Documents set for success 1 basics

Set up your documents for success: the basics

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When you are submitting an important essay you’re probably focused on ensuring that you have understood the question or that you’ve conveyed your research and knowledge. The visual appearance of the document is perhaps not at the top of your list. But, for your reader, an untidy or badly formatted document can be off-putting to read, and may influence their overall impression of your assignment. I always check the formatting of a client’s document, just to ensure that there is a reasonable level of consistency, but there are a number of basic things you can easily do yourself to set your document up for success.

Language

Set the proofing language
Set the proofing language

You can set make a couple of basic checks before you hit the keyboard. The first question to ask yourself is: what language will I be using to write this document? If that sounds a bit of a daft question, remember there are several versions of English – the most common being British English and American English. There are subtle spelling differences between a number of words and you’ll make your life easier (and your proofreader happy) if you select the pre-installed Word document language before you start.

This is easy to do on the Review tab. On Word 2013 that’s the eighth tab along the ribbon. Just click on the fifth button along ‘Language’ and choose ‘select proofing language’. From here you can select whichever version of English you require. I’d just stick with either American or British English, although my version of Word actually has nineteen different pre-installed English dictionaries, ranging from Australian to Zimbabwean. I have to confess, I’ve not explored them all!

Check the page layout

Check the page layout

Check the page dimensions

It’s unlikely you’ll need to diverge from Word’s standard page layout, but just in case you do, it’s always worth knowing how to do this quickly and easily. The fifth tab on the Ribbon at the top of your Word screen is the Page Layout tab. Here you can change the size of the paper you are using (or will print onto), the orientation of the page, the margins of your document, and also other items like columns and line numbers that I’ll look at in the future. For now, just click the Orientation button to drop down a little box showing you whether the page is in portrait or landscape format. You can also click the little button in the bottom right-hand corner to bring up the Page Layout dialogue box.

One further check

By now you are probably raring to go with your writing, but before you hit the keyboard there are a couple more set-up tricks to perform. It’s worth checking the paper size now. Although this can easily be changed later, you’ll get a false impression of the number of pages you’ve written if it’s not set at the correct size. This is easily checked on the third button along ‘size’.

A word about indents

Checking paper size and indentation
Checking paper size and indentation

You’ll also note on this screen shot the paragraph button. I’ll look at setting-up paragraph styles in more detail in the future, but for now just note that you can set or check here how the document paragraphs are styled, in terms of the left and right indentation and the space between them. I’d recommend, if you have no fixed rules to follow, making this as simple as possible. The space between paragraphs will depend on the line spacing you are using, but the smaller the better. You want to be able to differentiate between the paragraphs without having huge white spaces. And I’d keep the indents at zero unless you are setting out a quotation. I recently checked a document that had different indentation on every page – I’m not sure how that had happened. While many people may not notice this, with my years of proofreading experience it was the first thing that stood out.

I hope these few tips on setting up your page have been useful. Next time I’ll take a detailed look at setting up and changing margins.

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