Tips for typing final drafts of essays/dissertations in Word

Vivian Cook 
Spelling data
Writing Home
SLA Home

To print out this webpage click PRINT

Note: I think these all work OK in Word 2003 and Word 2007 but you may find them in different menus/locations etc. They are tips and hints, not rules or laws! And they are more or less in random order rather than order of importance etc.

1 Backup. Always keep a backup copy of each version somewhere off your main computer or university network, say on a USB memory stick you keep in your pocket.

2 Print out. Always print out a hard copy to check before the final version you submit as you will be bound to miss some things reading it only on the screen. In particular check cross-references to page numbers/appendices as these can go wrong when your printer unexpectedly decides to create an extra page.

3 Printing. If you are using special/unusual fonts, double-check that they are appearing on the printed version and on any electronic version e.g. Blackboard, as printers etc seem to vary much more in their fonts than the actual PCs. This is particularly true of Chinese/Japanese characters and IPA symbols, which can go horribly wrong. Don’t forget quality of the paper you print on (whiteness/thickness) makes a big difference to how well it looks.

4 Tracker. If you are using Tracker, don’t forget to go into ‘View: Final’ before you print and to choose ‘Accept All Changes in Document’ when you are finally finished. Otherwise bits of old versions can appear unexpectedly in print.

5 Spell check. After doing a spell-check, also do a manual check on a printed copy for typical spell-check errors form/from, weak/week, their/there/they’re, tow/two  etc; for correct spelling of proper names; and for anything all in capital letters (which Word ignores when checking, e.g. headings in all caps). When Word spell checks, it usually ignores both words that have embedded numbers ‘th4e’, ‘Table4’,  those all in capitals ‘LNDON’ and spaces before brackets ‘Chomsky(1957’. Either you need to check these manually or to set the Word defaults for spellcheck differently. While it usually does not matter too much if you use American or British styles of spelling, be warned that the spell checker in Word has a mind of its own and may decide to change the spelling in one direction or the other, particularly with consonant doubling, labelling/labeling.

6 Bibliography. Use appropriate style but be consistent throughout. Always give enough information so that the reader can potentially find the source; e.g. page numbers are vital in locating things in e-journals. For web-pages it is normal to give date of access when you looked it up as web-pages are rarely fixed in one form at time of publication unless they duplicate printed material. Never cite anonymous sources like Wikipedia in an academic text; you may of course be able to cite the proper references given in Wiki articles.

7 Finding references. If you have typed references in the text in the form (Chomsky, 1965), you can make your list of references by searching for left brackets “(“, which should find them all and copying and pasting each of them into a list – I use an extra window on the document to build up the list while searching the document. To double check, you can temporarily highlight each once you have dealt with it.

8 Sorting lists/references etc. Word has its own peculiar way of doing this, so check that it is doing it the way you want; you may have to move one or two items by hand. Problems with reference list order are often due to extra white spaces in text, giving people’s initials differently, T.S., T. S., TS,  inconsistent use of brackets around dates, stray commas, etc. Be careful with references by multiple authors.

9 Fonts. The normal font for a printed book, newspaper etc is a serif font (i.e. with twiddly bits at top and feet and varying line width) like Times New Roman or Garamond.
            To be or not to be that is the question (TNR 12)
A sans-serif font (no twiddly bits and constant line width) like Arial or Calibri
              To be or not to be that is the question (Arial 12)
San-serifs are not legible for long continuous printed texts, only for headings, posters and short memos etc.
            The new Word 2007 default font Calibri is designed for screen viewing (as here), not for print. If anybody queries this, refer them to the research cited in Cook (2004), The English Writing System or tell them the editor of the journal Writing Systems Research told you so. Try to keep to the same size font and to two different fonts at most, otherwise the page looks odd.

10 Margins. Make certain that everything fits the page and does not wander into the edges (particularly those of your printer or copier), leaving enough space on the left for binding. Don’t forget people can only look at a single page at a time in a thesis, unlike the double spread of a book.

