Love it or hate it, this word processing program is the industry standard and, for most of us, a daily tool of the trade. It’s so easy to learn the program’s basics , most of us start using it without taking the time to delve more deeply into its features. Why should we? Once you know how to type, format margins, and maybe do a search-and-replace, you’re ready to go. At least, that’s usually my attitude. I don’t want to learn the program. I just want it to work!
Over the years, though, I’ve discovered that Word has a number of time-saving tricks…tricks that convinced even this impatient writer that it was worth my time to learn to use this writing tool more effectively. Some are basic, and will help the computer-phobic to make Word operate a bit more efficiently. Others are a bit more technical, so that (hopefully) the list will have something to offer even to the experiences Word user.
10 Ways for Writers to Use Microsoft Word More Effectively
After starting to explain how to use each of these features, I realized I was creating a MUCH longer post than planned. This list gives you an overview: if any of these tools look helpful, check out the Manuscript Formatting Guide for screen shots and detailed instructions on how to set up and use the different features.
- Headings and Styles: By taking the time to use headings to mark chapter and section titles, you gain the ability to make format changes in a single place and affect the entire document. I use HEADING 1 for my chapter titles and NORMAL for most of the manuscript text.
- Document Map: Using headings also allows you to see your overall document structure using the DOCUMENT MAP feature. The Document Map is handy for getting a big picture of the story and for speedy navigation though a lengthy text.
- Table of Contents: You won’t need a table of contents in most documents, but trust me—when you do need one, it’s a pain in the booty to have to create one manually. And then the darned thing has to be updated every time to edit your document. The TABLE OF CONTENTS feature works in conjunction with document headings, creating a table of headings and the page numbers on which they can be found.
- Headers and Footers: On the typewriter, an author had to insert the manuscript title, author name, and page number manually at the top of every page. The “Header” allows you to add that information once and have it appear on all pages.
- Track Changes:I use this feature whenever I am performing an edit or critique for someone else. It highlights exactly what you change in a document, including text insertions, deletions, and format changes. Click TRACK CHANGES under the REVIEW tab to have all future edits highlighted in red. If you want to track changes without the annoying red text, there are four different view options:
- Final (shows your edits but without the red text)
- Final with markup (shows your edits WITH red text)
- Original (shows the document as it appeared before you made changes)
- Original with markup (shows the original document but also shows your edits)
- Comments: Also found under the REVIEW tab, the Comments feature allows you to insert margin notes. It’s useful for creating notes when doing a critique, or for creating reminders of sections you want to edit, ideas you don’t want to forget, etc.
- Compare Documents: If you’ve ever had the unfortunate experience of making edits to an old version of your manuscript, this feature is a lifesaver. It will highlight every different between two documents, so you can go through and choose the edits you want to keep and the ones you want to trash.
- Views:Do you take advantage of the different view options in Word? I find that different views allow me to see the manuscript in different ways.
- Full screen lets me write and edit without distracting menus.
- View “side by side” allows me to move back and forth between two documents because they both appear on the screen. Side by side. Go figure.
- Full page: This option will show you a full document page on your screen. It’s not ideal for reading text, but it’s a great way to scan a document for blank pages, chapter lengths, and formatting errors.
- The REVIEW tab also offers different view options. If you’re using TRACK CHANGES or COMMENTS in the document, you can choose to have them visible or not—which can make it a lot easier to read the text.
- Integration with Endnote: If you’re a nonfiction writer—especially one who uses lots of references—Endnote is a great tool for keeping track of them. The real reason I’m in love with Endnote, though, is that it integrates beautifully with Word. When I need to annotate a document, I might have a hundred references and need to footnote every fact to one of them—preferably with page numbers. Imagine what it’s like to do that manually, renumbering footnotes and references every time you make a change to the document text. Now imagine that Word will update every number and reference format for you, and you’ll understand why Endnote is the nonfiction writer’s best friend.
- Save As…: If you ever need to share electronic versions of your manuscript, this is a good one to know. When you save, choose “Save As” to save it as a particular format. The most recent version of Word defaults to “.docx” format, which earlier versions can’t read. You may want to save as “.doc” if you’re sending it to someone with an older Word version. The “.rtf” and “.txt” formats are readable across multiple platforms; “.rtf” will retain most formatting, but “.txt” strips all formatting from the document.
- Document Names: Perhaps you’re already good at version control. If so, you can skip this point, especially since it isn’t really a “Word” tip. However, if you’re like me, you might get confused about which version of a manuscript you’ve sent to your critique partner. I learned a VERY simple version control technique from my fellow medical writers: I add the date to the end of my document names, so they read VOICE_032312.doc. And yes, I keep every draft. I’m paranoid that way….
I LOVE hearing from you. If you have additional tips to share, please let me know in the comments. I’ll add them to the list!