Word for Writers, Part 2: What Every Writer Should Know 10

In this post, the 2nd in a series on Microsoft Word for Writers. Last time, I talked about why you want to improve your Word skills. In this post, I outline the subjects I’ll be covering during the series. If your working knowledge of Word is limited, the list may seem overwhelming at first glance. But don’t worry — each of these topics can be broken down into logical, easily understood concepts and steps. And I’ll not only show you how to use each of these features, I’ll also give you simple exercises for practice.

Without further ado, here is the list I deem as “must have” skills for writers.

Using Keyboard Shortcuts
Keyboard shortcuts are simple key commands that you can use to quickly accomplish many tasks that slow down your work when you have to hunt for them with your mouse on a menu or a toolbar. From copying and pasting to formatting and navigating, keyboard shortcuts can really save a lot of time and effort. Rather than giving you a big long list of shortcuts at the start, I’m going to work these in with the various topics. (I’ll provide a downloadable cheat sheet at the end, once you’ve decided which ones work for you.)

Setting up your preferred document defaults
You know how Word always opens a new blank document with large, 1.25” left and right margins, Cambria font, and so on, forcing you to manually change each of these settings for each of your documents? Why work so hard? It’s simple to change the default settings to accommodate your customary preferences. I’ll show you how.

Working with Track Changes
If you ever plan on working with an editor or collaborating with anyone else on a writing project, then knowing how to use Word’s review features is paramount. These include managing comments, tracking changes, being in control of how you view those changes, accepting and rejecting changes suggested by others, and protecting your document from unwanted changes. This is such a vital skill for all writers, that I’m placing this topic near the front of the series. Even if you care nothing about any of the other topics in this series, you’ll want to be knowledgable and competent with Review. It’s a skill that can stand on its own.

Setting up Headers, footers, and automatic page numbering
You probably have some familiarity with using headers and footers; I’ll show you how to control and finesse them.

Formatting Text & Paragraphs
Again, most of you probably already know the basics of highlighting text and changing font and font size. You may also know how to handle paragraph formatting. But I’d still like to go over this topic thoroughly before we talk about how to create and use Styles and show you the secrets I use to make my end product more professional looking.

[Tweet “If you plan to work with an editor, knowing how to manage Word’s review features is critical.”]

Creating and Using Styles
Speaking of professional looking — Styles are what truly make Word (and any similar word processing program) work for you. Imagine never having to select and change huge sections of text throughout your book, just because you decided to add space between paragraphs, or change font size. Imagine accomplishing that change all at once, with one setting. Styles also enable you to create an automated table of contents and update pages dynamically. Styles are king!

Managing Page and Section Breaks
I find that many writers misunderstand how the various page and section breaks work and how to use them effectively. Learning to manage your section breaks, in particular, will help you control your headers and footers, pagination, and formatting.

Creating and Using Templates
Once you have all of the above in hand, you’ll want to create some basic templates for short stories, poems, proposals, letters, and book-length works. Once set up, templates can be used over and over again, not only saving precious time but giving you freedom from worry about the “look and feel” of your document.

Using Find and Replace for Editing
Find/Replace is one of my favorite editing tools. With it you can find passive verb construction, useless adverbs, overused words, and unnecessary phrases, as well as fix extra spaces and pesky punctuation errors. If the idea of using Find as an editing tool is new to you, are gonna love this lesson!

Creating Tables of Content
One of the great advantages of learning to use styles, besides faster formatting changes, is the ability to automatically create and paginate your table of contents (TOC). In this lesson, you’ll learn how to control what appears in your TOC, as well as formatting it consistently with the rest of your document.

Creating Indexes
I’m still debating whether or not to cover how to create indexes. If you’re a nonfiction author, this feature will be important to you. If you write memoir or fiction, not so much. I’ll let you know more about this topic as we get closer to the end of the series.

Troubleshooting Unwanted Formatting Issues
Finally, I’ll show you how to analyze and correct problems with formatting, numbering, or pagination is not behaving as expected. Gaining the ability to quickly assess and fix problems as they arise will save you from frustration and distraction, giving you more time to actually write.

So that’s the list. I’ll be posting to this Word for Writers series approximately once every two weeks, starting with how to set up your preferred document defaults. If there are topics not on the list you’d like to me to cover, drop me a line via my contact form.
In the meantime, which of these topics are of particular challenge and/or interest to you?
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