Tuesday, 12 April 2016

How to use Style Sheets in MS Word

 Style sheets are a useful feature in MS Word that can make writing essays and formatting them correctly much easier. APA has strict requirements for headings and body text styles, so by setting your style sheets correctly, you can save yourself a lot of work and improve your essay writing grades.

The first thing to notice is that MS Word has built-in styles. You can see them when you are in the "Home" tab. However, Word usually has Calibri or Arial as the default font for "Normal." Although fonts are not specified in APA style, a serif font such as Times is normally recommended. Some teachers can be more fussy, so don't take a chance. Use Times or Times New Roman for your body text.

To change the settings for any style, right click (control click on a Mac) to pull up the "Modify" dialogue. The "Modify" dialogue will show all the parameters for the style.

You can make life even easier by basing one style on another.

The pop-up menu in the bottom right corner (shows "Format" in the image) gives you access to the paragraph settings. That way you can set indents and spacing as well for the style.

The heading style shown here is the correct style for main headings in APA format. This should be centered, bold (and you write things with upper and lower case).

Secondary headings in APA format are left aligned bold with upper and lower case.

Third headings in APA style are left aligned bold, with only upper case at the beginning and a period at the end. They are followed by body text on the same line. Because MS Word does not allow you to have different styles in the same paragraph, you can't set a head 3 style. Simple write the paragraph in Body Text style and then select the text and make it bold.

Here's a sample showing the correct headings in APA style.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

How to Use Track Changes in MS Word 2016

The latest update to MicroSoft Word has a few changes to the Track Changes function. Here's an update to my blog post showing how to use Track Changes.

As with previous versions of Word, you can find the controls for Track Changes in the Review Tab.
If you haven't explored the tabs, then you really aren't using Word to its great capabilities. If you're a student, then taking the time (when you're not under the pressure of an essay deadline) to learn how to use the various functions of Word is a great idea. If you do this, you will save tons of time when working on your essays.

When you receive an essay back from me or another editor, you will find all the changes marked with the Track Changes tools. I like to do this for both academic and non-academic clients so they can see what I've done. I hope students will review these changes to help them write better. I want my business clients to be able to review my changes to ensure that the document still retains their original meaning.
Changes appear in one color in the margin on the right. Comments appear in another color. If different editors make changes, then each editor will have a different color. MS Word assigns the colors when there is more than one, so the color I see might not be the same color you see.

It's really easy to accept these changes, which means that the document is permanently changed to include the editor's changes.
Look at the second image above of the tool bar. In the REVIEW tab, you will see a button with a check mark labelled "Accept". It has a little down triangle beside it. That means when you click on it, a menu will pop up below it.
If you click on "Accept and Move to Next", you will be able to review each change at a time. If you click on "Accept All Changes", then all the changes will be incorporated into your document. And if you accept "Accept All Changes and Stop Tracking", all the changes will be accepted and the Track Changes function will be turned off. You can also easily turn off the Track Changes function using the button.

Although changes can be accepted in bulk, comments must be deleted one by one. Editors use comments to query factual statements, to indicate where a reference is needed, or to alert the writer to another issue that the writer should address. I try to leave a minimum of comments in the documents I edit, but these are very important communications between the editor and the writer, so please review these carefully before deleting.

In previous versions of MS Word, you could delete a comment by clicking the close box in the upper right hand corner of the comment. In the newest version, you must use (in Mac) Command + click to call up a contextual menu.

On a PC, you would use a right click for this. Simply choose "Delete Comment". Once you have deleted all comments, then the paper is clean and ready to hand in.

I know some editors return a clean version along with a version showing changes. However, I prefer to return only the marked up version because I really want to help writers become better writers. Some struggling writers might be overwhelmed when they see the vast number of changes that happen. But by focusing on just a few errors, you can vastly improve your writing. I find that most writers make the same kinds of errors over and over again, so a little effort to avoid your most common problems might yield a vast improvement in your writing.

Better writers might only have a few changes, so I like to show them that I actually did review the document carefully, even if the changes I made were just a comma here or there and other minor grammar and punctuation errors.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

How to Write a Research Essay

In my editing work, I come across some wonderful essays that give me great hope for the next generation of scholars.

