I have been using Microsoft Word for 12 years, but having just written a 75,000 word document, I feel I am just starting to learn how to use it properly. MS WORD is open to abuse and I guess that many, if not most, of its users don’t get the most out of the program. In this article I share some tips for non-expert MS WORD users that have garnered from my recent experiences of WORD.
In previous posts on this blog we have advocated the use of the LaTex software. A real type setting program such as LaTex has many advantages. A sustained argument against WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) word processors like WORD can be found here, and an ode to LaTeX by our very own Dario here. In terms of the actual writing of an academic article, a type setting program allows you to concentrate on content and structure, whereas with MS WORD you can easily find new methods of procrastination by trying out different fonts for headings, and get sidetracked from the real business of writing. However, LaTeX is popular with a particular audience, particularly those who are fond of UNIX and the command line, such as those in the engineering and computing fields. For less technically savvy users, LaTex is probably not an option, and MS WORD is all they know. If you stuck with MS WORD, you need to exert a little effort to use it properly and make your life easier, especially when you are writing a large academic document.
There are lots of guides to using MS WORD on the internet. Below I list the things I have learnt which I have found most useful. Another short useful guide I found is Ten things every Microsoft Word user should know 12. If you are completely unfamiliar with styles, find a tutorial on the internet that will go over the basics in more detail. This guide to styles might be a good place to start.
The single most important piece of advice to use MS WORD sensibly is to use styles. One of the big advantages of Latex is that is it forces to properly format your documents. With MS WORD you have the option to be chaotic in your use of formatting. Styles creates order, and discipline.
- Think about what your main styles are going to be in your document. The styles you use will depend on the formatting conventions in your field. My basic set includes 4 levels of headings, default paragraph, first paragraph of section, table text, indented quotes, and table/figure titles.
- Don’t click the “automatically update” option in the modify styles menu box. It might sound fun, but it is bad news. It means that whenever you change the formatting of the text in your document, it will update your style.
- If you want to change the formatting of text in your document, modify the style, not your text.
- Don’t use the style Normal in your document. Use Body instead for normal text, i.e. Your default paragraph text. The Normal style is the template that most other styles are based on. It is sacred. If you want to make global changes to your document, such as the font, you should modify your Normal font, and all the other styles, which are based on normal, will follow suit.
- WORD has a number of tools and menus for working with styles easier. My most used one is apply styles box, which appears if you press ctrl+shift+s, and you can then type in the name of our font (using autocomplete), and hit enter to change the current paragraph.
- The apply styles box will also show you the style name of the current paragraph, and then you can click “Modify” to change the style.
- My Body style has first line indenting, while I have a separate Body First style for the first paragraph has no indentation. I have it set so that the text following my headings defaults to Body First, while the text following Body First defaults to Body. This way I never have to use the tab key.
- When pasting into your document, do not use “keep source formatting” option, as you will introduce junk styles into your document.
- If you want to be really strict about your use of styles, you can use the protect document option to limit the styles you can use in your document to a chosen to few. This isn’t a bad idea, as it forces you to use style discipline. For example, if you wanted to italicise a word, you couldn’t just press ctrl-i. Instead you would have to change the style (e.g. Style Emphasis), though this is probably a little extreme for most people.
TABLES & FIGURES
- When you want to insert a title for a figure/table, use the insert caption option.
- If you do this, creating a list of figures/tables for your document is a breeze.
- When referring to your table/figure in your text, use the cross reference option. Choose the reference type as table/figure, change the “Insert reference to” selection to “Only label and number” and WORD will insert in your text as Table 1/Figure 1 etc…
- To update all the references in your document (including table of contents etc), select all text (shortcut: ctrl+a) and fit F9 to update.
- Change your caption style with the paragraphing option (Line and page breaks tab) “keep with next”, which will stop the title from being split across pages from its matching table/figure.
- With tables, you need to additionally right click the table properties, choose the row tab, and uncheck the “Allow row to break across pages” checkbox.
VIEWING YOUR DOCUMENT
- Proof reading is best done with a hard copy. However, when reading on screen, its best to use full screen mode (shortcut: Alt,v,u) and then adjust font size by using ctrl+mouse wheel so that the font is nice and large. I much prefer this to the new screen reading option in WORD 2007. This is very good for removing distractions so you can just focus on your document.
- With large documents, the document map can be useful. You can change the font size with the ctrl+mouse wheel option, and narrow the width so that it is not obtrusive.
- The default heading styles in WORD are a little funky. Change them to something that suits you.
- If you want to use numbered headings, they can be a pain to implement. I ended up finding a WORD document template for numbering on the internet that I used as the basis for my heading styles due to the infuriating way in which WORD deals with numbering.
- To make headings easier to apply, WORD has some shortcut keys ctrl-alt+1 for heading 1, and so forth. It only goes up to heading 3 I believe, so I have set up additional shortcut keys for level 4 and 5 headings.
- Use of proper headings allows proper use of the Outline mode.
- Using the cross reference method described above tables & figures can also be used for headings, as you insert the heading number. Then you write in your text, “as shown in Section X….” and the Section X number will automatically update even if the heading number changes later in your writing.
SPELLING & GRAMMAR
I used to have the highlight grammar option switched off. I believe it is improved in Word 2007, and now I find about 70% of its advice useful. You can customize it to ignore some of its pet peeves, such as the use of passive sentences.
- With the use of keyboard shortcuts, notes can be very useful and convenient to add. For example, I am often removing sentences or references from my main text and adding them as notes instead.
- Use a shortcut key for adding new notes (I use ctrl+alt+n).
- I have a shortcut key to get hide/show the notes pane, as when you add a note it will automatically bring up the notes pane, which I prefer to have hidden from view when in writing mode.
- I also have a macro set up to add a new note, paste the contents of the clipboard, and then close the notes panel.
- I also have a bunch of ideas stored at the bottom of the WORD document, text which I may incorporate into the main body of the document later and “things to do”, which I navigate to using the ctrl+End shortcut.
FIND & REPLACE
- Ctrl+Up and Ctrl-Down will navigate to the last searched text, either up or down your document.
- Find is very useful for finding text in a document, obviously. When correcting a proof, you can search for a few words close to where you need to make a correction, to quickly find the text you need to correct.
- Find and replace is a powerful tool, especially when you understand how to use the advanced syntax and wildcards, but be careful when using Find and Replace. Check it after making large changes. For example, I capitalised all the incidences of the word table in my text, and ended up with changes such as noTable, which would have been easily avoided if I had been more careful in my search term (e.g. ” table ” instead of “table”.)
- Another tip in being careful is to use the Match Case option. For example, if you realise you have made a consistent spelling error in your document, first correct it using lower case find and replace (e.g. find “thier”, replace “their”, and then correct those cases where the word starts the beginning of a sentence: find “Thier” replace with “There”).
- Use ^W^W in find and replace with ^W double whitespace characters. Keep doing this till none are left.
- Use the same technique to remove double lines with find ^P^P, replace with ^P
- Use the Highlight All option to give you a count of many search items found. This is useful for picking up overuse of certain words. We all have our favourite words that get tired when overused. For example, I found about 30 uses of the word “investigate” in my document. I went through a changed a bunch to examine, look into, explore etc…