11 Paragraphs. You have to separate your paragraphs somehow (do not simply put in an extra paragraph at the end of each except in working drafts). Typographers say you should either start each paragraph with an indent (except the first paragraph after a heading) or you should follow each paragraph with spacing after (called ‘leading’ because it was done with bits of lead) – Word seems to use 6 or 10 points as default – but you should never use both indent and leading.

12 Headings. Make certain these always go with the paragraphs etc they belong to rather than getting stranded at the bottom of the page, however Word decides to divide the pages. To do this, you need to use ‘Keep with next’ with all your headings; you will find this in ‘Paragraph/Lines and Page Breaks’ menu.

13 Tables. Make certain these stay together on one page within the margins, even if it sometimes leaves white space at the bottom of the page. This means using ‘Keep with next’ and ‘Keep lines together’, also in ‘Paragraph/Lines and Page Breaks’ menu, on the cells of the table. If you are trying to fit lots of columns in, it sometimes works to chose a narrow clear font for the headings like Haettenschweiler.  But don’t forget that examiners have older eyes and no font should be less than 10 point in size as they won’t be able to read it even if you can (and it also depends on your printer quality as what looks good on screen may not print clearly). Only if completely unavoidable turn a table sideways on page.

14 Graphs. Graphs taken from other programs like Excel can be tedious to get to work in Word and often can’t be changed once inserted (i.e. they are treated as picture files). I find it is often quicker to make a new graph in Word by typing the figures into a Word Chart datasheet. Graphs are there to help your reader, so they mustn’t be too complicated or too simple (i.e. pie charts with two slices). Do look at them in printout as sometimes contrast/heaviness that looks OK on screen prints out badly. Avoid colour unless essential: you cannot guarantee your reader will see it in colour – our standard ECLS printers are only b&w. So, if you’re using differently coloured lines in graphs, make certain they also vary in form – dashed, dotted etc. Sometimes you may want to change the font size in a graph and Word won’t let you; first try the menu for the graph and make certain that auto scale is off (not ticked); if this doesn’t work, try inserting a text box with the characters in the right size, have a white background and put it over the old ones – only do this in final draft as the box may drift around the page every time you edit.

15 Page numbers. Don’t forget to have page numbers, usually top righthand side. I find it easier to reset the count for the start of each chapter/file rather than using Word’s automatic system. You can change the font etc of page numbers by selecting the header (double-click on the number).

16 Numbers. Remember raw numbers, totals etc are the bedrock of quantitative analysis; percentages/graphs etc are usually just presentational devices to help the reader. Try to get columns of numbers right-justified in line; use numbers that line up 123456789 rather than those that descend from the line 123456789 (this may not display on your browser). In the text many publishers insist on words for small numbers ‘one’, ‘nineteen’ and numerals for bigger numbers ‘167’.

17 Bulletted and numbered lists. Be careful that Word is making these with the same indents etc. I often find it simpler to insert bullets/numbers by hand (as in this document) as Word’s automatic system mucks them up.

18 Underlining etc. Underlining is not used in normal printing in books/newspapers etc – printers and typographers hate it as it destroys descenders of letters on say ‘p’ or ‘g’; for examples etc use either italics or ‘quotes’; make up your mind which you prefer and stick to it. Sometimes small caps look nice in headings etc and don’t forget bold.

19 Extra white spaces in text. You can eliminate double white spaces by doing a ‘Find’ (double space __) and ‘Replace All’ (single space _), as many times as necessary. Be careful though if you have used white spaces to create tables/indents etc (in any case it’s usually easier to make such layouts using Tab or Table than inserting extra spaces).

20 Hyphens. If you are using full justification, left and right tidy, you sometimes get lines which have too many odd-looking white spaces. A way round this is to insert ‘optional hyphens’ to break up words from one line to another ‘Insert/special character/optional hyphen’. Be careful as these invisible hyphens sometime appear visibly when you don’t want them to, say when you copy the text to another file/program such as a web-page. Words that already have hyphens sometimes end up with the hyphen at the end of the line and look odd; you can prevent this from happening by replacing the hyphen with ‘Symbol/Special characters/Nonbreaking hyphen’. However, only fiddle with small layout things like this on your final final version otherwise you’ll have to redo them lots of times.

