On July 2nd 2004 I posted a small article about stapling sheets of paper together. We all have these small thoughts but don't usually say them out loud - this time I did.
I asked myself what is the best angle to staple sheets of paper at?
This simple article on how to staple papers together was picked up by Metafilter and traffic went mad for a few weeks. Readers wanted more info and suggestions were that a thesis should be written, so I expanded it and I even had to change the original graphics as someone, quite rightly pointed out that one was technically incorrect. I was still getting searches through to the new website for this article several years later so decided to republish it. Here is the article:
I have just stapled four sheets of paper together in a routine that I do several times a day and yet it only just occurred to me that there may be a perfect angle at which to staple the paper together for ease of reading. For example, if I were to staple the paper at the classic 45 degrees would it interfere with my desk space more than a 90-degree fixing?
Firstly I checked my process to ensure I could repeat the paper stapling test accurately each time.
Process — how to staple paper:
Sort your paper, A4 or US Letter, into the order you need the pages.
Check the size of staples you are planning to use are sufficient for the number of pages you want to staple together.
Ensure the edges of the paper stack are aligned by picking up and holding loosely while tapping the edge of the stack on your desk or tabletop.
Check the top and sides of the stack you wish to staple and if there are any errant sheets of paper then tap in with a finger.
Choose your stapler, hand stapler for a few sheets, heavy-duty stapler for 8 to 20 sheets or electric stapler if available on a photocopier.
Offer paper stack up to your stapler.
Twist paper to the angle you require — see the guide below.
Firmly press the stapler to insert the staple through your paper.
Enjoy your newly stapled and secure stack of paper.
Testing the best angle to staple paper
So I set out and did some testing to see what the best angle for stapling paper could be used at and what advantages each had. I have only included the successful angles, in between angles were rounded out to the final ones. You can see from the results what happened:
0 degrees stapled paper
At 0 degrees the paper is thrown out to the side making it quite unwieldy and easily prone to unwanted movement if you are reading. Not recommended unless you have a shallow space at your desk.
22.5 degrees stapled paper
Our photocopier has automatic stapling and uses a 22.5-degree fastening and you would think that a large company would have tested this aspect a lot but it seems not, as I find this angle quite uncomfortable to use. Disappointing and certainly for me not the best way to staple paper!
45 degrees stapled paper
At the classic 45 degrees, all seems well but undue strain is put on the paper especially as you get to the back pages of a large document. The lifted pages wave about a bit because the paper does not know to flop up your desk to the side.
67.5 degrees stapled paper
A slight twist on the classic 45 degrees fixing. This has a little more flair as it starts to adhere to some of the Golden Mean rules. My personal preference and the one I think Da Vinci would have gone for (and he may have done — if only the Vatican would allow us to see the books.). Similar to the 0-degree option but this time goes forward rather than out to the side. Same problems but could be useful if you need to concentrate on the document as it stops you getting to your keyboard. People with attention deficiency should choose this.
The next question to arise is do left-handed people staple to the left or right of the document?
Do left-handed people staple to the left or right?
I have no idea but if you horizontally flipped the above angles, 0, -22.5, -45 and -67.5 degrees, then left-handed people should have the same, but mirrored, experience as right-handed people. If you did not flip them but used the same angle top right then you might get into some difficulty.
Later on, I will be examining what is the best angle to use if you intend to fold the page behind, such as if you are reading documents while on the train, and a lot of people do for I have read many interesting internal emails over people shoulders.
If you know of any academic references to this thorny problem please leave a comment with a link to them.
Other paper stapling techniques
It is possible to staple paper together without a traditional office stapler. I have seen techniques making tears in the paper and folding. There are paper fasteners that punch holes in the paper but I have never used one that keeps the paper together longer than 30 seconds. You could also use a nail gun to staple your paper but to be frank that’s a bit overkill and wire staples are a cheap, economic way and also reusable as long as you don’t extract the staples with pliers!