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 (

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 (

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  (

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 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 (

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

Create a Table of Contents in Word 2011 for Mac (

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! 


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.


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.