The Australian manual of scientific style (AMOSS)

Whether you are a scientist writing journal articles or an editor working on scientific documents, I can strongly recommend the Australian manual of scientific style (AMOSS). This great resource can answer many of your questions about scientific writing style, language and editorial consistency. It also has special sections that focus on peer-reviewed scientific papers, grant applications, reports and books.

The manual has just been released by the Biotext team, who have a wealth of experience in looking after scientific documents, gained over many years.

Finally a resource for scientific style that is online and accessible from anywhere!


The Australian manual of scientific style (AMOSS) gives sound advice on just about anything you will come across when publishing scientific reports, articles and books. It has three main sections —‘writing’, ‘editing’ and ‘showing’ — which each contain a wealth of articles and advice. Topics vary from simple things, such as when to use a comma or how to use the dashes, to more complex issues such as how to standardise tables, figures and charts.

The information in the manual is detailed, clear and well organised. I also like the many links to external specialised information, and the fact sheets for downloading.


You can access the manual through online subscription. This is great: you don’t need to carry around a heavy manual but have access to it from anywhere. So you can write or edit on the beach, in the field or from your favourite cafe!

You can find the manual here.
Disclosure: I used to work for Biotext as an employee, and still do contract work for Biotext.

To find other recommended resources for writers and editors, check the resources page.


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Introduction to PerfectIt online course

I recently wrote about my favourite editing tool, PerfectIt, a software add-on to Ms Word. Just this month, my friend and colleague Hilary Cadman from Cadman Editing Services has launched her Introduction to PerfectIt online course.

If you are interested in PerfectIt, but feel reluctant to learn yet another program, this course is the easiest way to jump this hurdle. The PerfectIt online course takes you through the setup of PerfectIt and how to use the program on your documents.

Also, the course takes only 60 to 90 minutes to complete. Therefore, this is a great way to start using the program, without the headache of working it all out by yourself.

Excellent value!

Other resources

To find other recommended resources for writers and editors, check the resources page.


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PerfectIt for writers and editors

Of the many proofreading aids for writers and editors, PerfectIt is my favourite.
It is a Microsoft Word add-on program that will find many of the inconsistencies you have inadvertently left in your document.

Here are some examples of the things it will find in your document:

  • inconsistent spelling (e.g. you have used both ‘program’ and ‘programme’ in the same document)
  • inconsistent capitalisation (e.g. you have used both ‘crown-of-thorns starfish’ and ‘Crown-of-Thorns Starfish’ in the same document)
  • unspecified or inconsistently specified acronyms or abbreviations
  • missing brackets or quotes.

In addition, the program will let you create your own style sheet (a list of words or terms). You can then instruct PerfectIt to use this style sheet when checking your document.

PerfectIt resources

You can find more information about this program on the Intelligent Editing website.

There is now also a course on how to use this program: see Introduction to PerfectIt for writers and editors.

Other resources

To find other recommended resources for writers and editors, check the resources page.


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‘Macquarie Dictionary’

I use and recommend the Macquarie Dictionary for spelling. The Australian Government and universities consider this work the authoritative source on Australian English. By using this work as your spelling standard, you adopt a consistent strategy, which readers will respect.

Usage of the Macquarie Dictionary

The Macquarie Dictionary is available as a printed book, an online website, and as an app. Only the online edition is updated annually.

While I have both the Macquarie Dictionary app and the printed book in my office, I tend to use the app more than the book. This is mostly because looking up a term is much quicker on the app. The app also provides related words or terms when using the search function. I also love the list of ‘recent’ words, which saves all recent searches. Of course, the app is much easier to carry around and very handy when working away from my office.

However, for comparing definitions and for terms with large explanations, the book is more convenient. So, really, having both is the best option.


You can find an overview of the history of the Macquarie Dictionary on Wikipedia here.


The online edition is available for a 30-day free trial at the Macquarie Dictionary website. However, subscription to the online version is only for one year and needs annual renewal. As this costs more than the app (which is not updated annually, but still very good), I have not used the online subscription.

