Microsoft Word For Academic Writing

From Sustainability Methods
Type Team Size
Me, Myself and I Group Collaboration The Academic System Software 1 2-10 11-30 30+

What, Why & When

Microsoft Word is and probably will remain the number one tool for writing, be it in academia, business, non-profits or wherever you want to look. There are cases to be made for free alternatives such as LibreOffice, and some will insist that LateX is always the better option. We will leave these considerations aside for now and concern ourselves with what for some is a good friend, and for some an arch enemy: Microsoft Word. Our goal here is to make you part of the former group and reduce the size of the latter.

If you're only here for a good template, here you go: File:Academic Word Template.docx. But be warned: You might not understand the template if you don't watch the video below!

Getting Started

As stated above, this article mainly serves the purpose to support academic writing with Word. However, most tips are probably useful in a variety of other fields, so feel free to transfer your freshly acquired knowledge!

We're going to cover a short, a medium and a larger topic. You don't need to have read any in order to read the others, so feel free to skip to the most interesting parts.

1) Technological concerns: We will keep this short as this is not a tech course, but a few aspects are worthwhile considering.

2) Process: This is important to save you trouble down the road. We will talk about a few things in regards to sequence of activities that make sense.

3) Becoming friends with Word: This part is going to cover basics and fundamentals that we think are very useful in not starting to hate the world in general and Bill Gates in particular. We're going to go over very important DOs and also some DON'Ts. This article is not going to make you a Word Professional, but we will try to nudge you towards the things you'll want to consider or familiarize yourself with. If you are lucky enough to be part of Henrik von Wehrden's Bachelor Forum, you might get the chance to participate in a Workshop that will go over these points in practice. And:


Learning a software by reading text is usually a) boring and b) ineffective. That is why your favourite Wiki team spared neither work nor sacrifice to produce a Word Video Tutorial alongside this article. You can find it here:

In the video, we're building a template, based on this document: Word Basic Template (just download it via file -> download and then you should be able to work with it, or just copy it into your own Word).

You might notice that it has a whooping 59 minutes of length, which might seem daunting at first. Luckily, you don't need to watch the whole thing in one go. If you're short on time, just watch the fundamentals and maybe return for the advanced section whence you have the time. You can also make use of the time stamps in the video description to jump to your favorite parts.

Small disclaimer: This article was written with Word 2016 in mind. There might be some changes in future or previous versions of Word, but the general gist should remain the same.

Okay, ready?

Technological concerns

Word Versions

In regards to the version of Word you are using, you can usually assume that newer is better. Overall, any version is fine (maybe it should be 2010+) and won't make a crucial difference in writing. It is however noteworthy that newer versions get (security) upgrades and will interact better with other tools such as OneDrive. This does however not mean that you need to ditch your older version and pay 130€ for the newest product. As long as it's working for you, don't buy into the hype!

If you're a member of Leuphana University, you can order a cheap Microsoft Office license here:

OneDrive (or any other cloud storage really)

OneDrive is Microsoft's cloud storage, but you can really use whichever you want - we do not recommend any particular one. The important thing is that you do USE A CLOUD STORAGE. You do not want to be part of the sad group of individuals that lost their thesis half-way through or even later due to a computer crash or some other unfortunate incident. Put your very first version into a folder in a cloud storage software and don't ever leave that comfy place. It allows you to jump back to earlier versions, automatically backs up your files and - if need be - opens up the option for collaborating on the same document. In the last point, OneDrive has an edge over other cloud storage software because it can directly access Word files and allows you to work simultaneously on the same Word document with others.

Citavi (or any other citation software)

We do recommend using a citation management software. When you're working on Windows, Citavi is a good option, but you can always go with Zotero, Mendeley, or whichever one you come across and which works for you. Citavi has a pretty good Word Integration, so that's a plus. You do not need to use every function of Citavi, but at least the generation of the reference list is a really big plus in terms of saving you time and mistakes that occur from manually typing it.


As stated above, your process in working with Word is valuable to pay attention to because it may safe you time and frustration down the road. The points below are by no means meant to give you a 100% fool-proof instruction, but are generally worthwile considering from our experience.

