(slightly) Easier writing in Word

Writing is a part of any research position and it’s likely at least some of that writing will be in Microsoft Word. Without wanting to start a LaTeX vs. Word debate (my preference is LaTeX)  there will be times when you won’t have the choice and will have to use Word. Here are two tips I recently learnt that might make the your life a little easier.

Modify the styles so they look good and use them

On word 2011 for mac:

  1. Select format > style.
  2. Select list ‘All styles’.
  3. Modify ‘Normal’, ‘Heading 1’, ‘Heading 2’, ‘Heading 3’ and Caption (you can modify more if necessary but these should be sufficient for now).
  4. Whenever you have a heading, or subheading apply the relevant style (they are available in the ribbon) – this way Word knows the document structure (like when using LaTeX tags).
  5. You can generate a table of contents using Insert > Index and Tables…

If someone’s already made the effort to modify the styles, make sure you use them.

Use captions and cross references

  1. Right click on a figure or table and select ‘Insert caption’.
  2. Type in your caption (or just hit OK and type in the main document). If the formatting isn’t to your liking change the style for caption (don’t just reformat the one caption).
  3. When you need to reference the figure / table select Insert > Cross Reference.
  4. Select the reference type and select Insert reference to ‘Only label and number’.

As a side note for your colleagues using Linux (or that don’t have office), sending round a PDF with the Word document is helpful to show how it should be formatted. If you’re editing in LibreOffice / OpenOffice, despite a lot of work on improving compatibility, chances are not all the formatting will be preserved. My advice is to  make a copy and only edit the text, making sure you track the changes (Changes > Record in LibreOffice) and let your colleagues know you didn’t use Word. Any figures can be sent separately. If you’re using a slightly different version of Word, editing a copy is good practice anyway. LaTeX is plain text you can edit in whatever program you want. However, I did say I didn’t want to start a LaTeX vs. Word debate…

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