Using MS Word for Academic Writing

I want to provide a few links to help people using MS Word for academic writing to learn how to take advantage of the tools that the program offers. In addition to the basics, there are a few more “advanced” features that you really should learn how to use in order to use Word to write a dissertation or thesis.

  1. Styles
  2. I would never attempt to write anything more than a few pages long in Word without using Styles. You can apply formatting commands directly to your text, but for a document of any length that is not the way to do it. I use Styles for nearly everything that I write in Word beyond the simplest one page letter. Once you understand the power of styles you will use them as well.

    Here is a tutorial on Understanding Styles in Microsoft Word
    Styles are stored in Templates. For more detail on creating Templates go here.

  3. Outlining
  4. Outlining allows you to create multi-level outlines in your document. The Outline View shows you just the outline with as much detail as you choose. It is easy to move around whole sections or to promote/demote sections to a different outline level.

    To use outlining you need to apply the built-in styles Heading 1, Heading 2, and so on to the different outline levels. Once you have done this you can also have Word generate a Table of Contents for your document.

    Here is a simple introduction to outlining.
    Here are more detailed instructions on using outlining in Word.
    More detailed instructions on creating a Table of Contents.

  5. Taming Word
  6. Sometimes MS Word tries to do too much for you. Some of the automatic formatting options can drive you crazy when they do things that you do not want them to. Here are some tips to tame Word.

    • One essential tip is to make sure that you go to Tools:Templates and AddIns and make sure that Automatically update document styles” is unchecked. This will save you endless headaches and confusion.
    • If you have problems with the way that Word is automatically applying formatting as you type You should also go to Tools | AutoCorrect Options, and find the “Autoformat as you type” and “Autoformat” tabs. De-select any of the options that might be causing you trouble.
    • When you are using styles, set up your own style sheet instead of putting everything in the default style sheet called normal.dot. The default style sheet is attached to every document you create, and any changes there will affect all your documents. Instead, create a new style sheet with a name like thesis.dot.
    • If you have problems with styles or formatting, select the troublesome text and hit shift-F1. This will show you all the styles and formatting that are applied to the selected text.

This is not a tutorial on using MS Word. I have only shared a few key tips and given you links to some reasonably useful tutorials. I hope that this is helpful to you. I may update this post from time to time as I come across more information that seems helpful.

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"True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less." -- C. S. Lewis