Help with Undergraduate Writing: Word Intermediate

People who have known me for a while know that I have two much younger sisters. They are much more interested in their phones and social media than I am; in fact, I might be the only one of the three of us who actually had a personal (as opposed to work) land line. If this were a story in the newspaper, it would be about the generational divide and the digital native. For what it’s worth, I don’t like this term, which has multiple definitions — and, as usual, the scholarly definition (which centers around multitasking) doesn’t match the common definition (which centers around technology usage). But more importantly, the idea that current students who are more comfortable with technology are also magically better at technology is really dangerous, mainly because it means that technological skills are no longer taught.

As I said in my last post, this is most visible in students who never learned how to use Word. The last post was aimed at true beginners; in this post, we tackle three new topics for the more advanced user. 

Task 1: Making a header (or footer)

Headers and footers are advanced topics because they require moving away from the Home tab and over to the Insert tab. Clicking on Insert in the blue header of your Word window brings up a bunch of new functions, including (coincidentally) all of the ones I discuss in this post.

MS word Insert menu

You’ll notice that towards the right-hand side there is a button labeled Header & Footer. Clicking on this button will bring up a menu with the option of choosing a Header, a Footer, or only Page Numbers.

MS Word 2013 insert header foot or page number

TIP: in earlier versions of Word, clicking on this button will bring up a variety of different header and footer styles. You can skip the steps down to “choosing the style.”

At this point, you need to decide what you want to insert. Headers and footers are largely interchangeable in academic writing. I generally prefer headers because I like to use footnotes. But if you use parenthetical citations (or endnotes — although, if you are not writing for a publication that requires endnotes, please please please don’t use endnotes), there’s no reason not to use footers.

Let’s say that we choose a header.

MS word header window

A menu pops up with a variety of preset and pre-designed headers. You can Edit these designs, but I’d advise against that unless you’re already very confident in your word skills. There are a lot of designs: scroll down and explore!

Choosing the style is largely up to you. I generally recommend choosing something unobtrusive. While the styles that have color splashes look nice on the screen, they often look less nice printed out in black and white or grayscale.

MS word header options

Highlight and click on the option you want to use. For this example, I used “ViewMaster“. If you’re using an older version of Word, like Word 2011, you’ll have different names and slightly different styles. Don’t worry about it! That part doesn’t matter. Also, if you’re working with footers, the only difference is that whenever I say “top of the page”, you should read “bottom of the page.”

When you click on your preferred style, a header window appears in your document and the Insert menu will change to a Header/Footer menu.

MS word header example

The Document title is already highlighted. You can also move the placement of your text by clicking and dragging the blue Title button, but I would generally recommend against doing that.

Type whatever you want in that area and click outside the box to save. Your typing will automatically transfer to other pages.

MS word document with header

Notice that your window will automatically revert to the Home menu. To return to the Header & Footer menu to make changes, just click on the header (or footer).

MS word header menu

Most of the options in the Header & Footer menu are advanced options, but I’ll point out that if you hate the way your header looks, you can change it by clicking on the ‘Header‘ option on the top left of the menu. You can also add footers or page numbers at this point. If you’re using headers, I would recommend clicking the ‘Different First Page‘ checkbox to remove the header from page 1. For footers, it’s not a big deal.

Task 2: Inserting page numbers

We’ve already seen one place to insert page numbers by using the Header & Footer menu. Instead of choosing Header (or Footer), you click on Page Number:

MS Word add page numbers

This brings up another series of options. To add page numbers, click on the top option (Page Numbers). You can use the same menu to Remove page numbers you’ve already added. And finally, you can Format existing page numbers — for example, changing them to Roman numerals, or moving them from the top of the page to the bottom.

You can also customize these options when you first insert them. As soon as you click on the Add Page Numbers option, you’ll see a dialogue box with various possible formats.

MS word format page number options

The default option is the bottom right-hand corner, using Arabic numerals and starting at page 1. For most documents, those are exactly the defaults we want; in longer documents, such as a thesis-length research project, you’ll want to adjust these options. We’ll discuss how to do that in a later post, when we cover advanced Word techniques.

Usually, I recommend keeping the option to Show the number on the first page checked, but if you’re including a cover page with your document, you will want to uncheck that box. If you do have a cover page, you should also click on the Format button. This will bring up a second dialogue box:

MS word format pagination


Ignore everything but the last section, where it says Page Numbering. Click on the very bottom button to Start at 0, rather than 1. This means that your cover page (with no number) will be page 0, and the first page of your document (with number) will be page 1!

You should then hit OK to return to the previous dialogue box, and OK again to insert your page numbers.

Here’s an example of what that looks like:

MS word example document with page numbers

So you can use the Header & Footer menu to insert your page numbers, but there’s an easier way. To go to the Page Numbers box right away, you can just use the “Insert” menu at the top of the page.

MS word insert menu

As you can see, there’s an option for Page Numbers about 2/3 of the way down the menu. Clicking on that will take you straight to the Page Numbers dialogue box. If you don’t want to do anything fancy, just hit OK (or the return key) as soon as the box pops up, and you’re all set.

Task 3: Adding special characters

Now that we’ve been introduced to the Insert menu, we can tackle the last challenge: inserting special characters, like vowels with macrons. To insert special characters, select the last item on the Insert menu:

MS Word special characters

This will bring up a box with several common special characters. For right now, we’ll focus on vowels.

MS word special characters dialogue box

If you want to see any of the characters in a larger font, as I’ve done with the e here, just click on the square. A single click will not insert the character; a double click will insert the character wherever your cursor is, so be careful.

Once you’ve found the character that you want, hit the Insert button and it will be added to your document. In the screenshot below, I’ve highlighted the added character:

MS word added macron

There are ways to program Word so that you don’t have to use the Special Character menu every time you want to insert something. If you frequently use one of these characters, you can click on the Keyboard Shortcut to add in a series of keystrokes that will insert the character for you.

MS word customization menu special characters

For example, you could hit option-shift-e, which would appear in the highlighted box. Then hit Assign, which will activate once there are keystrokes in the Keyboard Shortcut box, and OK.

TIP: Depending on the keyboard that you’re using, some shortcuts may be pre-installed. For example, most Macs using the US Extended keyboard will be able to press option + e to type an é (e with acute accent). If there is a pre-existing shortcut for the keys you select, the program will tell you:

MS word change settings

So don’t worry about ruining your computer’s settings. You can change the keys that you want to assign by highlighting your initial choice (in this case, command + e) and typing in a new option until you get something you’re happy with — and likely to remember! Then hit Assign.

In this post, we’ve mostly covered the basics of the Insert menu. If you want to learn more basic Word skills, check out our “Word Basics” post. And if you already knew how to do all these things, you might be ready for “Advanced Word,” coming up next!



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