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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 10 Issue 8
August 2016
Microsoft Word: How to see your document "life-size" on screen (hint: it's not 100%)

Have you ever noticed that when you print out a Microsoft Word document, the size of the text on your computer screen does not match the size on the printout? If your documents seem a bit small on-screen, you can always just choose 125% or 150% to arbitrarily enlarge them on-screen (without changing how they print), but if you have ever wanted them to look the same size on-screen as they look when printed, read on for my advice on how to do this.

How on-screen magnification works
Programs like Microsoft Word have the ability to reduce or enlarge the display of an entire document on your screen without changing how it prints or fits onto each page. I'm not referring to changing the size of the font or margin (which actually changes the contents of the document and how it prints), but using the "View" or "Zoom" function (which only changes the appearance of the document on-screen). This lets you specify a percentage enlargement or reduction relative to its "100%" default.

Choosing a higher percentage enlarges what you see on the screen, which can be useful for reading small text or seeing more detail in embedded pictures, but will probably mean that you'll have farther to scroll (vertically and possibly also horizontally) to travel through the entire document.

Choosing a smaller percentage reduces the size of everything, which can be helpful if you need to "step back" to look at how the document looks on the page, and will mean that you won't have to scroll as far to get to the end of the document.

Word offers standard choices like 50%, 75%, 100%, 125%, 150%, and you can also type in any integer value you choose between 10% and 500%.

Also, don't confuse this with the Scale or Scaling percentage you may be able to choose when printing your document (or when adjusting the settings in Page Setup in preparation for printing), depending on the type and model of printer you use. That only affects how the document prints, not how it looks on-screen.

How to make the on-screen display match the size of the printout
This technique should work in any program that can display an on-screen ruler, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OpenOffice, etc.
  • Open any document in Microsoft Word (or the program of your choice).
  • Show (View) the on-screen Ruler if it is not already visible.
  • Maximize your document window (making it as wide as you can) to make the most use of your screen.
  • Take a real-life ruler and hold it up to the on-screen Ruler. Be careful not to scratch your screen, especially if your ruler has any sharp metal corners or edges.
  • If a real-life inch is larger than an on-screen inch, increase the on-screen magnification.
  • If a real-life inch is smaller than an on-screen inch, decrease the on-screen magnification.
  • For the best accuracy, compare the width of as many inches as you can (e.g., 5 or 10 or 12 inches, depending on the size of your monitor), not just one.
  • Keep adjusting the on-screen magnification up or down as appropriate, and then compare the real-life and on-screen rulers again. You will probably find that the standard choices like 125% will only get you somewhat close, so you'll have to type in specific percentages like 113% or 83%. Repeat until the rulers match as closely as you can get them.
  • As you compare the rulers, I recommend moving your head so that your line of sight is always perpendicular to the screen. If you're looking at an angle, your ruler comparison will be off.
  • When you've got the two rulers as close to the same size as possible, write down the percentage you arrived at. That's the "magic number" that will make your documents look life-size on your screen.
  • Print the first page of the document and hold it up to the screen display of that same document. The two should be very close in size.
If you change your monitor's resolution, or replace your monitor or computer, you'll need to run through this technique again.

On two of my computers, here are the numbers that this technique gives me:
  • Toshiba Satellite 15" laptop: 105%
  • MacBook Pro 15" laptop: 153%
An alternate approach
If your program has the ability to display the document on-screen with a "virtual piece of paper" behind it (in Word this is called the "Print Layout" or "Page Layout" view), and if your computer monitor is at least as wide as a real-life piece of paper, then try this simpler technique:

Instead of a real-life ruler, take a real-life piece of paper (for example, a sheet of 8.5" x 11"), compare its width to the width of the on-screen "paper" displayed behind your document's text, and then adjust the on-screen magnification up or down until their widths are the same. If your document is formatted in Portrait mode, use the real-life paper's shorter edge; if it's a Landscape document, use the longer edge. Be sure to make your document window as wide as you can so you can see the full width of the on-screen "paper."

How to make that magnification percentage "stick"
If you change a document's magnification from 100% to some other value, close the document, and then reopen it later, you may find that it reopens at 100%. Why didn't that change take effect? In some programs like Microsoft Word, simply changing the magnification by itself is not considered a significant enough change to consider the document to be modified. So, to make sure that the new magnification gets stored in the document, you need to also make another change, for example:
  • Open the document
  • Change the magnification as desired
  • Type in a character, e.g., "x"
  • Delete that character
  • Save the document
This will save the document along with its current magnification so that when you reopen it, it should display at that new magnification.

If you share your documents with other users
Changing the magnification in your documents can be very helpful and improve your productivity. However, if you then send such a document to someone else, they may find your enlargement or reduction distracting, confusing, and unproductive, especially if they don't know how to change the magnification themselves. I recommend that you set the magnification back to 100% (and also save this change as I outlined above) before sending such a document to someone else.

Why doesn't 100% magnification on screen just match the printed size?
It's complicated. The simplest explanation is that the operating system assumes that it knows how text and pictures are displayed on your screen, including the number of dots per inch (DPI). However, your monitor's actual DPI is probably larger (or sometimes smaller, depending on your hardware), which results in the reduction (or enlargement) that my technique above compensates for. I don't know why the operating system can't just get the right number to begin with.

For example, on my Toshiba Windows laptop, the operating system assumes that my monitor has 96 dots per inch (DPI). However, my laptop's screen is 13.5" wide and fits 1,366 pixels into that width, so its actual DPI is 1,366 dots / 13.5" = 101 DPI. So, the correction is 101 / 96 = 1.05 or 105%.

Similarly, Macintosh operating systems typically assume 72 DPI. However, my Mac laptop's screen is 13.1" wide and fits 1,440 pixels into that width, so its actual DPI is 1,440 dots / 13" = 110 DPI. So, the correction is 110 / 72 = 1.53 or 153%.
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

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I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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