Congratulations! You’re ready to write your dissertation. One way to mitigate the “intimidation factor” of this manuscript is to begin with small steps. This resource encourages you to become familiar with the auto-formatting functions in Word and to prepare the document ahead of time. Doing so can be a productive activity that will save time (and frustration) in the long run. This reference highlights some of Microsoft Word’s formatting tools to get you started.


First things first:

  • Before you start creating your document, consult your department/program handbook to view the dissertation formatting requirements
  • Peruse the opening style guidelines presented in the professional manual for your style

Simple Format Prep:

  • Set your font so that it will be consistent throughout the document. APA 7th Edition recommends easy to read fonts such as Times New Roman or Calibri (12 pt)
  • Set 1” margins
  • Use automatic page numbering (for an entire document or single chapters)

Use Ruler for Indents and Tabs:

  • Helpful for consistency when creating hanging indents, first line indents, aligning lists, etc. throughout your document
  • Various ways you can use this tool
  • Automatic format for:
  • Hanging indent for References
  • Widow/Orphan Control
  • Right side hyphen default

More Complicated:

Formatted headings will be helpful when adding an automated Table of Contents, so using headers effectively is the first step we advise.

Word has preset headings settings, but they may not match your program’s formatting requirements. You can avoid formatting issues by setting up headings in a draft document or creating a template. This resource shows you how to modify an existing heading style or create a new one.

Quick tip: once a heading style is created, you can right click the style in the heading menu and click “update to match selection.” This can be done for all levels of APA headings.



Paragraph and Formatting Marks ( ¶ ):

  • Display to help you see “hidden” formatting, which can be useful when trying to troubleshoot formatting issues
  • How to turn this feature on

Page and Section Breaks:

  • Use to tell Word where new pages or parts of a document start
  • Helpful when you need to keep sections (such as chapters) separate and beneficial for formatting purposes as well. For instance, if you only want to format one chapter, using breaks will keep the remainder of the document from changing to a format you do not want (e.g., figures on one page, separate section with a different page number sequence).



Formatting Content

Heading Types:

  • Word offers a variety of built-in styles that can be used to distinguish headings from text, making this a quick and easy tool to help with consistency and navigation
  • Adding heading styles to your document is easy

Automatic Table of Contents (ToC):

  • Inserting an automatic ToC can be a time-saver as long as you have already formatted all your headings to the correct level as described above
  • This 3-minute video gives a quick overview on how to use heading styles when creating a ToC

Table of Figures and Tables:

  • Similar to general document ToC, but only lists tables and figures
  • Additional information relating to how to insert table/figure captions, keeping a table/figure together with its caption, and more can be found here


Items to Keep in Mind

Copy/Paste Formatting:

  • Be aware that when copying and pasting from other sources, those sources may have different formatting that may cause issues in your document
  • Best to copy and then use the pasting option of “text only”
  • Never copy text directly from a website into your Word document; even with the “keep text only” option, this can result in hidden html code embedded in your document

Managing Tables & Figures:

  • Be consistent among your tables and figures (i.e., size, font, colors)
  • Simple tables can easily be done in Word, but consider designing more complex tables and figures in other programs such as Excel and statistics programs (SPSS, R), and then copying and pasting them as an image into Word

Compressing Images & Videos:

  • Images and videos can greatly increase the file size of your dissertation, making it difficult or time-consuming to up/download
  • All photos, images, and videos should be formatted appropriately so that your transmission or downloading of your manuscript is facilitated. See WEX Resource: Best Practices for Including Media in Manuscripts
  • This 5-minute video shows you how to compress your files on both a PC and Mac

Version Management:

  • Consider using dates and/or version numbers for each editing session, and saving a backup copy at regular intervals
  • Makes it easier to recover your work should something go wrong
  • Frequency is up to you – some people create a new version for any type of edit while others only save a new version when making major changes (such as rearranging sections of a chapter)


By Tammy Cloutier, ABD