To find other recommended resources for writers and editors, check the resources page.


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‘Effective writing — Plain English at work’ by Elizabeth Manning Murphy and Hilary Cadman

This is an excellent book for writers who want to improve or refresh their skills of effective writing.

When I was doing my online editing course many years ago, I used the first edition of this book extensively. It has excellent examples and many exercises to test yourself. I still use it to look up examples when I want to explain something to a client or go back to the theory.

Content overview

This second edition of Effective writing has new material throughout that refers to writing using electronic media.

The book has three main sections:

  • the basics
  • writing effectively
  • creating effective documents.

The basics section covers many areas that are fundamental to writing. These include grammar, spelling, parts of speech, groups of words, paragraphs, punctuation and clear writing.

In the writing effectively section, attention goes to style, plain English expression and word choice.

The last section, on creating effective documents, focuses on the writing process and design. This section also discusses many types of written documents. Sections include: correspondence, minutes, emails, submissions and presentations. There is also a detailed section on report writing.

Effective writing has a back-of-book index.


The hard copy version of Effective writing is available online from the Book Depository and from Angus & Robertson Bookworld.

The book is also available as an ebook.


Other resources for writers and editors

To find other recommended resources for writers and editors, check the resources page.


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All about ebooks

What are ebooks?

Ebooks have been around for a while now and still the definition can be a bit blurry. So, what are ebooks?

According to Wikipedia, an ebook is ‘an electronic book’ or ‘digital book’. In other words, it is a book-publication in digital form, consisting of text, images, or both, readable on computers or other electronic devices.

Just like a printed book, an ebook has a cover, a blurb and content. An ebook can have all the characteristics of a print book, such as an ISBN, an author, an editor, an illustrator, a publisher, etc.

ebook — e-book — eBook

There are many versions, but it seems ‘ebook’ is winning the race.
This is also the preferred spelling in the Macquarie Dictionary, which I am following here.

What is the difference between a PDF and an ebook?

What are ebooks? Image of a page of a PDF file when opened on an smart phone

When a PDF is opened on a smart phone, only this section is visible. The other text is outside the view.

Strictly speaking, a PDF is an ebook. The PDF (an abbreviation for Portable Document Format, developed by Adobe) has been, until recently, the best known and most widely used ebook format.

However, books in PDF format, and many other fixed-page electronic formats, have the same disadvantage as print books: a lot of time and effort has to be spent on page layout and they are hard to read on small screen. Electronic book formats such as PDF also restrict the reader to a particular software program, and they need to be read and displayed at a readable size (i.e. a normal computer screen).

In the past, this was probably the reason why publishers rarely sold published books into those fixed-page formats.

The rise of smart phones and tablets has gone hand in hand with the development of new ebook formats (e.g. EPUB, MOBI) that no longer have these disadvantages. Because of this, ebook publishing has changed a lot. We can now read ebooks on many devices and no longer have to sit behind our computers.

The main difference between formats such as PDF and the new ebook formats such as EPUB is that the new formats ‘reflow’ the content.

What is reflowable content?

File formats such as PDF have a ‘fixed’ page layout. This means that the content on the pages is always the same and does not change when you open the PDF on a different device.

The new ebooks, however, are produced in a format that no longer fixes the page content. Instead, the page content changes when you open the ebook on a different device (or on the computer when you change the size of the program window). This is possible because the new file formats allow the book content to ‘reflow’, i.e. the content adapts to the device on which it is read (like water takes on the form of its container).

The following examples show what happens when ebook content is reflowable.

What are ebooks? Image of a double page spread of A Voyage to New South Wales in Adobe Digital Editions

A double-page spread of the ebook ‘A Voyage to new South Wales’ in Adobe Digital Editions on a computer screen.

The fraction of the page content you would see if this was a PDF opened on a smart phone

The fraction of the page content you would see if this was a PDF opened on a smart phone.

