A pet peeve: MS Word is more than a typewriter! Learn it!

Ok ok. I’m going to let off a bit of steam here. My biggest pet peeve is having to deal with a document written by someone who has never learned how to use even the most basic features of MS Word. Beginning with…would you believe…word wrap?

I still get materials from writers who use a carriage return at the end of each line.

Yep.

Most, of course, do understand word wrap — that is, that the software will wrap the text to fit any line length you specify. So, for instance, if you have need for a 4″ text line, you just set your margins, and voila, Word wraps your line around that length and there you are. But beyond that most are clueless.

Among other things, I will secretly hate you if you use tabs or spaces for indents, and tabs or spaces plus carriage returns to set up the format of your bibliography. I will hate you because in order to properly format all of the above, I will have to remove every tab, every space, and every carriage return that doesn’t follow the final period in a citation. I will secretly hate you because having to do all that repeatedly (remember most of you send me long documents, and I have many other clients doing the same thing) results in repetitive stress injuries and the need for physical therapy.

Back in the dark ages, long before computers, I took a typing class as a freshman in high school with the expectation that it would serve me well throughout my education as I would be typing many papers. I was right. I learned to touch type and ultimately pushed up my speed to 65 wpm as I also began composing with the typewriter. Now with my compact Mac keyboard I am able to type almost as fast as I can think!

I bring that up to make another point: somewhere along the way you all should have had a class in how to use the amazing functions of MS Word. I don’t care how “un-intellectual” or how “vocational” such a course might seem. Like the typing course I took in high school, it will serve you well throughout your education, and your life if you plan to be an academic.

Word’s style format function is a dissertation editor/writer’s godsend. If you set styles for body text, headings, footnotes, and bibliographies, and use them religiously, you can be guaranteed that your final document will match up to your Graduate College’s requirements. And if there is a mistake it can take a minute or less to fix the problem. Even more wonderful is that Word can generate a Table of Contents, with all the pages perfectly matched to the headings, in the blink of an eye.

Because I have learned the hard way that the vast majority (as in 99.9999%) of the people who will be submitting work to me will have little to no acquaintance with Word beyond Word wrap and maybe setting margins, and as a consequence I would be having to deal with massive amounts of formatting and the resulting RSI’s, I am going to charge a separate fee for formatting, to wit: an extra $1.50 per page. Now, believe me, this is not me being either mean or greedy. It is me trying to save my body. Because the point of it isn’t to bring in more money for me, it is to get you to do your own formatting.

I will be providing every client with a style template geared to their own College and selected stylebook requirements. Of course, that doesn’t mean you will know how to use them. For the completely uninitiated, I suggest that you look at one or more of the following:

For PC users:

Microsoft Word 2007 Style Basics

The Essentials of Creating and Using Styles in Word 2007

Setting Up a Paper in APA Style Using Microsoft Word 2007

Styles, Templates, and Quick Styles in Word 2007 – Libby Hemphill

Have later versions of Word? Well, there’s a simple thing you can do. GOOGLE! Here are good search terms for that:

Word 2010 format styles (change the year for later versions)

Here are a couple that I get from that search:

How to Use a Formatting Style in Word 2010 – For Dummies

APA Format in Word 2010 – YouTube

Of course there are many more.

Now, if you are a Mac user like me, using styles is even simpler. Here are some tip pages that show up with I modify the search with Mac versions (Mac versions come out a year later)

Word 2008 format styles (change the year for later versions)

How to Define Formatting Styles in Word 2008 for Mac – For Dummies

Applying Styles in Mac Word 2008

Word 2008 for Macs: Text Styles – Tufts University

You may even find instructions and templates specific to your own university if you just add the name of your university to the search terms.

Ain’t life wonderful with Google? You just have to know what search terms to use, and often that’s pretty basic, as above.

So, if you haven’t had a class in how to use Word, don’t have the time for one, but expect to be producing written documents for academia for some time, whether as student or faculty, it’s time to give yourself a self-driven course in using styles for formatting. You will thank yourself, and your editors (including journal editors) will thank you.

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The importance of being stingy with the word “important”…

One way to improve your writing — please banish the word “importance” and all its variations from your vocabulary. Every once in a while the word and its cohorts might have a place, but for the most part it is empty and it says absolutely nothing.

Instead of CLAIMING value for a finding (or whatever else you are saying is important), DEMONSTRATE it.

Example from a client:

  • In addition, all three pedagogical projects are characterized by an articulated personal investment in the process. The importance of an articulated personal investment in the material was characteristic of all three pedagogical projects.

Which I changed to:

  • We all used a variety of approaches to enunciating or deflecting attention away from elements of our identities as a part of the pedagogical project.

This not only eliminated the word “important,” it also eliminated a lot of excess verbiage.

A variation, using one of the “cohorts” of “important”:

  • Documenting these experiences, challenges, and our reflections on them, using detailed portraits, is a major contribution to the field.

Which I changed to:

  • Documenting these experiences, challenges, and our reflections on them, using detailed portraits, revealed new insights into the body as text in the classroom.

Notice how “revealed new insights” makes clear what the contribution is, DEMONSTRATING the contribution, rather than merely CLAIMING it.

Now obviously there are going to be times when the word or similar words are appropriate. Another example from the same author:

  • Language and self-identification regarding sexual orientation and gender expression emerged as an important theme among the cases.

An interchangeable word would have been “significant” or “major.” But there’s another word that I believe serves the purpose better: “salient.” “Salient” means “most noticeable.” It has a more specific connotation than “important.” In this case the word “important” wouldn’t be wrong, but rather not quite as precise as “salient.”

Here is an occasion where the word “important” fits:

  • Similarly, I find sharing my experiences as a student to be very important, particularly for students of color.

Still, another way to say it would be:

  • Similarly, I find sharing my experiences as a student to be very helpful to others, particularly for students of color.

It is the “helpfulness” of the sharing that makes it important.

Another:

  • Language and self-identification regarding sexual orientation and gender expression emerged as an important theme among the cases.

This is one I’ve let slide by. But consider this instead:

  • Language and self-identification regarding sexual orientation and gender expression emerged repeatedly throughout the interviews.

or

  • Language and self-identification regarding sexual orientation and gender expression emerged as a constant theme throughout the interviews.

These latter two, though only slightly different from the original, still avoid the repetition of the word. Most important (grin), is that it reserves the word important to be used when it truly is important!