And then there are the others.

Don't despair. For many people, a few simple steps will get you on the road to writing research essays that will boost your grades and give you the skills you need to thrive in the modern economy.

In my opinion, research and writing are the most important skills that you gain from a university education. Being able to analyze an argument, find information, express opinions, make conclusions, and justify opinions are all vital in the wide variety of professions that require a post-secondary academic education. Writing a research essay, whether in first year courses or at the graduate level, contributes to developing these skills.

Before you start your research, have a pretty good idea of the topic you are going to write about. Research means looking for information, and you need to be specific. You may find that as you do research, you will see that your first ideas were not practical, or you might find something that is more interesting. It's usually OK to change at this point, unless you need permission from your instructor.


The first step to writing a research essay is the research. Forget about Google. Your school should provide you with a login to access your university's database. In fact, there should be several databases, each of which is subject-specific. Choose the database appropriate to your area. If you are not sure, ask a librarian.

If you don't know how to access the school databases, you need to talk to the library staff. If it's Sunday night and your essay is due tomorrow, then say a prayer and use Google. However, what often happens is that Google will lead you to the names of the articles that you want to read, but they are in databases that you need to pay to access. Sometimes you can access whole articles through Google Scholar, but it's hit and miss.

Assuming you are on the library database, you are going to search for articles. Think of several key words that could be used to describe the topics you are interested in. You can search for these individually or separately. At this point in the research your goal is to identify several research studies that will give you information needed for your essay.

I like to combine specific words to get a smaller search result. However, being too specific might end up with no results. Don't expect to strike gold with the first search. This process can take a little while as you try as many combinations of search terms as you can think of. As you find articles, first look at the title, then check the abstract to see if they will be helpful. Only save the ones that show some promise.

Most of the time with a university database, you can save the article in pdf format. Sometimes the articles come with weird names like yscef2343.pdf. Save this with a name that makes sense to you. You are going to (hopefully) end up with a dozen or more articles (to be narrowed down later) so naming them sensibly saves you time later.

After you have a number of articles saved, your next step is to decide which ones are helpful. The normal structure for a research study is the introduction, methods, data, discussion and conclusion. The introduction will tell you the relevance of the study to existing theory. Usually it will identify gaps or contradictions that it is designed to address. That can be useful to provide you specific places to look for other studies in the area you are researching. I find that the methodology and data (especially for quantitative studies) are not useful at this point. I usually skip to the discussion to see what is of value of any particular study.


The important thing before you start writing is that you have the information you need available. This doesn't mean that you have a certain number of studies, but that you have reliable data to back up any statements you are going to make in your essay. No matter what claims you make, you will need to show that someone of authority believes the same thing.

First create an outline. An outline is simply a point-form map of your essay. First you will establish some basic facts (point 1, 2, 3). This might take two or ten paragraphs. Then you are going to make an argument about these facts, supporting some and contradicting others. This is true for virtually all subject areas.

Each paragraph will be structured like this:

  1. Topic sentence will begin the paragraph.
  2. Statement of fact with citation.
  3. Your discussion of this information (may go on for several sentences, or may introduce new information with citation).
  4. Apply this to a case at hand (if relevant).
  5. If additional information is related to this topic, include in the same paragraph.
All information needs to be cited. That's one of the places where people lose marks on research papers.

Be careful about quoting. APA style specifically says paraphrase unless a quote is so perfectly worded that you couldn't find better words. Don't quote statistics or findings, paraphrase. It's very poor style to insert a sentence quoting a statistic. Also make sure the quote really adds to the argument. I often see quotes that are inconsistent with the logic of the argument, or make some reference that is irrelevant.

After you've written all your paragraphs, you need to read it over and edit it several times to make it consistent and smoothly flowing. Write the introduction last, or at least be prepared to revise it after you write the body of the essay.

Get a friend to read it before you hand it in. There's nothing better than a second set of eyes to review what you've written to catch typographical and logical errors. If you don't have a friend who can do it, then consider hiring an editor. Look at the comments and edits to learn how you can write better the next time. Writing is a skill that takes time to learn, but if you've come this far, you can do it.