The example I am using is from the book by John White, ‘A voyage to New South Wales’, in EPUB format (a most interesting journal by the first-fleet doctor about the plants and animals they found in Australia in 1787).

In the first image, taken on a computer screen, the ebook content is spread over a double page using Adobe Digital Content (see below, How to read an ebook on your computer?).

If the same document was in PDF format and opened on a small screen, you would only see a small section of the page (see second image). To read all the content on the page, a reader would have to use the scroll buttons to move the document from left to right and up and down. This would become very irritating.

This is the main reason non-reflowable text formats are used less and less for ebooks.

When content is in a reflowable format, as shown in the screen shots below taken on an iPhone 5, the text wraps and adjusts to the much smaller iPhone screen. The reader does not have to use scroll buttons and can continue reading. Below, I show the first two pages of the same document content displayed on the iPhone.

What are ebooks? Image of the text on an iphone screen

The same text reflowing to the page size of an iPhone. These are the first two pages.

In the same way, the content will take the size of any display screen so users no longer have to zoom in.

The two main reflowable ebook formats used for ebooks are EPUB and MOBI. The EPUB file format is a free and open standard format and is used by books that are for sale at most ebook bookshops. The MOBI file format is used by Amazon Kindle for all their ebooks.

How does reflowable content work with images?

This reflow capacity of ebooks also applies to text with images or illustrations. For example, the screen capture below, taken on my computer, shows a double page spread of the same ebook on Mozilla Firefox epub reader (which also has a clickable contents table on the left).

What are ebooks? Image of the ebook text in Mozilla Firefox

A Voyage to New South Wales shown in Mozilla Firefox EPUB Reader.

The same content on the iPhone 5 below spreads over several pages (I show the first and last page). You can see that the image is adjusted to fit on the small screen.

What are ebooks? First page of the same text on an iPhone 5

First page of the same text on an iPhone 5.

What are ebooks? Last page of the same text on an iPhone 5

Last page of the same text on an iPhone 5.


This great flexibility of EPUB and MOBI formats explains why ebooks have become so popular.

Reflowable content lets the reader take control

Even though ebooks have a list of advantages for publishers, readers are the ones who benefit most. They no longer have to scroll to see content and also get a whole range of controls they never had before.

Thanks to reflowable content, readers can be given control over the font size, colour and even the indentation of paragraphs as they read. This is great for accessibility. People with good eyesight can read the text in small font, while readers who have problems with small font can enlarge the font size to the size they need with the click of a button — I love reading without my glasses! In addition, reflowable ebooks are also easier to convert into audio, which makes them even more accessible.

On many readers you can also change the colour of the page background, the light intensity of the screen, control blue or red light, set the font type, etc. Below, I show some of the different views I can get on my smart phone, without having to change anything to the publication file itself…

What are ebooks? Image of ebook text displayed on an iPhone 5

Large, sans-serif, white font on a black page background.

What are ebooks? Image of ebook text displayed on an iPhone 5

Small, serif, black font on a white page background.

What are ebooks? Image of ebook text displayed on an iPhone 5

Medium, sans-serif, black font and a sepia page background.


The advantages of ebooks

The advantages of ebooks are there for readers, writers, publishers and the environment. Here is a summary.

For readers

When reading an ebook you can:

  • read the same reflowable ebook on the computer, tablet or smart phone without the need for enlarging or scrolling — the content adjusts to the screen size
  • choose the size of the font, the font type and the colour of the font and background page
  • add as many bookmarks or highlights to your ebook as you want
  • automatically find the place where you stopped reading the previous time
  • have your library in your pocket or keep it online to access from anywhere in the world — travelling with ebooks is easy
  • purchase ebooks at lower cost (because writers and publishers can produce ebooks cheaper)
  • have access to millions of books online, many for free because copyrights have expired
  • purchase ebooks online from anywhere in the world and receive them moments later
  • have a good feeling that ebooks are better for the environment than print books.

