Headers, footers, indents and dot leaders
This page provides a bare-bones overview of the most useful word-processing functions you are likely to encounter in writing your report (other than equation editiors).  You will be introduced to headers and footers, special indents, and the most frustration-reducing function invented: dot leaders.


A header is simply a space at the top of each page that is reserved for information that repeats itself throughout the report.  It is a useful place to put page numbers, the company name or logo, the project name, your name or a decorative device (like a logo or design element) - BUT NOT ALL OF THE ITEMS LISTED.  A footer is identical except that it is found at the bottom (the foot) of the page.  The header can be as deep as you'd care to make it but comes as a 1/2" space by default - which is usually sufficient.  Too much header information subtracts from the space available on the page for the report - too little usually isn't a problem and, generally, a page number is really all that is required.

To insert a header or footer click on the 'View' menu (in Microsoft Word) and look for the 'header and footer' menu item.  Click on it and you will get a menu that looks like the illustration below.

Figure 1: Typical tool bar and header option presented by clicking on 'Header and Footer' (Microsoft Word)                     

Whatever you type next to the cursor in the header will appear on every page of your report - including the '2' you insert as a page number unless you use the  icon - the 'insert page numbers' function.  This function automatically sequences the numbers to correspond with each new page of your report.  To get the page number to appear in the right-hand corner simply hit the 'tab' button twice and it will move from the left position, to the centre position and then to the right-hand position.  The other function button on this toolbar with whaich you need to be familiar is the  icon.  It brings up the style menu for your numbers plus a few other options (see 'Pagination' in this handbook).  You don't really need any of the other function buttons, but check them out so that you are familiar with what they do.

If you choose to put your name or the title of your report in the header make sure it does not compete with the page number.  Ap page number is easily lost in a jumble of other information.  Making the text smaller than the number is one way to avoid confusing the reader.  In the example below is a suggested option to avoid burying your page numbers.

Figure 2: Layout options for crowded headers - pagination burial avoidance                                                       

Please note that I am not advocating the inclusion of all of the information in the illustration above; only, that if you do have a lot of information that absolutely has to be included on every page of your report then there are options available.  In the sample above I have reduced the font size of the text (8 and 10 point) and used colour (black and blue) as well as space to distinguish between the company name and the title of the report and to allow the page number to be read easily.  The fact that the page number always appears in the same spot helps the reader to find what s/he is looking for.  Locational repetition is a useful communication tool when used properly (highway signs are a good example - the distance to destination is always on what side of the place-name?).  The reader should always be able to tell what page they are on at a glance.


First of all, recall that I told you not to indent the first line of your paragraphs.  You are to use what is called full-block format.  In full-block format, if you were to draw straight lines around the text it would delineate a space that is roughly rectangular (it is irregular on the right and at the bottom, but square on the left and top.  The paragraphs on this page are in full-block format.

You should also know how to set a hanging indent.  A hanging indent is particularly useful when creating the glossary and the bibliography.  Have you noticed how, in a bibliography, the last names of the authors stick out into the margin on the left-hand side of the page?  That is a hanging indent.  It is the opposite of the indent used in paragraphs - the one I told you not to use in your report. It looks like this:

          Dawson, Patrick. (2006) A Guide to Writing the Mechanical Engineering Technology Report. Ottawa: 
                    Algonquin College Press

        Catton, Jim. (2006) Effective Oral Presentations in a Technical Setting.  Ottawa: 
                    Algonquin College Press

Notice that the last names of the authors 'hang' out into the margin and make it easier to locate a particular author (it would be most apparent in a longer list).

To create a hanging indent go to the 'Format' menu (in Microsoft Word) and locate the 'Paragraph' menu item.  It will bring up a dialogue box that looks like the illustration below.

Figure 3: The hanging indent option in the 'Paragraph' dialogue box      

Go to the 'special' menu and select 'Hanging'.  Now when you type the words will automatically start close to the left margin but will wrap to the indent until you hit the 'Enter' key on your keyboard.  Hitting the 'Enter' key will move the cursor to the left-hand margin again.   Once you are familiar and comfortable with this option you will be able to set it on the ruler located above the page (by moving the tab-set indicators - if you have that toolbar open of course) without going through this dialogue box - but don't worry about that right now.


Dot leaders are the row of dots that lead the reader's eye from some sort of information on the left side of the page to the page number, or perhaps a definition, on the right side of the page. It looks like this:

           Technical Description ............................................................................................................... 17

If you choose not to use the dot leader insertion function you will spend an inordinate amount of time trying to line up numbers and dots and words (this is amusingly annoying - amusing if your are a spectator, annoying if you are the report writer).  The dot leader function is activated by going to the 'Format' menu. Click on the 'Tabs' menu item.  You will get a dialogue box that looks like the illustration below.

Figure 4:  Setting tab stops for dot leaders (MS Word) 


If you type in 5.88 in the 'Tab stop position' box and select the 'right' radio button and the '2 ......' option you will get reasonable results for standard paper size documents.  Now when you type say the title of the chapter in your table of contents all you need to then do to is to hit the 'tab' key (which will insert a row of dot leaders) and type the page number.  I recommend putting a space before the dots and one before the page number to separate the dot leader line from the text.  The numbers will all line up nicely along the right-hand margin because you selected the 'right' radio button in the dialogue box. 

When using dot leaders in the glossary to separate the term from the definition you will need to determine the length of the longest term, add a suitable space and then set the 'Tab stop position' accordingly so that you end up with a glossary page that looks neat and well-organized.  A glossary entry will look something like this:

             glossary ........................... a partial dictionary; particularly, a list of technical terms and their definition.

             definition .........................  the process of stating the precise meaning, or alternative meanings of a word;  
                                                      also a measurement of visual fineness in optical systems.

You should notice that the terms of the definition are 'hanging' into the left margin and that the definitions are aligned centrally (the 'a's and 'the's of the definition line up vertically).  The glossary tests your ability to use both the hanging indent and the dot leader functions of the word processing software.

            created: August 2006
                posted: August 2006