I'm looking for an easy to learn layout program that allows me to create alternating page layouts. MS Word does NOT seem to have this feature (argh!).

By simplest I mean lowest learning curve. This is subjective, I know, but anything easier than QuarkXpress or InDesign would be wonderful. Of course, if no such beast exists and I need to use Quark or InDesign that knowledge would be nice to know too.

The design I need to work with is this: A book with the main text on the left hand pages in two columns and a two column layout on the right with supporting text in one column and lines in the other for taking notes.

All columns are full page height. Left page columns are equal width and right page columns have the left side column slightly smaller, maybe a 40% / 60% split.

Something like this:

This is the left | text that flows  || this is right    |___________ 
hand page with   | in two columns   || hand page with   |___________
                                    || text in one      |___________
                                    || column and lines |___________
                                    || in the other.    |___________

I don't want to put too much time into learning new software and won't need many features beyond this layout. I'm currently download the InDesign trial to give that a try but from what I read online, I could be in for a bit of a steep learning curve.

I guess what the hard part is, is that I expect to paste in a whole bunch of existing text into the first left hand page and the text should never appear on any right hand page. Supporting text will be added later on the right hand page.

Help locating such software (or that nothing "easy" exists) very appreciated! Please let me know if comments if I need more detail on any of this.

  • Note to mods: Please comment if the question needs to be changed. I can re-word it if necessary. Jul 24, 2013 at 10:59

2 Answers 2


This is a shopping-list question and is likely to be closed, but I'll get in before that happens.

You are right that Microsoft Word is not a page-layout application. Although it has some features which will help, it's a word-processing app. Specifically, you can't easily set a two-column layout on the left-hand side of a spread which flows on to the next spread instead of a two-column layout on the right. [Edit: It's just occurred to me that you probably can force the correct flow with text-boxes, but it's not the best application for what you want to do.]

You need an application which does desktop publishing (DTP).

You don't say which platform you are using, and all the packages you mention (Microsoft Word, Adobe InDesign and Quark XPress) are available for Windows and Mac. The latter two are high-end DTP packages and extremely capable; they are also rather expensive!

I have little, very distant, experience with Mac and now work exclusively on Windows.

I use Microsoft Publisher. This is supplied with some editions of Office but can be purchased separately. It is very capable although it doesn't have the fine control which high-end DTP has (or it's far more difficult to achieve). Because it's Microsoft it has irritating quirks but many functions are where you might expect them to be if you have other Microsoft experience.

Serif PagePlus is a lot cheaper. You can even get previous versions free. In my experience, you get what you pay for. However it will also cope with master pages and flowing text in the way you want.

  • Thanks for this. I can edit the question to "How to accomplish" as opposed to "which software" if that would help. I will check out PagePlus pronto. Thank you. Jul 24, 2013 at 10:58
  • The question looks totally fine to me - it's asking for the most suitable tools for a well specified type of problem. As I understand it the only problem with "shopping list questions" is if they are like "Pls list every publishing application evar" with no criteria - which this isn't. Jul 24, 2013 at 11:33
  • @user568458 If it's fine, it's fine. It does seem to fit the criteria because the answers are going to subjective and not exhaustive. But whatever: I'm happy recommending MS Publisher if InD and QXP are overkill. Jul 24, 2013 at 11:44

The feature you are interested in is very basic in all DTP style programs and is not difficult to wrestle with.

The paradigm for DTP is "boxes" or "windows" or "frames" which reveal content hiding inside them. For text, you create a text box, then you place text into it. Overflow (text which is too long for the box size) is hidden. What you do is link text boxes. In quark, it is/was a tool which looked like a "chain," which you use to merely click the 1st text box and then click the second box. In indesign it is/was a gadget to the lower right of the box frame which you click and then click the next box in the chain. The text will then flow from the 1st box to the second box.

The text itself is often called a story and is independent of the display frames/boxes. A document can have an arbitrary number of stories.

You can have an arbitrary number of linked boxes on any page. You can also have an arbitrary number of separate stories in those arbitrary number of linked boxes.

The boxes do not need to link forwards: you can have a text box on page 3 which flows to a text box on page 1.

In indesign, if you have 2 chained boxes and add a third box, by clicking on the overflow gadget on box 1 and then clicking on the 3rd box, the program generally assumes you want to insert box 3 in between box 1 and box 2.

So for your specific layout, you want to create a document with spreads. Add a bunch of pages, the first left hand page (page 2), you make a single text box, edit its options for 2 columns, copy and paste that box onto each of the left hand pages (to duplicate the column settings), place the text into the box on page 2, then click the overflow gadget to direct the content flow from even page to even page.

For the right hand pages, you do the same thing, only you don't bother with 2 columns, and the text box would be the width of the desired text column. The area for notes would be handled differently using lines (aka rules).

Normally one would probably set up a master page for left and right hand pages, where all of this would be handled automagically, but that is for another discussion and for further reading.


(note that the above link is for an adobe product, but the basic feature set and pardigm is the same for all the DTP style programs I have dealt with)

Depending on how you plan on supplying and finishing the final product, Scribus may be an option. It is open source (free), but may not have much (if any) printing industry support. For "in-house" publishing, and straight-to-pdf it may be useful.

  • This is also very useful. I downloaded Scribus last night as well but haven't had a chance to play yet. Thanks for the detailed information. Jul 24, 2013 at 16:58

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