Hints for producing academic papers that you have to submit in soft copy

Students in universities and colleges sometimes submit assignments, research papers and essays as a Microsoft Word document. This page provides some hints for how to do this most effectively.

Imagine the person marking your paper as your customer. Make it easy for that person to mark your paper by using functionality in Word.

Page Numbers

Add page numbers to your document. Markers sometimes work from paper rather than from the screen. Page numbers help the marker keep documents together. Better still: put your name and/or the title of your paper in the footer as well as the page numbers.

Avoid hard page breaks

Markers sometimes work on the screen, and sometimes print out your document. But the person who prints out your document doesn't have your printer. If your document is printed on a printer with ever-so-slightly less print area, then text can re-flow from page to page. If you have included hard page breaks, you can end up with just one or two sentences on a page. Ugly!

Instead of using page breaks, manage the pagination by using paragraph settings.

Don't rely on colour (Don't rely on color, either!)

Don't create diagrams or charts that are unintelligible without a colour printer. The person who marks your paper might not think that your paper in delicately contrasting shades of pink is enough to warrant the expense of printing in colour. Or, the marker's colour cartridges might be dying, so differences you can see won't be apparent. Or, they might be colour-blind (6% of the male population is colour blind). Or, they might not have a colour printer.

Colour is good. Just don't rely on it to get your message across.

Keep all the text roughly the same size

This is particularly important for diagrams and charts that you create in some other program, and paste into Word. Diagrams almost always contain text. Charts include tick mark labels, axis labels, legend labels and other text. When you paste a chart or diagram into your document, make sure that the text is about the same size as the body text.

Why? Because someone might print out your document with two (or even four) pages to a sheet. Tiny text in a diagram just won't be readable. Very large text will be distracting.

The easiest way to ensure that it will all work is to avoid re-sizing the chart or diagram when you paste it into Word. And to avoid re-sizing means you have to create the chart or diagram at 100% of the size you want it to be in the Word document.

Use Word's cross-reference feature

Make sure you have a reference in the text to every table and figure in the document. Use Word's cross-reference feature. It automatically inserts a hyperlink so if the marker is reading your paper on the screen, he or she can click to go straight to the table or figure.

TIP: The Word add-in DocTools CrossReferenceManager can help you create cross-references more efficiently. In addition, the add-in can help you find and fix problems with cross-references.

Use Word's heading styles

If you use Word's heading styles, your marker will be able to see the structure of your document using the Document Map or Outline View. It helps you format your document consistently. It helps make the structure of your document clear. It helps the marker navigate around the document. What's not to like?

Don't plagiarize

OK, so plagiarism isn't a technical Word issue, so it's not really my bailiwick. But I've hung around academia long enough to know that sooner or later plagiarists get caught. I've helped catch some. People lose their jobs [Lene Fredborg, 14-Feb-2020: Removed outdated link to http://www.abc.net.au/pm/stories/s604692.htm] over academic plagiarism. Just don't do it.


(Disclaimer: In a former life I spent a lot of time marking MBA students' assignments. These notes were originally prepared for one of those students.)