Accessibility for vision-impaired readers is also a great benefit. Font size adjustments, brightness of screen and conversions to audio books are all new options that were very expensive for print books.

For writers

In addition to taking credit for the benefits to readers, as a writer you gain by being in a better position to self-publish an ebook. You can choose to self-publish your book as an ebook because the production process is shorter than for print and does not require the same financial investment. If you are IT literate, you can learn how to produce and publish your own book. You will have no expenses for page layout, conversion into other formats, printing and transport. The internet makes it easier to market and sell your books to the whole world from your own website, and also gives you the option of interacting with your readers.

For publishers

Ebooks may be reorganising the publishing world, but books will not disappear — there will always be writers who write books and readers who want to read them. Therefore there will always be publishers.

Publishers benefit from the ebook transformation because the whole production process has become cheaper, easier and sales are now possible worldwide. Publishers have the same advantages as writers, but they are still the expert on quality writing and publication delivery. For those writers that prefer to write, a publisher is still the best way to publish a high-quality book.

For the environment

Print production is not only expensive for readers, writers and publishers. It is also expensive for the environment. Ebook production removes a suite of production steps that damage the environment.

To produce an ebook:

  • you do not need to chop trees to make paper
  • there is no paper processing or bleaching, no ink production, no printing, and less waste, so less chemicals end up in the environment
  • there are less greenhouse gases for transport (transport is instantly over the internet).

How to read an ebook on your computer?

Where to start with your first ebook? I suggest the first step is to read a free ebook on your computer. This way, you do not have to purchase anything or subscribe to any online ebook service.

Before opening an ebook on your computer, you need to make sure you have the software on your computer to read it. For some reason, standard computer installations do not yet come with ebook readers. (I have just installed Windows 10 on a new laptop, and when I try to open an EPUB ebook, it takes me straight to the Microsoft store login…) It is obvious that the various large companies involved (i.e. Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft) prefer you purchase their apps, ebooks, ebook devices and software through their own systems, rather than show you how to set up your own library by downloading ebooks from the web. Luckily, there are many ways around this and it is not very hard to find free ebooks and software online.

Here are a few software programs that will read EPUB format ebooks.

Mozilla Firefox EPUB Reader

This program is the most simple and is my recommended choice.

  • download and install the Mozilla Firefox internet browser for Windows and Mac — a free and open-source internet browser
  • browse to EPUBReader (a Firefox add-on) and install it — the instructions on this website explain how to install it
  • see the section below on how to obtain your own free ebook
  • click on the ebook file link in the email to open the ebook in EPUBReader
  • start reading!

Adobe Digital Editions

This software is by Adobe and is free. It is simple to use, but you will need to download the epub file to your computer and open it in the program before you can start reading.

  • download and install Adobe Digital Editions (for Windows and Mac)
  • see the section below on how to obtain you own free ebook
  • download and save the ebook to your computer
  • open Adobe Digital Editions
  • select File>Add to library to find the downloaded ebook on your computer
  • select the ebook file to open it in Adobe Digital Editions
  • start reading!


This software is also free, but they do appreciate donations. However, Calibre is much more complex than the previous two programs. In addition to reading EPUB ebooks, it can read many other formats, convert formats, build an ebook library, and even create new EPUB publications. I would only recommend this program for more experienced users, but it is excellent value.

The most useful feature for beginners is that you will be able to search for ebooks on the internet from the program itself and add them to your library.

  • download and install Calibre (for Windows and Mac)
  • see the section below on how to obtain you own free ebook
  • download the ebook to your computer
  • open Calibre and click on Add Books to find the downloaded ebook on your computer
  • select the ebook file to open it in Calibre
  • start reading!

Download the free EPUB ebook

What are ebooks? A voyage to New South Wales

FREE ebook ‘A Voyage to new South Wales’ by John White

The ebook ‘A Voyage to new South Wales’ is available for free for readers of this post. There are many other free ebooks available online (see below).

