Need help with page layout

What are the ‘normal’ margins of a page for a nice looking readable printout if I use, for example, an 11 pt Times New Roman font, but want to be able to get at least 500 words on that page, and assuming 5 or 6 paragraphs? (Does the answer depend on whether I’m using Pages, Nisus, or Mellel, or is there a Standard answer, which I hope there is?)

I think this involves some knowledge of math, at which I am weak. Also, what measurement do the numbers on the ruler at the top of the page represent (inches, centimeters, or what?) and are they Standard in all Word Processing programs?

You are correct, this is basically a mathematics question involving the metrics of the font, page, and printer limitations (some cannot print to beyond a centimetre or half-inch of the paper’s edge). It doesn’t really matter what word processor you use. There will be differences, mostly in justification and word hyphenation practices, but these are fairly minor in the grand scheme of things. The biggest variable will probably be how much inter-paragraph spacing you use.

At any rate, at 11 point TNR, you shouldn’t have any problem fitting 500 words on a page, even with generous margins and an area for a header and footer. I’d guess around 550-600 per page would be average, depending on paragraph spacing and how many paragraphs there are.

If you are pushing for more precisely 500, then you might want to boost your font size to 12, sticking with the 1" margins. It will be more readable, not only for the larger font size, but because that reduces the number of words per line to a better average. A good average to target is 10-15 words per line. Any more and the eye gets fatigued scanning lines, and less and the eye gets fatigued constantly scanning left and right.

That gives me some good guidance. I’ll put a page I made in Scrivener into a Pages page that says its got 435 words and see what happens. Now I hate to show my ignorance here, but what is the advantage of having a header and a footer? Is the footer for footnotes or page numbers or what?

Right, at least you’ll probably want a footer so you can print page numbers somewhere, but a header with the title of the piece is also a good idea. It seems redundant until the day you drop two different manuscripts on the floor and suddenly you have a 1,000 page “post-modernist” book. I call it the Jackson Pollock method.

Incidentally, I forgot to mention but I was working off of US Letter paper size. If you are using A6 or something else you’ll see slightly different counts.

In short, whatever you or the intended recipient(s) of your writing might want or demand (and the word processor you’re using to polish up your work can provide). Footnotes, yes, page numbers, yes (although depending on the word processor they may be inserted separately), your name, the course or institution within whose guidelines you’re working (if you are), the title of the work, the chapter number, the part or section number, your address, “Strictly Private and Confidential”, the date of the work’s creation — any of these and others too — I’m sure you get the picture.

If you’re writing for others, the question you need to ask yourself is: what is this readership likely to expect?


Okay, now I’m getting it. I’m writing a persuasive essay, and I need all the space I can get so I think I’ll put footnotes on a separate page and keep the bottom margin for a page number and maybe the document title to the side. Then I can reserve the top of the page for the title of the different points I’m making on each page. This is taking a long time because I’m trying to make something complex simple and to the point. The challenge is fun though.

Thanks to both of you for helping me!

Headers and footers are normally “running”, i.e. set them once and that text appears on every page.
If you’re going to want a different title on each page and have it in the header, you’ll have to insert a section break at the end of each page, and make sure you can have separate headers for each section. If you do that, then, depending perhaps on your word-processor — I’m a Nisus man — you may find that you’ve tied footers to sections too, so you’ll have to set the “start number” manually for each page too, or type the number in manually rather than use auto-numbering.

I’d use a “Heading” — not the same as a “Header” — for each section, set in an appropriate font and style. Again, this should allow you to auto-number your headings if you so wish, and also to force a page-break before the heading if that helps, to save you having to put it in manually.

Your “footnotes on a separate page” would be “Endnotes”, and I have to admit, I’m not sure what you mean by put “the document title to the side”.