Optimizing Microsoft Word for Academic Writing

There are some quick and easy things you can do in Microsoft Word to optimize your writing.

1) Don’t rely on Word’s default proofing settings

If you want Word to offer stylistic suggestions (such as removing the passive voice), or if you’d like more data about your writing than word count (such as number of passive sentences, readability statistics, etc.), you can turn on more options. Go to options (you should be able to find this under the file tab) and then Proofing. From here you will be able to turn on style suggestions and readability statistics (which will be available to you after you go through the spelling and grammar check suggestions).

2) Remove metadata

This is vital if you’re submitting something that is supposed to be fairly judged without knowledge of the author (e.g., peer review) or if you don’t want someone to know how long you’ve spent editing a document. To remove this metadata, go to the file tab and then select the info option. From there you can see a “Prepare for Sharing” button that you should use in some circumstances.

3) Use Field Codes

You should have an academic writing document template with embedded and automatically updating field codes. You can use these to insert things such as the date the document was most recently revised, the word count, etc. To start using field codes, go to the Insert tab, find the Quick Parts button and click on it, and select Field from the drop-down menu that will appear.

4) Use Word to create PDFs

You don’t need the full version of Adobe Acrobat to create PDFs. When saving a document, you can select PDF as the format and have a document that appears more final and professional.

5) Use a citation manager that has a Word plug-in

Don’t cite manually. Citation managers can be used to store and organize your references (including PDF files associated with them) and then to automatically cite and create bibliographies as you write in Word. I’m familiar with Endnote and Mendeley. Both are useful and have Word plug-ins for citing, but I’ve found Mendeley to be simpler to use for citing in Word, easier to learn, and better for organizing my journal article PDFs. And, Mendeley is free.

6) Use the Review tab

There are many things you can do from the review tab. Experiment with the Track Changes and Compare buttons. They won’t be entirely necessary for everything you do (especially the compare button), but they are indispensable in some situations.

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