To download the ebook:

  • click on the following link ‘A Voyage to New South Wales
  • click on the Free Download button and then on Checkout to go to the check out.

You will be asked to submit your email address so that you can receive the link to the ebook. You will not have to pay.

When you receive your ebook email:

  • click on the link to the book in the email
  • if you have installed Mozilla Firefox and the EPUBReader, the ebook will automatically open in Firefox and be added to your EPUBReader library
  • if you have not yet installed EPUB reader software, you can download the ebook file to your computer and follow the instructions above on how to install an ebook reader.

More information on ebooks

In this post, I have concentrated on mainstream ebooks and those formats with reflowable content. The following sites are excellent resources on various other aspects of ebooks.

  • Comparison of ebook formats: Have a look at this Wikipedia site if you are interested to know more about the various formats of ebooks that exist. It shows an excellent comparison table of the various features associated with each format type.
  • Comparison of ebook readers: This Wikipedia site provides a list of ebook readers that exist. It shows an excellent comparison table of the various features associated with each reader.
  • Comparison of Android e-book reader software: If you have an Android smart phone or tablet, this site lists the apps you can use to read ebooks on your device.
  • Comparison of iOS e-book reader software: If you have an iPhone or iPad, this site lists the apps you can use to read ebooks on your device.

Sites with free EPUB ebooks

There are many sites out there with free ebooks, though you have to be careful which sites you use. These are my favorites:

Project Gutenberg: This site has over 50 000 free ebooks that can be downloaded. It is a highly reliable site that does not have a commercial interests.

Project Gutenberg Australia: The Australian part of the above organisation has more Australian documents.

eBooks@Adelaide library: Connected to the University of Adelaide, Australia, this site presents many of the library’s works online. Free to read through their own browser online and also available to download to your computer.


I am happy to answer your questions about ebooks. Please use the Reply option below to ask a question.


Writing tips for technical documents

Are you writing a technical or scientific document? Use these ten writing tips to create well-structured and easy to understand documents.

To write a document that readers will find interesting, clear and useful, you need to think about the whole document from the very beginning.

These writing tips can help you get started.

1. Do an audience analysis

For whom are you writing? This is a fundamental question that will determine how you will write the document and you need to resolve this first.

If you have a known audience (e.g. a user group), the best way to find the answer to this question is to go and talk to the audience. If that is not possible, then you could brainstorm for possible answers with the people involved in writing the document.

2. Do a purpose analysis

What is the purpose of your document? This is another fundamental question that will need to be resolved before you can start writing.

Try to identify the purpose of your document clearly and work out what you would like to achieve with it. If you are writing a manual, what will it explain and which problems do you hope to avoid by giving readers (i.e. users) this information? If you are writing a scientific report, what would you like your readers to find out and remember?

3. Plan the document structure

Spend time developing your document structure. This will help you during the writing process.

Use the answers found in writing tips 1 and 2 to develop your structure. A preset structure will show you where best to discuss certain topics and also give you a sense of direction while you write.

However, this preset structure should not be too ‘rigid’: adjust it during the writing process if you think it does not work quite as well as you planned. This tip is as important as the next, so always apply these two writing tips together.

4. Make your document structure logical

If readers understand your document structure quickly, they will also quickly find the things they are interested in. This will make them happy and they will find your document useful.

The logic in the structure of your document is therefore very important. Structure can be chronological; historical; methodological; action, process or place-driven; or may adhere to a set standard (e.g. a procedure).

Whichever structure you adopt, make sure it is reflected in the headings and subheadings. If these headings clearly communicate your document’s structure, readers will find the information they want much faster.

See also formatting tips.

5. Write in a direct manner

By communicating directly with your readers, they are more likely to listen.

For example:

  • If you are writing an instruction document, such as a manual, you could address the reader as ‘you’.
  • If you are writing a report or descriptive document, try to use the active voice as much as possible.

See also editing tips.

