Formatting Guide for Documents in Microsoft Word

As a professional who has worked extensively in Microsoft Word for document preparation and writing, I have come across a number of pitfalls and common mistakes that have compelled me to write this brief checklist for others on document preparation in Microsoft Word. If I could use one word to describe my argument, it is consistency. No matter what you do, what audience the document is for, or how many people are going to see this document, there is nothing more frustrating to a reader (especially one with an editorial mind) than inconsistencies in writing and formatting. Microsoft Word, along with other word processing software, has all sorts of tools to aid even the mostinexperienced of writers in their publishing efforts.

1. Table of Contents- Microsoft Word has a nifty way of allowing writers to make a table of contents fairly easily. Go to Insert, then Reference, and then Tables and Figures, which leads to a variety of options in outlining your contents section. This includes creating hyperlinks from the section titles in the document to the corresponding section title in the table. The best way to approach the table of contents, after setting it up in Word, is to use the same font for each level of content (ex. Times New Roman 12 for primary headings, size 10 for secondary headings, etc.). As well, you should set up the Bullets and Numbering (under the Format tab) so that it automatically numbers each section in your document so that when you set up the table, it is much easier to do.

2. Document Headers/Footers- Just like the call for consistency above, the headers and footers can be frustrating document pieces to look at in hard copy. Margins are sometimes messed up, numbering is confused when you insert a section break instead of a page break, and the document name or any text you add into the headers/footers may get garbled in the limited space you have. To ensure that back-to-back documents have consistent headers and footers, use mirror margins in the Page Setup page to keep the headers and footers (along with borders and margins) the same on one side of the page as the other. As well, remember to disconnect each section from one another so that your page number does not become confused. Instead, restart the page numbering with each section by going to the Microsoft Word View tab and use the Header/Footer tool bar to keep disconnection sections from one another.

3. Section/Chapter Headings- In Microsoft Word, you can develop a scheme for expanding upon chapter or section headings into any number of subheadings for different sections of your document. Going to Format and then Paragraph in Microsoft Word, you can use bullets, numbering, or lettering to divide up your document more effectively. The font for chapters or sections should be noticeable, preferably bold and probably about twice the size of the body font.

4. Margins- Margins are trickier to lump into one general category, because different documents need different spaces between paper edge and text (especially with tables, pictures, and other figures). Just remember that checking each page to ensure that the margins are the same throughout is not a bad idea and to make sure that you set the margins you want from the beginning, so as not to cause disruptions in the document throughout the writing process. Also, checking margins within tables and figures is important, because inserting a table or figure causes some goofy things to happen to Word documents sometimes (especially if it is a figure you did not create). Checking the document throughout for these types of mechanical factors will save you formatting time in the end.

5. Bullets, and Tables, and Captions, Oh My!- When using bullets and tables and captions in Microsoft Word, several things should be noted before proceeding. First, make sure that all bullets look the same, all tables look the same, and all captions look the same, because if one piece does not look like the other, it is very conspicuous. Use the bullet option in Microsoft Word and make sure to double space the lines between the bullets, by going to Format, Paragraph, and changing the line space before and after to something like four or six point. Tables can be looked at and the problems can be determined easily, using the ruler at the top and side of Microsoft Word. Captions are similar to body text in that you can use any number of fonts and sizes in Microsoft Word, as long as it is smaller than the body text.

6. Things to Avoid in Writing- In preparing a document, there are several common mistakes that inexperienced writers or editors may commit to the chagrin of their reader. One is the use of too many lists within text. If there are more than three objects in a list, turn the list into a bulleted list or a small table for easier use by the audience. As well, writers will sometimes reference an acronym or measurement without making an initial attempt at definition. For example, if I saw NAFTA or kHz, I would not necessarily know on sight that those meant North American Free Trade Agreement or kilohertz. In referencing these, use a combination of full spelling and acronym the first time in the document, such as kilohertz (kHz), in order to allow your readers a reference point if they need to refresh their memory.

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