A little learning can go a long way

This month’s blog post is on a topic dear to my heart – working with large documents a.k.a. tips and tricks for word processing when you have hundred-plus page documents.

Yes, I am a geek. I often work with large MS Word files, so I’ve learnt a few short-cuts over the years that saved me hours of unnecessary activity. Key among these are auto-number captioning and heading styles.

  • Auto-number captioning for labeling Tables and Figures – When I first started writing large documents in my undergrad years, I would mark all the Table and Figure headings with number X and then go through the report at the final draft stage putting the numbers in – Figure 1, Figure 2, etc. Then cross my fingers and hope I didn’t need to re-order, add or delete anything. Here’s a tip – instead of typing “Table 1”, just get into the habit of clicking on References>Insert Caption> and choose whether you want a Table, Figure or Equation label. The software will automatically insert the correct number; will automatically update the number if you insert another table or figure beforehand; and will allow you to automatically compile and update a Table of Figures and/or Table of Tables to assist reader navigation. P.S. The software installs the number as a field. To auto-refresh the label number, select it and press F9 (update fields).
  • Heading styles – Similar to above, Word can auto-number your headings and sub-headings, and much more. The trick with this is to make your headings look the way you want them rather than the default format. First, select the heading text you want to format, such as “Introduction”. Then click on Home>Heading 1> or Home>Heading 2> etc, depending on what level of sub-heading you want to insert. Once your text shows up as being in Heading 1 format (or whatever), then manually format it to suit what you want in terms of font size, font colour, line spacing before and after, numbering (or not), bold, italics and any other formatting. You can then paste-format this style to all the other headings at the same level by clicking on Home>Format Painter>. There’s a few bonuses to this approach, apart from auto-numbering. The main one is you can easily create and update a full Contents page by creating a page, titling it Contents and clicking on References>Table of Contents>. P.S. For the Executive Summary and Contents page headings, format these as Normal heading style – that way they won’t list on the Contents page itself, which looks weird. But do format them the same way in terms of font size, colour, bold, line spacing, etc. Bonus tip – insert a Section Break at the bottom of your Contents page, number your initial pages using Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, …) then go to the Introduction page and insert page numbers starting at 1 in Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, …) for the body of your document. These numbers, starting at page 1, will appear on your Contents page and can all be updated automatically whenever you update the report. Occasionally select all text in your document and press F9 to refresh all the numbered fields and the Contents table.

Final tip – Once you have created and refreshed your Contents page/s, take a step back and look at the structure with fresh eyes. Reviewing your draft Contents page gives you an opportunity to re-think your report and ensure the information is presented in the most logical, balanced and readable way. Re-writing will become second nature if you needn’t be concerned about tables, figures and heading numbers and you can focus on the important things.

Happy writing!


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