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2,851 Tutorials

How to master formatting and layout in Microsoft Word

Create professional-looking documents

If you’re about to begin a new course of study at college or university, you’ve got a lot to contend with that’s unrelated to the learning you’re supposed to be inwardly digesting. For example, a good understanding of how to use word-processing software is central to your ability to produce the high-quality written submissions on which your grades depend.

Word-processing programs are extremely complex, and it’s been suggested that 80 percent of us use fewer than 20 percent of the functionality in our chosen application. This doesn’t mean that 80 percent of word-processor features are unused, of course.

A plethora of features is aimed at many different types of users. For students, some functions are more important to grasp than others.

The basics, such as setting up page sizes and choosing appropriate fonts, go hand in hand with more complex matters, such as inserting citations and creating an index. For longer documents such as a dissertation. You will also need to produce a detailed table of contents.

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It’s important to get a handle on the various style-and spellchecking options offered - depending on the course you’re studying, a single mistake here could result in a 25 percent reduction in your overall grade. Even if your lecturers are a little more laid-back than ours were, no-one enjoys reading an essay that’s riddled with typos.

In the following workshop we discuss some features you can implement to show off your work in the best possible light. Structure and consistent formatting are your friends.

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We’ve used Microsoft Word, but other mainstream word processors feature similar functionality - check their help files for details.

With a good grasp of the basics, you’ll be able to concentrate your efforts on the quality of content rather than presentation. A good-looking essay won’t bag you a first-class degree, but it will make a good first impression.

Create professional-looking documents in Microsoft Word

Step 1. Begin by specifying how much of each page is to be printed. Page margins are important: you can squeeze more text on to a page with narrow margins, but go too far and it’ll be difficult to read. Word has several defaults you can personalise. Choose the ‘Page Layout’ ribbon and click ‘Margins’.

Word 1

Step 2. Click on any of the preconfigured options to apply page margins to your document. Alternatively, choose ‘Custom Margins’ if you want to alter the dimensions for individual margins and apply them to various sections of a document. To make a custom setting the default, simply click ‘Set As Default’.

Word 2

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