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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky

Volume 8 Issue 10
October 2014
Are Things on Your Screen Sometimes Too Small to Read? Here Are 8 Ways to Make Them Larger

Has this ever happened to you?
  • You're trying to read something on your computer screen, like a document or an email or a web site, but it's just too small to see clearly. It might be casual reading, or something important like a phone number or a banking confirmation number or this newsletter, but you wish you could make it larger.
  • You're trying to show someone else something on your computer screen, but since both of you can't sit close to the monitor, it's too small for at least one of you to see.
  • You're scrolling through a list of items (e.g., items for sale on eBay, search results on LinkedIn, etc.) and there are so many of them that you wish you could make them somewhat smaller so more of them will fit on the screen, which will let you look through more of them in less time.
How have you dealt with this in the past? By craning your neck? Leaning forward to get closer? Using a magnifying glass? Printing it out?

Read on for my advice on a number of different ways you can enlarge or reduce the stuff on your screen.

Method #1: Enlarge the text in your document by changing the font to a bigger size
For many users, this is the first idea they think to try: If you're working with editable text (which might be in a document or an email you're composing), you can select that text and make the font size larger and more readable. This is a simple, quick, and expedient method, but because this method actually changes your text to be larger, (not just look larger on the screen), there are some drawbacks:
  • Your document layout will change and it will print differently, i.e., the word-wrap in your paragraphs will change, fewer words will fit on each line, the number of lines of text will increase, less text will fit on each page, your page breaks will move, and the number of pages will increase. This may also throw off any carefully-chosen margins or tab stops or tables. If this method works for you then by all means use it, but I don't normally recommend it unless the document is very simple or you're just experimenting.
  • Setting a larger font size may well be helpful in the moment, but you may want to return the text to its original size before you put the document away.
The rest of my advice suggests methods using "magnifying" or "zoom" functions, which enlarge what you see on the screen without modifying your data.

Method #2: Magnify the display in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook (Microsoft Office) without changing the font size
Look for the "Zoom" function. In older versions it's in the View menu. In newer versions there are several Zoom commands in the "View" tab of the Ribbon at the top of each document window, and there's also a "Zoom slider" at the lower left corner.

In addition:
  • Each document stores its own separate Zoom level, so you can have document A enlarged to 125% and document B reduced to 75%.
  • However, making a document "remember" its new Zoom level is tricky. In Word, if you open a document, don't modify any text, and only change the Zoom level, that's not treated as a change worth saving, so if you close it the new Zoom level will be discarded. To make sure that Word keeps the new Zoom level, you must also either edit your document, or make a trivial change to it (e.g., type an "x" and then immediately delete it) and then do File->Save. In Excel or PowerPoint, if you change the Zoom level you don't have to make a trivial change to the document to preserve it, just do File->Save right away.
  • Changing the Zoom level has no effect on how your document prints (nor on your layout, font sizes, word-wrap, paragraphs, page breaks, etc.), it only affects how it appears on-screen.
  • If you are planning to send a copy of your document to someone else (via email, Dropbox, etc.), I recommend you set the Zoom level back to 100% and Save it (see above) before sending, since your recipient probably doesn't have the same need to change the size as you do, and may be confused to receive an enlarged or reduced document.
  • In Outlook, depending on which version you're using, you can use these same techniques to change the Zoom level for the body of an email message displayed in the Preview Pane or a separate window, as well as the Print Preview display.
Method #3: Enlarge or reduce a web page within your web browser
When you're viewing a web page in a web browser like Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox, etc., you can easily change its display size on-screen:
  • To enlarge: In the View menu, click Zoom out
  • To reduce: View->Zoom in
  • To reset to the original size: View->Actual Size (in Firefox: View -> Zoom -> Reset)
The keyboard shortcuts are even easier:
  • To enlarge: Ctrl-plus (+) [Command-plus (+) on Macintosh], no need to also hold down the Shift key
  • To reduce: Ctrl-minus (-) [Command-minus (-) on Macintosh]
  • To reset to the original size: Ctrl-zero [Command-zero on Macintosh] - use the digit zero, not the letter "O"
Note that some web browsers have separate functions to enlarge the text only and keep the pictures unchanged. Firefox has a separate "Zoom Text Only" option that I suggest you turn off to make this less confusing.

Some web browsers (like Chrome) remember the most recent Zoom level you used with each enlarged or reduced web site (e.g., nytimes.com: 90%, mfa.org: 110%), so when you return to those sites it will assume you want to use that same Zoom level again.

Changing the Zoom level does also affect how the web site will print, so I recommend resetting to the original size (or even reducing the size to 80% or lower) before printing in order to save paper and ink.

