How to format your Word document

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This tutorial provides instructions on how to properly format your Word document using the inbuilt tools provided.
The benefits of using these tools means your documents are more accessible and easily portable to other applications and formats.

Where to start?

I always recommend the best way to write a document in Word is simply  content and ignore the urge to style the document until you have entered all the content and are ready to format. I understand that some people find it hard to work this way as the document appears to lack structure and makes it difficult to know where you are. In that case I recommend you begin your document by typing out all the headings before adding any content; this gives the document structure and will also help you plan your document.
Using this method, type in your headings such as ‘Introduction’, ‘Requirements’, ‘Conclusion’ etc and convert each one to Heading 1 by putting the cursor anywhere in the word and pressing the key combination Ctrl+Alt+1.
If you wish to add sub headings to each section repeat the process but this time the key combination will be Ctrl+Alt+2.

Paragraphs and spacing and page breaks

When you’re ready to start adding the body text, simply type the way you would if you were using a Word processor (if you’re old enough to know what that is). What I mean by this is resist the urge to do anything more than type and then press ‘enter’ at the end of each paragraph. I find a lot of documents I receive have double spaces because the author pressed ‘enter’ twice. I also find documents where the author has pressed ‘enter’ multiple times tocontinue on a new page(you know who you are). These methods are wrong and should be avoided because your document would look different from pc to pc.

Paragraphs and spacing

Once you have finished typing your paragraphs, you can adjust the space before and after each paragraph by placing the cursor anywhere in the paragraph, right-clicking in the paragraph and in the context menu choosing  ‘paragraph’ then in the dialog box that opens you can choose how much space you want before and after each paragraph. 12pt would normally give you a double space after your paragraph.

Page breaks

To continue on a new page the correct way would be to place the cursor where you want the section tend then go to the menu under ‘insert’ and choose ‘page break’ . You can then choose whether to have the new page as a new section or simply to make it a page break. Creating new sections is useful if you might want to have different layouts within your document or different headers and footers.

Styles and formatting

Once you have created your headings, sub headings, created desired spacing between your paragraphs and decided your page breaks, you can save your preferences by using the styles and formatiing pane. This allows you to determine everything about your headings and paragraphs from what typeface, colour and size they will be to what spacing to apply before and after them.
I tend to include my page breaks in the formatting for my Heading 1 format so that a new heading starts on a new page without having to manually insert a page break every time. Another helpful tool is the Widow/orphan control which will keep your headings and a certain number of lines together so you don’t have that annoying thing of a heading at the bottom of a page and the text that comes after it on the next page.

Creating a table of Contents

One of the advantages of using the inbuilt formatting tools for creating headings is that it automatically creates bookmarks which can be used for useful things like an automatic table of contents.
To create your table of contents, place the cursor where you would like the table to be and go to the ‘References’ tab and click on the ‘Table of Contents’ icon. Towards the bottom of the drop down that appears you will see ‘Insert Table of Contents…’, click on this and a dialog box will open.
The dialog will give you the option to add a number of levels to your table with three being the default. If you only want your heading 1 level to appear in the contents, change ‘Show levels’ to 1. You can play around with the other options in the dialog to change formatting etc or just leave the defaults in place.
Click OK and your table of contents will be created for you. The advantage to working in this way means that every time you update the table, it will display the correct location of that chapter and the current spelling you have used. It also acts as a bookmark which will allow you to jump straight to the page by clicking (or Ctrl clicking) on the entry in the table.


Formatting your document this way increases the accessibility of the document and makes it easier for others to use your document and export it to different formats such as PDF, XML or HTML. In addition to that you can make DAISY files which are audio files created from Word documents for people who use audio to read documents.
I hope you find this article interesting and that it helps you in your work or study.
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