6. Write for a broad audience

Scientific or technical documents are often directed to a very limited and often specialist audience. This can be appropriate, but in many cases it can restrict the usefulness of the document or turn readers away.

Even scientific and technical documents can benefit from being written for a broad range of readers.

Widening your audience can be beneficial in many ways, especially if the documents are grant proposals, journal articles, reports, manuals, etc.

7. Explain terms and jargon

As in writing tip 6, missing explanations of terminology and jargon can turn readers away.

Try to include the readers that may not be at your level of specialty by providing definitions of terms and jargon words.

These explanations do not need to clutter the main text, but can be provided in stand-alone boxed text, glossary lists, footnotes, appendixes or even in a dedicated ‘background’ section of the document.

See also editing tips.

8. Standardise the peripheral components

Peripheral components of your document include:

  • the objects that you insert to illustrate or clarify the text (e.g. tables, graphs, diagrams, images or icons)
  • text presentation aids (e.g. citations, references, footnotes, captions, acronyms and abbreviations, headings and subheadings, lists and quotations, tips, notes and warnings)
  • layout (e.g. page design and graphic layout, headers and footers, page numbers).

If you make these components consistent throughout your document, the readers will learn quickly, find information faster and can focus on the really important messages in your document.

9. Keep track of all sources you use

As a writer, you will invest many research hours into your technical or scientific document. You will most likely rely on the work of others and refer to it.

While writing, update the list of sources you use simultaneously. It will save time at the revision stage and will ensure you do not accidentally omit important cross-references.

Most importantly, do not plagiarise. Acknowledge all sources and obtain the required permissions from the authors.

10. Get help or feedback

After completing a first draft, edit your own writing, using these editing tips as a guide.

However, do not try and manage the writing process on your own. You will save time and effort if you ask a colleague or editor to help you through the writing process.

A professional editor can help and guide you from the beginning of the writing process. They can also give a reader’s perspective on your document and revise the drafts as you write.

Your suggestions are welcome

These are my top-ten writing tips for technical and scientific documents. If you have any comments or questions, or would like to suggest further content, please leave a comment below.

To find other recommended resources for writers and editors, check the resources page.


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Great tips to edit your own writing

It is not easy to edit your own writing. You become so closely involved with providing content that taking a reader’s perspective becomes very hard.

However, there are many copyediting tasks that a writer can do at any stage of the editing process. Here are my top-ten tips to edit your own writing. These are particularly relevant for technical and scientific documents.

1. Edit headings and subheadings

Headings and subheadings show the structure of your document to the reader.

Make headings consistent, logical and short. Do not use more than three or four levels of headings.

The easiest way to edit headings and subheadings in large documents is to:

  • apply your word processor’s template styles to all heading levels in the document
  • create an electronic contents table or view the document in ‘Outline view’.

See also formatting tips.

2. Make a style sheet and apply it

A style sheet is a list of your decisions or rules about the spelling, format, punctuation or capitalisation of:

  • certain words, names, terms, expressions or phrases
  • acronyms and abbreviations
  • dates, numbers or formulas
  • citations and references.

A style sheet is a great tool to edit your own writing. It especially will help you improve the consistency of your document. You should also pass the style sheet on to anyone who is involved in the production process of your document.

3. Check your use of the passive voice

Many scientists write in passive voice because it seems to enhance objectivity and removes the researcher out of the research presented (e.g. ‘the hypothesis was tested’ instead of ‘we tested the hypothesis’).

However, a passive writing style can make text very boring and sometimes lead to long and confusing sentence structures.

Try to use the passive voice sparingly and use the active voice. You will find that your writing becomes clearer, more concise and easier to read.

See also writing tips.

4. Avoid using pompous words

Plain English works best for technical and scientific documents. The topics you are trying to discuss are often complex and require attention to detail; so why make the language you use complex?

To edit your own writing, make a list of pompous words or expressions and their plain versions. Then, use the search function to find these in your documents and replace them.

