Learning to use Microsoft WORD to your advantage

After years of coaching students on writing in a professional and scholarly manner, a trend in academic writing has come forward. Many students say they do not like to write this way not because they do not recognize its importance, but simply because they are not good at it.

The reasons for their perceptions of their shortcomings are varied:

  • Some are non-native English speakers.
  • Some feel they have never been taught.
  • Some blame social media and technology on them not retaining what they have learned.
No matter the starting point, they now stand at the same place: FEAR. 

Terrified of professional writing and the shadow of scholarly weakness it may cast on them, they run from it, as far and as fast as they can.

I have and still maintain that the way to get better at writing, is to “Just Do It”. However, I understand that the first steps in change are often the hardest.

Sometimes, you need some training wheels.

In addition to spell-check, the newest versions of Microsoft Word have very advanced grammar and style checking options. The following tips will help you easily set up Microsoft Word so that it will assist you in not only finding errors, but also learning why they are wrong.

When you open WORD, go to Options, and then select Proofing.

  • Check the 5 boxes below “When correcting spelling and grammar in Word”
  • There is a drop-down box next to “Writing Style”, select Grammar & Style
  • Click on “settings” next to this drop down
  • Make sure that it checks your document for 1 space between sentences

I recommend that at least at first you check ALL OF THE BOXES after Grammar and Style. Doing this will look for many common grammar mistakes, but more importantly, it will analyze your writing style. In my opinion, for students, some of the most important things this flags that are often unnoticed are:

  • Cliches, Colloquialisms, and Jargon
  • Passive sentences
  • Use of first person
  • Gender specific language
Not only will the Grammar and Style check give suggestions for editing, the newest versions will explain the rules behind the suggestions. By taking the time to review these, you will soon alter the style of your writing.
Finally, go to the FONT menu (in the document in 2013, previous versions have a formatting tab).
Select Times New Roman, 12 pt font. and SET AS DEFAULT for all documents. This way you use what is the standard acceptable font for all of your papers, automatically.
Using a recent version of Microsoft Word is key
While they are expensive, students now have the option to buy a four year subscription. It is available for a discount at most college bookstores, and can be found at the UCF Technology Product Center. This 4-year license allows one person to install the software on either 2 PCs or 2 MACS, and includes both version updates and 20GB storage on SkyDrive – where you can both store your documents to access them remotely, as well as share unique read-only or editing links to classmates or colleagues.
A small investment of time and money will boost your confidence, and most likely, your grade.