Method #4: How to find out if another program you're using has a magnification or Zoom function
Here are some ways that you can tell if a program will let you magnify what it displays in its window:
  • Look for a function called Zoom or Magnify, usually listed under the View menu.
  • Look for a function like "100%," typically at the top of the window or in a toolbar above.
  • Look for a "slider" control with "100%" nearby, typically at the top or bottom edge of the window.
You should also keep the following in mind:
  • If you find such a function, it will probably let you enlarge your document's content (text, pictures, etc.), but it probably won't let you enlarge the program's operating controls (menus, buttons, toolbars, labels, scrollbars, etc.) or elements that are beyond the program's scope (Taskbar, Dock, etc.).
  • Depending on the program, it may also "remember" the Zoom level you chose (e.g. 150%) when you reopen it.
  • Since you're not making your monitor any larger, enlarging what you see on the screen means that you will see less of your document at any given time. This means that you'll have to scroll farther (vertically) to get to the end of your document. You may also have to scroll horizontally to see the portions of your document to the right and left that no longer fit in the window.
Some programs let you adjust the size of certain items, but not everything. For example:
  • In Quicken and QuickBooks you can adjust the font and size of the text in your reports.
  • In Skype you can enlarge or reduce the video window showing the person you're talking to.
But in general, many programs (beyond those I've mentioned above) don't give you any ability to adjust the size of what they display on screen.

Method #5: Enlarge everything on your screen using "live" magnification
In addition to what any particular program can do, your computer has a built-in function that can magnify everything on your screen for you in real time, while you're working. It's easy to activate, use, and deactivate. Just remember that you'll use your mouse to move the view around your (fully functioning) enlarged screen. When you turn the magnification off, you'll once again see your entire screen in its normal display. This technique does not change how anything prints.

Here's a brief summary of how to operate the built-in magnification on Windows and Macintosh:

Windows Magnifier: Uses a portion of your screen to show a magnified image of the area around your mouse cursor
  • Activate using your mouse: Start->All Programs->Accessories->Ease of Access [or Accessibility]->Magnifier
  • Activate using your keyboard: Windows logo key + plus (+) [Very easy to do accidentally!]
  • Zoom in/enlarge: Windows logo key + plus (+)
  • Zoom out/reduce: Windows logo key + minus (-)
  • Exit and return to 100%: Windows logo key + Esc
Macintosh Universal Access Zoom: Magnifies your entire screen, you then use your mouse to "pan around" the enlarged image at the edges of your screen
  • Activate using your mouse on older Macintoshes: System Preferences -> Universal Access -> Seeing; on newer: System Preferences -> Accessibility -> Zoom
  • Activate using your keyboard: Command-option-8 [nothing will change until you "enlarge"]
  • Zoom in/enlarge: Command-option-plus (+)
  • Zoom out/reduce: Command-option-minus (-)
  • Exit and return to 100%: Command-option-8
For the best results, when using keyboard shortcuts like these, you should always:
  • Press and hold the modifier keys first,
  • Then tap the other key,
  • Then release the modifier keys.
Do not try to press all the keys simultaneously.

Method #6: Enlarge everything on your screen by reducing your monitor's resolution
Warning: This is my most technical suggestion.

At any given moment, your monitor's display consists of a fixed number of dots arranged in a grid. The size of this grid is typically expressed as "width x height" in pixels, e.g. 640 x 480. This display size is controlled by software and you can change it.

On the other hand, your monitor's physical hardware has a fixed display area whose size (in inches) cannot be changed.

So, if you change your monitor to a higher resolution, say from 640 x 480 to 1024 x 768, since your monitor's physical size can't change, it fits those pixels into the same number of inches. As a result, each pixel gets smaller, so choosing a higher resolution means everything will look smaller. Therefore, if you want to make everything look larger on your screen (regardless of which program you're using), you would choose a lower resolution, which makes each pixel larger.

Here's how to adjust your resolution:
  • Windows: Go to the Control Panel, then click Display; in Windows XP, click Settings; in Windows 7 or 8, click Adjust resolution
  • Macintosh: Go to System Preferences, then click Displays
You should also keep the following in mind:
  • This will change a hardware-related setting, so it's important to do this carefully, or get help from someone you trust if you're not comfortable doing it yourself.
  • I recommend that you write down the resolution numbers before you make any changes so you'll know where you started.
  • Your computer will probably confirm any resolution change you make, along with a countdown timer for you to respond, so if you choose a resolution that your monitor can't support, your screen will probably become unreadable, but just wait and in less than a minute it will go back to the previous choice you made.
  • If you choose too small a resolution, some fixed-sized windows or dialogs might extend "below" the bottom of your screen, making it difficult or impossible to work with or click the OK or Cancel buttons. I can't tell you what that threshold is.
  • This technique does not change how anything prints, except that any screenshots you take will use the new resolution.
  • Since it's easy to change, you can use this technique as either a temporary or long-term solution.
Method #7: Enlarge everything on a copy of your screen using a screenshot
Here's a simple way to view an enlarged or reduced copy of everything on your monitor at a given moment in time:
  • Take a screenshot using your computer (see "Where to go from here," below)
  • Save it to a file
  • Open it in a graphics program
  • Use the "zoom in" tool to magnify the screenshot and look more closely at any part of it
This technique is simple, but it doesn't give you a "live" image of your screen while you're working.

Method #8: Enlarge everything by getting a bigger or second monitor
If you want to spend some money (and desk space) to solve this problem:
  • For a desktop computer, you could buy a bigger monitor or add a second monitor.
  • For a laptop, you could buy a second, external monitor.
Where to go from here
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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Copyright (C) 2014 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

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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