A few typographical points: making your manuscript more readable and saving paper to boot!

While I am on the subject of working with MS Word I figure I should make a few small (but crucial) points about typography.

The first thing you need to know about fonts is that there are two basic types: serif and sans serif. Serif type has those little squiggly things at the tips of the lines that form the letters. Sans serif type has basic, clean lines. One of the most popular fonts for academic work is Times New Roman (or Times); the second most popular are Helvetica and Arial, which are very similar sans serif fonts.

Below you will find a screen shot of the first three paragraphs of this post in Times New Roman, Helvetica, and Arial:

Font comparison 1

As you can see, Helvetica and Arial look quite similar — but notice that Arial takes up slightly less space, while Times New Roman takes up the least space of all. Imagine the difference that will make when you go to print several dozen or more pages—imagine how many trees can be saved when students choose the right font for printed papers! Not to mention how much money you save on copying costs or even printing your own. Although the ink cost is pretty close to the same, you would be saving the cost of paper, and over time that really adds up.

So, which of these are easiest to read? Studies on typography and reading have confirmed that serif type is easier to read in print, whereas sans serif is easier to read online or in electronic files. Whether your faculty want you to submit paper or electronic versions of your work is key to choosing which font to use. Many faculty are now requesting electronic versions only  — particularly for online courses, since the mailing back and forth can get to be horrendous. On the other hand, many still want to read your work on paper. Helvetica and Arial, however, can be readable at 10 point, which will save even more paper:

Font size comparisons

As you can see here, Arial 10 point takes up even less space than Times New Roman 12 pt. But it is still relatively easy to read, even on paper. In fact, both Helvetica and Arial are easier to read at 10 point vs. 12 point type—unless you are in need of large type because of visual acuity problems, the smaller font is easier to read. There comes a point with font size when the larger is more difficult to read than the smaller, especially when there are large blocks of continuous type as there are in academic papers. Headings and subheadings are a different story altogether, however. You need to check with your department’s preferred style book to find out how best to set those headings.

Now, here’s the thing. When you are submitting a manuscript to me for editing, I want all of your type to be exactly the same throughout (except where you need to indicate emphasis with italics). Why? Because I will use Word’s wonderful style setting features, which allow me to format your work exactly according to your department or graduate college’s specifications. And if there turns out to be some error, I can change every heading and subheading throughout the paper in the blink of an eye by just changing the style settings. This saves a tremendous amount of work!

Equally important is that those style-set headings and subheadings will be used to “magically” construct a table of contents, also in the blink of an eye, with all the page numbers exactly what they are supposed to be and where they are supposed to be. Amazing, huh? 

Now,when you are submitting a paper on paper to a professor or teacher, first make sure if he or she has a preference for specific fonts and sizes. If you have a choice, you have to weigh the advantages of saving paper versus readability. Saving paper matters most when you have to provide several copies of a long document—you can literally save yourself hundreds of dollars if you have to supply, for instance, five copies of a 40-50,000 word document, which is what most dissertations or books are. Most people can handle 10 point Arial or Helvetica, but some cannot. In fact, your professor may specify which font you are to use. There is a reason for this visual “rigidity”—too much font variation among student papers can be distracting. You want your professor to focus on the content of your paper and not on its visual appearance—unless, of course, there is an assignment asking you to use photographs or illustrations and laying the type and images out as a brochure or poster. Whatever you do, don’t vary the font WITHIN your paper (except for size and bolding or italics, as specified for headings and subheadings by your required style book (APA, MLA/Turabian, Chicago, etc.).

When you submit a manuscript for publication to a journal or book publisher, be sure to find out what type font(s) and sizes they prefer as well as which style manual they use. Some don’t care about the fonts, but most do. Again, the uniformity of appearance is intended to remove the distraction of having to read submissions in a wide variety of fonts.

There are a few other fonts that are now being accepted for academic work, such as the samples below:

Serif type comparisons

As you can see, Times New Roman beats both of these others hands down for space saving. And although this screen shot of Times New Roman isn’t the most readable (for one thing, remember, serif type is harder to read online), it is eminently readable on paper and the size is just fine. There are typographical terms that explain the differences in appearance and use of space, but unless you are a graphic designer, you don’t need to be confused by them.

Here are comparisons of other sans serif fonts that are becoming more acceptable for academic use:

sans serif type comparisons

As you can see, Gil Sans is the most economical in terms of space saving of all these sans serif fonts. However, I don’t recommend it for long blocks of type, such as what you would have in an academic paper. I use it mostly for cover letters (or other formal letters) because I can squeeze a whole lot of words onto one (or two) pages, and it is still relatively easy to read. It wouldn’t work well with 8-10 pages or more, however.

Font and font size selection in academia come down to first pleasing your professor, and second, saving money (not to mention trees) by choosing the font that is both easily readable and economical in paper consumption.

Next up will be more discussion of typographical issues. For now, this is enough to absorb!

