Inserting a ‘This page intentionally left blank’ message

October 3, 2012

When you have odd/even pages set for a Word document, and new sections or chapters starting on an odd page, you may get a blank page for a preceding even page (see here for a full explanation as to why this is so: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2012/08/14/word-blank-pages-when-document-is-printed/).

Unfortunately, you can’t see the blank page in Word — you only see it when the document is printed, including ‘printed’ to PDF. In some situations (such as for legal or regulatory documents), you may want to indicate to the reader that the blank page is deliberately blank and that it’s not an omission.

There are a couple of ways you can add a ‘This page intentionally left blank’ type of message in Word, using VBA code or fields, but neither is particularly easy to implement, especially if you’ve already set up odd page section breaks:

However, if you have Adobe Acrobat (NOT Adobe Reader) there is a super easy way to insert such a message into a PDF of the Word document. And you can save the message for later use in the same document or other documents too.

The instructions below are for Acrobat Pro X — earlier versions of Acrobat also insert watermarks, but you may have to look under different options for that functionality (e.g. Acrobat 9 has it under Document > Watermark).

  1. Save the Word document as a PDF.
  2. Open the PDF in Adobe Acrobat (NOT Reader).
  3. Go to View > Tools > Pages (or click the Tools text on the right of the menu bar and then expand the Pages option).
  4. Click Watermark.
  5. Select Add Watermark.
  6. On the Add Watermark window, choose your settings. In the example below, I’ve entered ‘This page intentionally left blank’ as the watermark text and set the font, font color, and font size. I only wanted to put this watermark on a single page in the document (page 2), so I clicked the Page Range Options link (top right of the window), and set the page. I left all other settings as they were, then clicked OK. I could have saved this message and all its formatting for use later in this document, or in other documents.
  7. I now had a document with a message on the blank page:

No, I won’t comment on the absurdity of the page no longer being blank as now there is some text on it! The reality is that this is a convention that has been used for several decades at least, and is a known convention in legal and regulatory circles, and possibly military and other technical documents where it is important that the reader understands that nothing has been omitted inadvertently.

[Links last checked October 2012; thanks to Matt H for alerting me to this simple solution]


  1. In many genres of writing for hard copy books chapters have started on right hand pages. I am not sure for how long this has happened but this has been the norm. If a hard copy book has parts these too will start on a right hand page.

    Leaving blank left hand pages applies equally to any publication including fiction as it does to the limited technical topics you have mentioned. The right page (correctly called the recto) is the preferred and easiest page to read in a paper book.

    I have noticed that some cheaply produced books tend not to follow this convention.

    In technical documents empty pages and in fact page gaps are often left so that new text can be added in future editions without the need to repage the whole book. That is, the gaps or empty pages avoid the need to change the contents list, x references and indexing in later updates. The need to update material was particularly true for the technical subjects you mention ie legal, regulatory and military. The reference materials for these were of massive length. They were generally loose leaf making it easy to just replace or add those pages that needed replacing or adding.

    Publishing online is a whole new world with Kindle only showing what % you have read and no page numbers. This will change the whole way we reference material.

  2. Thanks for adding a bit more history of this, Irene. I know that recto/verso conventions have been used for at least decades, and possibly centuries (my librarianship training on the history of books is coming back into memory!).

    However, I don’t know when the convention surfaced of adding a note that a page is left blank intentionally.

  3. We have existing books that we are now releasing as ebooks. I’d like to add watermarks to all blank pages without doing this individually. Is there a way to execute this without searching the file and determining each blank page and then listing those pages. Is there a plug in or feature that will find all blank pages in a document and insert a given watermark?

  4. Hi Lisa

    First, I’d query why you need this. One of the features of good eBooks is that users can use them on any device and resize the font etc. to suit their reading style. Therefore, blank pages become moot and probably shouldn’t exist in the eBook.

    But to your question — I don’t know of any automated way to do this. The VBA solution I linked to at the top of this blog post might help, but I think you need some sort of macro that will execute across a file. That’s beyond my skill set, but some of the MVPs on the Microsoft Word forum might be able to help you. Go to http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/office/forum/word and search there. If you can’t find an answer, post a question to the forum.


  5. Rhonda, just to answer your implied question. The reason I need this is because I use an automated program to add bookmarks to the TOC. It requires that the page numbers be correct so that it can “find” the right location, thus I can’t remove the blanks. I can’t remove the blanks after bookmarking because these are Ebooks and not Epub. They are in pdf format and the index is retained. The page numbers in the index would not bring the reader to the correct page if blanks were removed. In any event, thanks for your input. I appreciate it.

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