header/Footer (or vice versa). When you do this, make sure you haven’t introduced an extra paragraph. No matter how carefully you select the material to be copied (omitting the paragraph mark) and the paragraph to paste it into (including the paragraph mark), you will inevitably get an extra, empty paragraph that you will have to delete. If you don’t, the header/footer will be higher or lower on one page than on the other. [Back]

This article copyright © 2004, 2008, 2011, 2014, 2018 by Suzanne S. Barnhill.