The wonderful power of MS Word (and its aggravating complexity)

Some time back I posted a rather peevish entry about how so many of my clients know so very little about the powerful editing features that MS Word has to offer, encouraging (well, pushing) people to use those features before sending a file to me, as it could save them a lot of money for my fees.

Unfortunately, it is precisely because Word is so powerful that it is also very complex and difficult to learn. Fortunately, however, there is plenty of information out there on the web to teach you how. There are even videos and slide shows that help make the instructions clearer—it can often be very difficult to figure out instructions when you can’t SEE what you need to do. I myself am a very visual learner, and even though I know Word pretty well right now, sometimes I forget how to use features (especially if I haven’t used them for a while), or there are new things I need to learn, or Word has changed, making it more powerful but also making it even more aggravatingly complex and difficult.

One thing everyone should know, and that is, if you don’t know how to do something, all you have to do is insert the right keywords into your browser’s search engine, and voila!…what you need will appear within the first few links.

For example, because it is often a long period between times that I need to use the “generate table of contents” feature (extremely useful in the preparation of defense and final versions of dissertations), that I have to look it up. So, for instance, I insert the following keywords into my search engine:

word 2011 create table of contents

The first two words identify the version of Word for which I need instructions, and the second two words are obvious. That is all that I need to get exactly what I am looking for. This yields the following collection:

word 2011 create table of contents

The very first link in that collection is:

create table of contents (http://www.papercheck.com/2011-microsoft-word-table-of-contents-mac.html)

This takes you to a page created by a professional editing company (believe me, you don’t want them: I am much less expensive and I give very personalized services, including coaching you through the emotional aspects of creating your essays, articles, dissertations, and books).

This page starts with the very first step, which is using the style function to create headings—Word uses these headings to create items in the TOC. Since I already know how to do that (and by the time I am generating a TOC I have already done that), I skip to the next image and set of instructions.

I don’t particularly care for the layout on that page (it’s kind of difficult to read), so I might go to the next link:

Word-2011-for-mac-make-a-table-of-contents (http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/word-2011-for-mac-make-a-table-of-contents-automat.html)

This one goes into a bit more detail than the first, and it might be all I need. But the third is from Microsoft help itself, and this one gives you very explicit instructions on all of the steps, using a neatly organized set of links for each step:

Microsoft Word help site  (http://office.microsoft.com/en-001/mac-word-help/create-or-edit-a-table-of-contents-HA102929533.aspx)

So, in a very short time I have found everything that I need to remind myself not only how to create a TOC but also how to edit one!

You can also just start with the Microsoft Word help site  and use its site search engine to find what you need. This site is extremely helpful, but you might prefer a video to help you through each step. So, what can you do to find just video helps? Well, you go to Youtube.com and do a keyword search there.

Using the keywords: ms word 2011 tutorial table of contents

I get: ms word 2011 tutorial table of contents (https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=ms+word+2011+tutorial+table+of+contents).

The first two links don’t help much—apparently the youtube.com search engine sometimes yields superfluous links. But the third link is this:

Create a Table of Contents in Word 2011 for Mac (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IaEHb4rM4pc)

This gives you a 6+minute video tutorial taking you through all the steps.

I am often surprised at how many people don’t seem to realize that about 95% of whatever you might want to know (except, perhaps, for the meaning of life!) is right there at your fingertips, waiting to be discovered with the right keywords. Well, what are the right keywords? That is actually pretty simple. You have to use the precise words that describe what you are looking for. For instance, you don’t want to use just “Microsoft Word help,” because that will give you a whole slew of links that may be useful but don’t get you to what you need right away.

In the cases here I have used the explicit term MS Word 2011 in order to get just the version of Word I need. You may have noticed that all of my links refer to the Mac version only. That’s because Microsoft first creates a new version for PCs (their largest market) and then adds the Mac version. So if you have a PC you might look for MS Word 2010 or even the latest version MS Word 2013. You can also look for earlier versions. Remember, PC  versions are created in the year before the Mac version.

So, I have identified the most precise version of the application. The next keywords identify exactly the tool for which I am looking, in this case, the Table of Contents. I can also look for Bibliography or Style or any other specific term for the tool I want to know about.

The same pattern applies no matter what you are looking for. First you identify the most precise general keyword (or phrase), and then the precise specific keyword (or phrase). The order in which you place the terms or phrases matters, because your search engine looks for those keywords first and the second set after. If you use

create table of contents MS Word 2011

you will still get what you need, but you will also get irrelevant links to other versions of MS Word. While the specific then general pattern in this case still gets most of what you want (since Word instructions are fairly precise anyway), with other subject matter that doesn’t have quite the precision you will get a great deal of irrelevant links that you will then have to search through to get the specific ones you want.

So remember this: no matter what you need to learn (or be reminded of) with MS Word, it is all there just waiting for you to do the search!