Thesis in MS Word

Last week I gave a workshop to some PhD students at the University of Latvia on how to write thesis in MS Word. It maybe does not sound a thing you need a workshop for, because who does not know MS Word? However most people use it on a very basic level and spend way too much time on formatting – something that should be completely done by Word itself.

Everybody knows – you should put off at least 1 or 2 days for formatting thesis before handing in + many hours during the writing when something is changed or added. However it is possible to escape this pointless activity if the automatic functions of Word are used properly and systematically during the writing process. This way, my master thesis was finished at the same moment I put the dot after the last sentence. No need to go over the styles of formatting, check numeration and references to images, no need to spend 2 days swearing on Word.

How to do that:

  • All of the chapters should be written in a single document. Nowadays computers are powerful enough to handle 100- and even(!) 200-page documents. Having all the parts in one file, firstly allows to constantly overview the structure and progress of the document and secondly, to save the time on formatting when separate parts are added.
  • Everyhing should be defined centrally and automatically – fonts, indentations, space before and above (no need to press Enter 2x), numbering of headings, table of contents, numbering of captions, references to images, etc. No formatting should be done in the page. Every single piece of the written word should be defined as a “style”. And every style should be modified through Styles/Right click/Modify. Then every change you will need to make will take only seconds of time to implement for the whole document. When I start to write a new document, I find it useful to create and define 5 styles: Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, Normal, Figure, Caption. Could be few others depending on the needs. The usage of styles also allows to create all kinds of lists – table of contents, automatic numbering of headings, navigation pane.
  • Document map/Navigation pane is a really useful feature. In Word 2000 and 2003 it can be found by View/Document map in Word 2007 and Word 2010 – through View/Show/Navigation pane. It opens a window on the left side of the page where all the headings are listed in a similar way as in table-of-contents. Something will appear only if it is  defined as a Heading. This is a fantastic feature because, first, it allows to overview the structure of the document and, secondly, breaks you free from the infinite scrolling. Whenever specific part is needed, just click on the heading in the navigation pane and you are there faster than you can say: “Navigation pane”.
  • Take time to learn it! There is a huge amount of information about the usage of MS Word online. Googling the version of the Word + any problem you need to solve, for example: “Word 2007 heading numbering” will give plenty of great materials with excellent descriptions, explanations and print-screens.

Recently many of my friends have abandoned Word to become huge LATEX (an alternative text-editing software) supporters. I think it mostly arises from the fact they never learned to work with Word properly. It does not matter which program you use LATEX or MS Word, in order to save time, time should be invested in learning it properly.

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One Response to Thesis in MS Word

  1. reynardo says:

    I love you and where were you three weeks ago when my uncle was having hysterics…

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