For example:

we commenced the experimentwe started the experiment
to ascertain the level of riskto find the level of risk
for the purpose of analysing the coststo analyse the costs

5. Explain all acronyms and abbreviations

Use the full version of acronyms and abbreviations when first used in the text. After that, use the shortened form within the same section of the document.

For example: ‘The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was set up in 1945. The FAO has…’

Repeat the full version for each large section of your document (e.g. chapter).

For long documents, insert a list of all used acronyms and abbreviations at the beginning or end of your document.

6. Use your electronic spelling checker

Use the spelling checker on your document after each draft as a first screening for typographical errors. Make sure the spelling checker is set to use the correct language (e.g. English Australian).

However, do not rely on the spelling checker to find all errors!

7. Check data in tables

Design your tables well and make sure they have clear headings, are easy to understand and have correct data.

Always do a full check of the data in a table during the first edit of your draft. In addition, recheck the table after restructuring or reformatting the document.

Always triple-check numerical data, as typographical errors in these can be very hard to find.

8. Check citations and cross-references

Recheck citations and cross-references each time you restructure your draft. You may need to do this several times during the editing process.

If you use the Vancouver system, use an automated numbering system. If not, any restructuring will require time-consuming renumbering of citations.

However, if you are using automatically inserted citations from a reference program (e.g. EndNote), check the fields for format corruption and make sure these update correctly.

9. Double-check the facts

While you are writing, you may allow yourself to skip fact checking. Fact checks can interrupt the flow of your writing. However, in the editing phase, you can no longer ignore these.

Check and double-check all sources, facts and information you have used. There is nothing worse than losing your reputation with the reader by presenting badly researched facts.

10. Edit illustrations

Copying and pasting of illustrations into documents has become very easy with modern word-processing software. However, illustrations are often used in more than one publication and may therefore not comply with the editorial style of your document.

Edit illustrations and their captions consistently as if they were part of the normal text.

Try to decide on a caption style for your illustrations early and use it consistently throughout your document.

If you cannot edit an illustration file, list the required changes in a comment (e.g. for the editor or designer).

These are my top-ten editing tips for technical and scientific documents.

After you have produced a first draft, your document will most likely require a comprehensive edit. This edit requires collaboration with a person removed from the writing process, such as a professional editor or an objective colleague who can:

  • analyse and improve the structure of your document
  • check and improve clarity and user-friendliness of your document
  • check the completeness of your document
  • correct grammar, language and spelling
  • improve consistency.

Your suggestions are welcome

If you have any comments or questions, or would like to suggest further content, please leave a comment below.


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How to format a new document in Microsoft Word

Document layout does not have to be complex to look professional. Microsoft Word is a powerful tool that can help you write and publish your own work. However, it is complex to use. When you start writing and format a new document, many features can distract you from the real task — writing your document.

Below, I describe in 10 easy steps how to create and format a new document.

If you want to keep things simple while writing and editing your document, use the formatting method I describe in A simple method for formatting Microsoft Word documents.

The following instructions are intended for users of Word 2007.

1. Open and save a new Word file

MS Word has a default document layout that you can easily adapt to create a layout that is clean and professional:

  • Open Word and type Ctrl+N to open Word”s default blank document
  • Type Ctrl+S to save this blank document
  • Save the document as ‘My layout.docx’ to a chosen location (e.g. Favorites) on your computer.

Format a new document in Microsoft Word - how to save a document

You now have created a new document in which to save your preferred layout.

2. Set the page margins

The first thing to do when starting a new document is to set parameters for the layout of your document.

To set the page margins, select the Page Layout ribbon and:

  • click on the small icon in the left bottom corner of the Page Setup section of the ribbon to bring up the Page Setup dialog box
  • click the Margins tab
  • set the Left margin width to 3 cm
  • select Portrait page orientation
  • check that the Apply to drop-down box is set to Whole document and click OK.

Format a new document in Microsoft Word - Specify the margins

These page margin and orientation settings will now apply to your whole document.

