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Using Word to Write your Thesis: Creating an Outline

When I started the third year of my PhD, I was advised to attend a course to learn to how to use Microsoft Word properly before I started writing.

I laughed! Of course I knew how to use Word!

Why on earth would I spend 3 hours at a course on something I already know how to do?

My friend was insistent that I should attend.  Since she has never steered me wrong in the lab before, I figured it couldn’t hurt to see if there was a trick or two I could pick up along the way.

Initially I was quietly despairing that the class was a fruitless waste of an afternoon, especially after hearing questions such as “How do you insert a table?” But I persevered, and by the second half of the session realized that I knew nothing about the advanced functions that make writing a thesis that much easier!

Finding out how little I actually knew had me feeling down at first, with that “worst PhD student ever” feeling sinking in, but after talking to other students, I soon found out that I wasn’t alone! Surprisingly few people I spoke to (including several students who had just submitted theses) had any idea of how much of the work of thesis writing Word will do automatically (or auto-magically!) for you!

In the hopes that I can make at least one student’s write up less stressful I’ve created several posts that will show you how to use Microsoft Word’s advanced functions to write your thesis.  Today’s topic starts from the beginning.

Outlining a document

The first trick that I have found fantastically helpful in laying out thesis chapters is the Outlining function. This function allows you to set out the headings for your sections and subsections, and provides an easy means of moving them about without having to copy and paste things all over your document. To use it, click the “View” tab at the top of the Word menu and select “Outline”.

word for thesis fig 1

This will give you the outlining toolbar.

word for thesis fig 2

From here, you can jot down your main headings for each chapter and begin to build a plan for each section.

word for thesis fig 3

At this stage, you will have a very rough idea of the points you want to include in the introduction. Now, you can designate the level, or importance, of each heading. The level will decide the size and type of font used for the heading, and will be useful later on when you generate the table of contents.

Give it some style

Before you start assigning levels to the headings, decide how you want each level to look: eg. Chapter heading needs to be size 20, bold and underlined, Section headings need to be size 18, bold…. Etc.

Then set up the style for each level:

  1. Close outline view
  2. Return to the home tab
  3. Go to the styles gallery
  4. Right click “Heading 1
  5. Select “Modify” and set up your preferred font styles

word for thesis fig 4

word for thesis fig 5

I found it useful to set this to “New documents based on this template” so that in each thesis chapter you write the headings will be identical.

Level up

Once you have this set up for each of the headings (I went as far as Heading 5 and so far haven’t needed to go any further!), you can set up the levels for your chapter headings.

To do this

  1. Return to outline view
  2. Using the tool marked “level” use the single arrows on either side of it to promote or demote each heading a level, the double arrows move the headings to either end i.e. Heading 1 or body text.

word for thesis fig 6

If you decide you need to move sections around, rather than copying and pasting, simply click the grey circle next to the heading and drag to its new position.

Give them numbers

Next you can add numbering to your headings. Still in outline view:

  1. Highlight all the headings
  2. Click the home tab and select “multilevel list” (located beside list numbering and bullet points)
  3. Select the type of numbering you want. I opt for the 1, 1.1, 1.1.1 format, but don’t be afraid to play around with other options if that’s not what you’re looking for.

word for thesis fig 7

With your headings laid out, it just becomes a matter of filling in the gaps.  This will break your thesis into much more manageable chunks.

Pick a small section to write each week and your thesis will practically write itself!

Stay tuned for my next lesson on generating a table of contents, inserting captions, and cross-referencing sections.

 

**Note:  All screenshots taken from Word for  Windows, 2013.

 

1 Comment

  1. Ramnath Shodharthi on May 19, 2015 at 1:36 am

    Very informative

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