21 Undo. If you get in a muddle after making editing changes, it is often easier to step backwards up to hundred times using ‘undo’ from menus etc (or Ctrl Z).

22 Repeat (key F4) is a very useful command; it repeats the last thing you did. So if you are inserting italics, do it once, select ‘Repeat’ for each word/bit you want to italicise as many times as necessary. But it works for lots of commands, e.g. inserting a word in several places, making things caps, etc.

23 Useful keyboard shortcuts.
- Ctrl A (i.e. All) selects the whole document;
- Shift and Return simultaneously inserts a line break
- Ctrl C (Copy) copies whatever you have selected to a memory file
- Ctrl V (Paste) inserts whatever you have copied to this memory
- Ctrl F (Find) gets you the search menu;
- Ctrl Alt Del simultaneously (called the three Finger Salute by old hands) gets you out of any problems with Word itself, e.g. freezing, and gets you to Task Manager etc.
You can also reformat words by clicking anywhere on the word and using Ctrl I for italics, Ctrl B for bold, etc.

24 Typical things that go wrong with punctuation:
- do not have white space before comma “_,”
- do not have two white spaces after a sentence-final full stop “.__”) – not necessary in word-processed documents
- do not have a capital letter after colon ‘: A’ – this is American style, not British
- do have a space before a bracket ‘_(’ –  for some reason the Word spell-checker ignores this.
- quotation marks: British style uses a single quote as the norm ‘To be or not to be’ with double quotes for quotations inside quotations ‘Hamlet said “To be or not to be”’. Word has funny ideas about pairs of quote marks, i.e. ‘’ and “”, and you occasionally have to correct its wrong use of left and right quotes as in ’banana‘ and of wrong form for apostrophes ‘it‘s’.
- remember that commas often come in pairs ‘Nunan, however, says…’, except when separating a sentence-initial phrase etc ‘On Tuesday, he was late’.

25 Dashes. For most fonts, Word has different size dashes:
-    (hyphen/minus)
  (en-dash, i.e. = width of an n)
— (em-dash = width of an m)
There are various conventions for using these. I usually have hyphen for page numbers ‘pp. 25-37’, en-dash for dashes used as punctuation between phrases ‘Chomsky – the MIT linguist’ (Word sometimes does this automatically if you leave spaces) and I avoid em-dash as it often looks odd.

26 Stylistics. Some expressions carry particular implications. For example you cannot say something like:
     It is generally acknowledged/well-known/often said …
without giving a reference to someone who has actually said it.
- “
there are some sounds which are available in one language”. Consider whether you should cut out the cleft sentence there are …”  construction unless vital to meaning: “some sounds are available in one language”
- ‘lots of’ - an expression frowned on in written English
- odd introducing verbs X observes/believes/reveals
- reduced relatives:
This may be for the same reasons which have been discussed above. People often avoid these unnecessarily.

27 Some English mistakes. Be careful with some frequent words:
 - research is an uncountable noun and so is never plural – you cannot for instance say few researches. Instead you need to say something like some pieces of research, a few researchers etc
- supplying/omitting articles a/an, the, zero is probably the  most common problem in work I read
- to me the possessive with apostrophe s ('s) can only be used with (quasi) animate nouns the man's legs, not inanimates the country's borders must be the borders of the country

28 Lining up. If you want to get numbers etc lined up vertically, one way is to use Tab. Another is to insert a vertical line down the page, get things lined up against it, and then delete the line.

28 Pages. Use Insert/Page break (Ctrl and Enter Keys simultaneously) to make certain that there is a new page always when you need it, for example for the start of a Chapter

Please tell me if any of these tips are incomprehensible, wrong or don’t work! Vivian Cook