Use Word 2003’s reading layout, save a tree

I’ve always hated reading documents formatted for paper on-screen. Until we get 200 dpi LCD screens, there aren’t enough pixels to make small print-ready fonts legible without a lot of zooming, at which point navigation becomes a pain. And printing out a paper just to read it once, or maybe mark it up with comments that I then have to transcribe back into the online version, always makes me feel slightly dirty.

Thankfully, Word 2003’s reading layout means whole forests can sleep better at night. It’s “just” another way of viewing your document, but they’ve done all the little things right – fonts are resized to be legible, margins are widened to make lines easier to scan, and there’s no scrolling between screens. Apparently reading layout also turns on ClearType by default. The end result is that I now prefer to read Word documents online rather than printing them out. And I get annoyed with PDF documents, which are stuck with a page size and format that’s great for paper but sucks for screens (except a rotated Tablet PC screen).

My only annoyance with reading layout showed up in specification review meetings. When everyone else was talking about page 11 out of 16 in their printed copies, I never knew which screen (out of, say, 30) that mapped to in reading layout. So I started this post thinking that I was going to end it with a Word feature request, for an additional page counter in reading layout that shows the corresponding page numbers from print layout. That turns out not to be necessary: a little aimless experimentation just showed that Word’s go-to-page-number function uses the print-layout page numbering scheme, even in reading layout. So now I can hit <Ctrl-G> 11 <return>, and another twig is saved…

Update: Apparently Bill Gates uses it too – and makes twice as many comments when reading documents using reading mode.

Comments (19)

  1. Bart Jacobs says:

    The reading layout is great, but 1) I am a PhD student in computer science and scientific articles in computer science are not available as Word documents, and 2) even with reading layout, reading a paper from a PC monitor is a huge pain compared to sitting in your easy chair with the sheets of dead tree in your hands. I don’t see any technology beating that experience anytime soon…

    At first, I was reluctant about the "waste" of paper, too, but I got over it 🙂

    It’s a little bit like learning to drive a car. At first, I refused to drive at the maximum allowed speed because suppose there was some kid playing in the middle of the street right around the bend, but after a while you kind of adjust your standards.

  2. Re: PhD in computer science. Yup, been there, done that, got the filing cabinet full of papers 🙂

    Just be thankful that they’re now (mostly) published in PDF instead of the Postscript I had to deal with. Acrobat Reader can we tweaked to make the online experience half-bearable – set it to "view visible" so it cuts off the margins, and tune its antialiasing feature to suit your screen and eyes. Once you’ve done all that, a Tablet PC in tablet mode is a pretty nice way to read papers while curled up in an easy chair.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Herman’s weblog

  4. rch says:

    To PhD student in computer science in particular, and the world in general

    For paper/screen views of the same doc I’ve always used TeX with the PDFscreen package ( " …helps to redesign the pdf output of your normal documents fit to be read in a computer monitor while retaining the freedom to format it for conventional printing …". Whats more, its free

  5. Ken Pearlman says:

    This is extremely buggy add on I could do with out. If I have illustrations the re-formatting of my document makes a complete hash of it. If I format my document to look right in Reading Layout it prints like hash. Perhaps if editing in Reading Layout where more – umm say "user friendly" it might be more useful. As it is in my office, everyone curses when opening a doc attachment that defaults to Reading Layout.

    To me another example of MicroSoft knows whats best for you style of feature add on. Now I have to actively do more work to defeat MicroSoft’s "helping" me.

  6. jonathanh says:

    Ken – you shouldn’t be trying to format your document to look right in Reading Layout. It’s an impossible task, because you have no control over the size of the Word window used by a reader, what font size they use, etc etc.

    The whole point of Reading Layout is that it’s up to the *reader* to customize it to whatever suits them.

  7. jonathanh says:

    Ken – another solution is to turn off reading layout. Go to Tools > Options > General, and then uncheck "Allow starting in Reading Layout". Voila, problemn solved 🙂

  8. Peter says:

    I do not like "Reading Layout." So, I turn it off and then, when I open another word document attachment, Reading Layout is somehow once again enabled.  How can I keep Reading Layout turned off?

    Thank you,


  9. jonathanh says:

    Peter – I know this option can be set [at least in Word 2007!], but unfortunately I don’t know where 🙁

    I know because when I first ran it after a fresh install, Word popped up a dialog box to the effect of "I’m showing you this attachment in Reading Layout – click here [] to use regular layout instead, and click here[] to never ask again". The question is how do you get that dialog box *back* if you realize you’ve chosen the wrong option and then clicked "never ask me again"…

    Anyone out there know?

  10. Gwdy says:

    Open Word – Tools Options general tab – untick the box that states allow opening in reading layout ……..Hope this helps.

  11. jonathanh says:

    Excellent – thanks Gwdy!

  12. Bob says:

    The box is somehow magically rechecked after some time… anyone know what causes it to come back?

  13. devang says:

    Can we have a registry setting to disable "Allow starting in Reading Layout" for a mass deployment.

    if yes how can some body mail me.

  14. xander says:

    if the setting keeps resetting, you might try closing all documents (except one). Then set/clear the value in the one that’s open. Finally close that one too… and the next time you open word docs, they should open correctly.

  15. dhiren boni says:

    I actually prefer the Reading Layout. How can I make it so that anytime I open any Word doc (even from my hard drive, not just as an attachment) it opens in Reading Layout? I would like every file to open in this layout, and I prefer typing in this layout as well. Thanks.

  16. Angry says:

    Reading layout is a piece of garbage.  That setting is document dependent.  

  17. Nancy Stibbens says:

    We have discovered a bug in hyperlinks when using Reading Layout. If you open a document in Print Layout, everything is fine. Change to Reading Layout, and the hyperlinks are deleted (Track Changes to see this). Changing back to Print Layout does no good. the only remedy is to start over from the original document, or reject all changes. Has anyone else had this problem?