Whether you’re using office software for work, fun, creative writing, or studying, it’s very common to not worry about learning how to do things properly, but just to launch in and start typing. How hard can it be? That’s fine, if you’re just typing a document or making a very simple spreadsheet. But when things get more complicated, documents need more formatting, and the right way to do things isn’t immediately obvious, it’s very tempting to fudge something together and hope it’ll work out in the long run.
Your short cut: don’t learn how to do it properly; just make up your own solutions.
You would not believe how many documents I’ve been sent where the writers have done this. In fact, it’s so common that I usually send clients a note to congratulate them when they’ve done something the right way.
This is not just me being over-picky or trying to persuade people to pay out for my services. I once spent seven hours – that’s SEVEN HOURS (remembering my rates vary from £10 per hour upwards) sorting out the formatting and contents page of a PhD that someone had got in a mess with. What took up most of those seven hours? Stripping out the attempts to do it right that the author had flailed around with, before calling me in.
I’m going to share some of my short cuts. They involve knowing how to do something (I’m not blowing my own trumpet here: people pay me to know how to do this stuff) and doing it properly, to save yourself time and, indeed, money.
I’m going to look at various tasks your documents need to perform (we’re mainly going to be looking at Microsoft Word here, although other wordprocessing programmes will have similar features and capabilities), how you tend to do it, so you recognise what you’re doing even if you don’t use the same words to describe the task, and then show you how to do it “properly”, i.e. the way that is most suited to the software you’re using; the way that will make it easier for you.
I might even go all daring and post some video! Not sure yet …
So, the kinds of issue I’m going to cover will include
– making a new section start on a new page
– using tabs and margins
– using heading hierarchies and creating an automatic Table of Contents
– counting particular instances in Excel
– page numbering
– saving time typing and coping with words you regularly misspell
All quite simple stuff, but you’d be truly amazed at the muddles people can get into …
I’m also planning to do a series of posts that go into more detail, for those of you who really want to know about the nuts and bolts of how to do these things. Please do get in touch if you have any issues you’ve been wrestling with that you’d like me to cover, especially any short cuts of your own that you know aren’t quite right!
Contact me via email or via my contact form.
May 15, 2013 at 4:52 pm
I’ve just discovered your series! (Where have I been?) It looks enormously helpful. I am a professional copy editor and fact checker at a magazine but, unfortunately, don’t know Word as well as I should, so your series will be very useful. Thank you!
Liz at Libro
May 15, 2013 at 5:15 pm
Thanks for your comment. Do let me know if there’s a particular topic you’d like to see covered, as I do my best to help my fellow editors as well as students and writers in general!
a theoretical person
August 20, 2015 at 7:02 pm
Dear Liz, can you tell me how to search for an opening single quote and replace it with an apostrophe (also known as a closing single quote)? This would be very helpful for words in which the initial letter is dropped (like ’em and ‘im) in dialogue. I know how to search for a single quote but can’t figure out how to replace with the opposite-facing mark. Thanks!
August 29, 2016 at 5:18 am
I spent 18 years teaching Office to college freshman and love your short cut series. A must read for anyone who uses any of the Office products regularly.
So old dog.. new tricks and all of that . I am working on my dissertation and thus far have hundreds of references that I types and formatted myself. Is there a time sensitive way to covert them into a “Word reference, Ref works or other similar tool? It looks like in Word I’d have to retype them into the biblio box and in Ref Works I’d have to go in and bust up everyone into separate fields and then add tags. Not time conducive and at that point I’ll probably just keep going as I am about half way done.