OOo Off the Wall: Setting Up Page Styles in OOo Writer

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A little planning ahead will make your word processing tasks easier and keep your documents looking consistent as they grow.

Page styles are one of OpenOffice.org's strongest innovations. Together with text frames and integration with Draw, these features nudge OOo Writer out of the word processor category and into the lower reaches of desktop publishing.

Unfortunately, page styles also are one of the hardest features for new users to master. Users of other word processors may be familiar with paragraph and character styles but probably do not know page styles. If they are used to master pages in FrameMaker or PageMaker, users are only slightly better off, because page styles take a different approach to layout than do master pages. And, to make matters worse, OpenOffice.org's version 1.1 on-line help barely goes beyond a description of the fields in the Page Style window.

To use page styles effectively, users need a specific combination of knowledge. To start with, they need a basic knowledge of design elements. Equally important, however, they need to know where the tools are located throughout Writer that let users apply this knowledge.

What follows is a summary of the design elements in Writer and the tools to apply them. It explains the planning you need to do beforehand and how to design the general page and individual elements, such as headers, footers, footnotes and reoccurring graphics. Finally, it explains how to automate the application of page styles for greater convenience as you write.

Planning the Styles You Need

Before you build styles, ask yourself what styles you are going to need. Many of the pages you need may already exist in OpenOffice.org.

In typography, the basic page is the right one, because when a book is bound, the first page you see after the inside cover is a right-hand page. If you are planning a simple document, modify the Right Page style for your purposes.

If you are designing a document that will be bound, however, or if you simply are a fan of traditional design, you probably want to use the Left Page style as well. Generally, the left page mirrors the right page, so refer to File→Page Preview frequently to check that you are keeping the two pages symmetrical.

Left and right pages are mirror images for at least two good reasons. First, when a book is bound, the margin closest to the center of the book needs to be wider than the outside margin to accommodate the stitches or the glue. This is the right margin on the left page, and the left margin on the right page. Second, regardless of whether the page number is in the header or footer, designers usually prefer to put it on the outside margin of the page to make it easier to read.

For a letter with its sender's address and mailing address, or for a chapter of a longer work, you should design the First Page style so readers can distinguish it at a glance. The first page usually is a modified right page. Its modifications can include a large chapter number, a graphic, a start farther down the page, a drop capital for the first letter or word and a different header.

Figure 1. Designing the First Page

Other page styles depend on your needs. A two-column Index page style can save space, and you may want to create an Index First Page for it. If you need the occasional landscape page for diagrams, you also may want to create that style. Other page styles depend on your needs. If you plan all of your page styles at the same time, though, you can ensure that they look the same and are not a jumble of improvisations.

Setting Up the Basic Design

Creating a new page style is a simple process. Begin by activating the Stylist floating palette by pressing the F11 key. Then, select the fourth icon from the left on the top of the Stylist. Right-click an entry in the Stylist and select New or Modify. If you select New, the new style is based automatically on the existing style that you click.

Start with the basic formatting listed in Table 1; we revisit other selections later.

Table 1. Basic Formatting for Page Styles

FieldSuggested Settings
Page→FormatLetter in North America, A4 anywhere else. The most common reason for a different size is using envelops of varying sizes.
OrientationPortrait for most text-based documents, landscape for diagrams.
MarginsUsually .7 to 1.0 inches. Don't be afraid to be generous with the margins; narrow margins make the entire page cramped. In traditional design for bound books, make the side closest to the center of the book at least .25 inches wider than the outside margin to allow room for binding.
Page→Page LayoutSets up mirrored pages for styles other than Left Page and Right Page.
BackgroundFor most purposes, leave the background white. If you do use color, test that the text is readable against the background. The heyday of Wired is long past.
BordersFor most purposes, none. Borders around text often are a sign of design insecurity. At times, though, a border may help to group text or contribute to a complex design.
ColumnsFor most purposes, use one column. If you select landscape for a text document, plan on at least two columns or the lines will be too long for easy reading. Too short of a column for the font size may result in too many hyphens.

Figure 2. Changing the Background and Borders

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-- Bruce Byfield (nanday)