Make Word Work for You: Four Tips for Navigating Digital Writing Spaces

Alex Wasson, consultantalexwasson

As a graduate student, I often have numerous documents open on my computer for simultaneous editing. These documents are precious, the empty vessels into which I pour my scholarly hopes and dreams. I rarely give credit to the vessel (for me, Microsoft Word) for its ability to do more than just store all of my text. In fact, I pay no attention to the program unless disaster strikes; an unsaved document, a poorly formatted works cited page, or a pesky APA title page heading can derail an entire weekend or even an entire semester. So I thought I would take a moment to thank our digital writing spaces, whether it is Google Docs, Notepad, Microsoft Word, blogs, email, or anything in between, for all the good times we have together. To express my gratitude, here are four tips for navigating digital writing spaces.

1. Microsoft Word’s Brainstorming Feature

Did you know that you can easily create a brainstorming web on Microsoft Word? Double click anywhere on the screen and the cursor will follow you, allowing you to use the screen as if it is a whiteboard (see here for specific instructions). This feature is extremely helpful when mapping out ideas at the beginning of projects.

2. Visual Modes- Read, Print, and Distraction-Free Screens

If you are a visual person like me, switching up the screen presentation for reading and for editing may inspire a mental distinction between the two tasks. Many digital writing spaces offer a variety of different screen views. Microsoft Word, for example, provides read mode, print layout, and web layout screens underneath the view toolbar selection. In addition, if the toolbar itself is a distraction, you may hide it by selecting Ctrl+F1 on older software or the tiny arrow on the right side of the toolbar. An unobstructed view of the screen may just be the trick to jump start your writing assignment.

3. Reference-Keepers

Reference managers such as Mendeley and Endnote are fantastic tools that store all your citations in one place. This storage is extremely helpful when working on large research projects, and it integrates well with writing programs like Microsoft Word.

4. Graph Generator

I am not a numbers person. I am also not a master at Microsoft Excel. Therefore, when I am in need of a graph or chart in my writing project, I turn to the built-in graph feature embedded within Word and other writing programs. The graph feature offers step-by-step help and provides many different chart type options for your specific needs. A graph or chart can be a great asset to a project which compares two or more ideas.

One last note – SAVE whatever you are working on right now. Do it. Email it to yourself, keep a flash drive, upload it to the mysterious iCloud or type it on Google docs. Your future self will thank you.

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