Build a solid framework

You'll want to setup everything nice and clean in the beginning. Nothing fancy, but so that it satisfies all the formal requirements and doesn't hurt your eyes. Set up the font size and styles, line spacing, page margins, front page information and your basic structure (abstract, intro, main parts, conclusions, references and reference format, indices, glossary, ...). Check 3 times and then with your advisor if your basic setup satisfies all the formal requirements.

If you use a citation software, set that one up as well and make sure everything works to your liking.

Write everything, don't format

This is the part where you basically don't want to have to care about the software you're using. Write plain text. If you have to format, **use styles** (see instructions below), and don't ever play around with picture or table positioning. Anything fancy you do here will make you despair when revising and reformatting later.

Finalize formatting

Have you written everything? I mean, everything? Like, there is nothing you're going to change? Okay. But have you sent it to someone you trust and let them check? Yes? Okay, you may go ahead.

This is the part where you can really finalize your formatting and make everything more fancy if you desire. If your initial setup was good, this is probably not going to take you too much time. You can alter some styles if you wish (e.g. for block quotes or subheadings) and format pictures and tables (e.g. let the text flow around them or something similar). You might also want to go over the whole document and check for odd pagebreaks (which should be a lot less likely to occur if you follow the instructions below).

Word Fundamentals

Okay, here are the very basic things you should consider when setting up your word document. As stated before, this is not meant to tell you exactly how you can do it, but rather that you should do it. Have a look at our tutorial in order to find out how to do it exactly.


Let's start with some things you never ever want to do. Like, really, never.

First, do not, under any circumstances, manually format any piece of text, table or picture in your document. Always, always use Word Styles ("Formatvorlagen"). There are many reasons why it is a good idea, but the main one is that you are guaranteed to miss some font style change that happened due to you copy/pasting stuff in and you will spend roughly 3 weeks in your document to try and spot where your font style changed. Use styles instead, and adjust those when necessary.

Second, do not ever use multiple line-breaks to get to the next page. You can either circumvent this with styles (see below) or at least use the CTRL+Enter shortcut to insert a pagebreak. This will prevent things from going all wonky when you change something above the page where you foolishly tried to page-break in the first place.

Third, do not play around with picture or table formatting before your work is finished (see "Process" above). If you want to insert such elements during writing, paste them, let them stay where they are in a normal line and don't try fancy stuff such as having text float around it. You will with 100% certainty change something above or below the picture and mess up the page design. Do this only once you're done writing.


Okay, now that we got these out of the way, let's concern ourselves with what you should do.


First, styles. Styles (or "Formatvorlagen" in the elegant German language) are a way of telling Word how a block of text should be formatted, and to apply that formatting to all blocks of text that share the same type of content. They usually appear to the top right of your Word document. You can think of them as instructing Word to always treat different kinds of content (e.g. normal text, headings, quotations, subheadings) differently, and once you tell word that a block of text belongs to some category, it knows how to format that block of text. This will also give you the flexibility to change the formatting of all same kinds of text in an instant throughout the whole document.


One of the most important aspects of this is using **heading styles**. This allows you to automatically generate a table of contents, navigate within your document more quickly and have an array of options to better format your document. For example, you can tell Word to always insert a page break before your level 1 headings, which is saving you the trouble of either putting in a dozen line-breaks (which you should never ever do) or using CTRL+Enter (which is better but sometimes still suboptimal). If you use heading styles, you can easily insert an **automatically generated table of contents** by going to "References" → "Table of Contents" and select one of the options.

You can also use this to quickly navigate your document through using Word's **navigation bar**. Go to "View" ("Ansicht") and look for the checkbox "Navigation bar" ("Navigationsbereich"). This might seem minute but is a big comfort plus when working with larger documents like a thesis.

Copy & Pasting

Another aspect comes into play when you copy in external content. Always make sure that you only **copy the text, not the formatting**. Word gives you that option when you paste something in: a little box appears next to the pasted text, where you can select to only paste the text without formatting. This will automatically format the pasted text into default style and save you the trouble of manually formatting it.

