The Article About Paper Sizes You Didn’t Know You Needed
This is the story of a global tug of war between ‘A4’ and ‘letter’
You can crumple it, fold it, print on it, and write on it. In short, a piece of paper can do it all. But not everyone agrees about what size it should be.
When I moved to the U.S. for college, I found out that they did not use A4-sized paper. It was a catastrophe. My first college essay came out of the printer cut off at the top and bottom. It reminded me of my teenage self every time I outgrew pants. I had an essay without a heading and a final sentence, which was no good for getting my point across about Dickens and Modernism.
It didn’t occur to me that the paper was the issue. I printed out my essay a dozen more times (apologies, trees). I thought there must be something wrong with the printer or the connection or even the feng shui of the room. I scrambled to different printing stations across campus. These were my college years, which meant it was only customary that I do all of this an hour before the deadline. I panicked. I started thinking that if I didn’t print this out in time, the school would kick me out, which meant I would have to leave the country, which meant I had to pack my bags, which I had only just finished unpacking that morning. Oh well. At least I achieved my main goal, which was not to get fat while I was there.
Eventually I found an I.T. person who checked my Microsoft Word settings. He quickly identified the problem.
“What’s this? You need to set your page to ‘letter.’”
“Letter? I’m not writing a letter, this is an essay.”
“I don’t have time to joke around. Set it to letter and you’re good. Then run a virus scan because I think your computer might be infected. It’s set to something called A4?”
Although I was confused (and understandably so — why would I print out a letter?), I changed the setting and presto, my essay came out of the printer in its correct shape and structure. Dickens was safe. For now.
A4 is the most common paper size in the world. You have likely encountered an A4 sheet of paper at some point in your life. The 210 millimeter by 297 millimeter shape has graced documents…