Track Changes & Comment

You should definitely familiarize yourself with the inner workings of the "track changes" and "comment" functions of word. They allow you to clarify changes between versions as well as give and receive feedback in a way that is clearly intelligible and does not mess with your documents. To find these in Word, go to "Review" ("Überprüfen"). You will find the comment button, as well as the option to activate "track changes". Track changes will highlight all the changes you have done while it is active, and will allow you or others to either accept or decline them.

Tips, Tricks and Shortcuts

The following is just a compendium of tips & tricks of whose existence you should be aware of. Again, explaining this in text form is rather tedious and you'll be much better served to look this up in a tutorial or other context.

Page Numbers

Page numbers are great, you should always use them. Usually the easiest way is to go to "Insert" → "Page number" and then select where you'd like to have it.

There are some things you'll want to pay attention to. First, the "first page" issue. You'll usually want your (arabic numeral) page numbering to start on your first page of content. You can do this by inserting a section break ("Abschnittswechsel") before your first page of content. You can then, on your first page of content right click the page number in your header or footer, select "format page numbers" and select "Begin with..." and insert a 1.

There is more stuff you can do such as alternating sides or using latin numerals on the pages before your main content. This is shown in the accompanying tutorial as well.

Headers and Footers

While this is usually not necessary, it is nice for reader guidance: you can automatically insert the current chapters title into the header or footer row of your document. To do so, go into the header or footer row (by double clicking into the area), in the "header and footer tools" tab, go to "Insert" → "Document Information" → "Field" and select "StyleRef" under field names. In the selection menu, you can then select "Heading 1" (or "Überschrift 1") and click "OK" This will insert a field that automatically includes the name of the current heading in your header (or footer).

Generally, it might make sense for you to familiarize yourself with the different mechanics of headers and footers such as the "link to previous", "orientation tab stop" ("Ausrichtungstabstopp"), "first page differently" and "alternating odd and even pages".

Figures and Tables

As alluded to above, you'll want to only format these when you finished writing. Another point is labelling them properly, which allows you to include automatic numbering and, similar to the table of contents, automatically generate lists of figures and tables.

When you have a picture (and this works the same for tables), right-click it and select "Add label" ("Beschriftung einfügen"). In the pop-up, you will need to select the right type (i.e. figure, table, formula) and click "OK". This will insert a text field below your figure which is automatically numbered and which's text you can extend in order to add a description.

If you want to create a list of figures, go to the "References" ("Referenzen") tab → "Labels" ("Beschriftungen") and click on "Add list of figures" ("Abbildungsverzeichnis hinzufügen"). Don't get irritated that it only says figures, it works just as well for tables. In the pop-up, you'll need to select the kind of element you want to create the list for (i.e. figures in our example) in the bottom-left. That's it, hit "OK" and enjoy all the work you did not have to do manually.


Okay, here's some very useful shortcuts, descendingly ordered by subjective importance.

Shortcut Keyboard Combination Usage
Undo & Redo CTRL + Z, CTRL + Y The bread and butter shortcuts for everyone who messes up sometimes (which is everyone). This works in almost all software ever created by the way.
Copy Commands CTRL + C, CTRL + X, CTRL + V The C copies, the X cuts, and the V pastes. I hope you knew this already, but if you didn't, make use of it!
Fancy keyboard navigation CTRL and Arrow Keys Instead of trying to move your mouse exactly behind that word, try to get used to pushing your cursor around with the arrow keys. If you use CTRL and the arrow keys (to the ← left or the right →), you jump between words instead of letters. This works everywhere by the way.
Make heading Alt + 1, Alt + 2, Alt + 3 This makes the selected piece of text a level 1 heading. Can be used with 2 and 3 as well. Very useful for quickly structuring your document!
Show paragraphs and stuff CTRL + Shift + * This shortcut shows you linebreaks, tabs, pagebreaks and formatting. Very useful when you're trying to figure out why your document is a mess.
Page Break CTRL + Enter Inserts a pagebreak, saves you the trouble of inserting to many line breaks.

Links & Further reading

Of course, our own video covers everything you need to know:

The author of this entry is Matteo Ramin.