3. Specify the page layout

To set page margins and numbering for printing double-sided documents, select the Layout tab in the same Page Setup window as used in step 2:

  • tick the Different odd and even option in the Headers and footers section
  • tick the Different first page option
  • make sure to check that the Apply to drop-down box is set to Whole document.

Format a new document in Microsoft Word - Specify the page layout

These page layout settings will now be applied throughout your whole document. They ensure that page numbering can be adjusted for odd and even
pages (step 7 explains why this is important) and that the inside margin will be wide enough to bind your printed document.

4. Modify the normal text font

If you are not happy with the fonts chosen for your document by Word, do not change these in the document text, but use the document styles list
to make changes. The styles list in a default new Word document will show only default built-in Microsoft styles.

To view the Styles list, select the Home ribbon and:

  • click on the small icon in the bottom left corner of the Styles section of the ribbon
  • in the Styles list that appears on the right, move the cursor over Normal style and click the down-arrow that appears
  • click Modify on the drop-down list
  • in the Modify Style window, set your preferred font and font size and click OK.

Format a new document in Microsoft Word - Modify the Normal style

By changing the font and paragraph settings in the Normal style, you will never again have to adjust fonts in the text.
You only need to apply the Normal style to your text (see step 8 on how to apply a style).

5. Create your custom headings

You can set the font and paragraph settings for headings in the same way as explained in step 4.

In the Styles list on the left:

  • move the cursor over the Heading 1 style and click the down-arrow that appears
  • click Modify on the drop-down list
  • in the Modify Style window, set your preferred font and font size for the Heading 1 style and click OK.

To add more heading styles to the Styles list:

  • click the Manage Styles icon  Format a new document in Microsoft Word - Manage Styles icon at the bottom of the Styles window
  • select the Recommend tab
  • click on Heading 2 in the list of styles
  • click the Show button to make it appear in the Styles list.

Format a new document in Microsoft Word - Add a style to the Styles list

Make changes to this style as explained above. You can also use this method to add other styles to the Styles list in your document.
See step 8 on how to apply these styles.

6. Add a cover page

Word 2007 provides several example cover pages you can add to your own document.

To choose a Word cover page for your document:

  • place your cursor at the very beginning of your document
  • select the Insert ribbon tab
  • in the Pages section, click on the Cover Page button
  • click on your preferred cover page in the examples list to insert this cover page into your document and click OK.

Format a new document in Microsoft Word - Add a cover page

7. Add page numbers

In step 3, I specified that the document should have different odd and even headers and footers, and a different first page.

These settings now allow you to apply different formatting to the headers and footers of the first page (the cover), the odd pages and
the even pages. In a report intended for double-sided printing, for example, the cover page will not have a page number in the footer,
odd pages may have a page number in the bottom-right corner, while even pages may have a page number in the bottom-left corner.

The setting Different first page ensures that your cover page can be formatted independently from the other odd pages.

To add page numbers to the even page footers of the document, place the cursor on the next page after the cover page and:

  • select the Insert ribbon tab
  • in the Header & Footer section of the ribbon, click the down-arrow next to the Page Number button
  • from the drop-down list, select Bottom of Page and then select option Plain Number 1.

This will open the footer region of your document and insert a page number field in the left bottom corner of the page.

To add page numbers to the odd page footers of the document, place the cursor on the next page of your document (add some empty paragraphs to
get there) and do the same for the odd page footers, only this time select Plain Number 3.
This will insert page numbers in the right bottom corner of odd pages.

Format a new document in Microsoft Word - Add page numbers

By formatting page numbers like this, your whole document will have the same page numbering layout, no matter how long it will become.

8. Type in your main headings

Structure is important to write a clear and easy to understand document. Therefore, writing the main section headings before you write the content is a good strategy to build a sound structure from the start.

See also writing tips.

When you start writing in a Word document, the default style (ie Normal) will be applied to the text.
To format the main section headings, you need to apply the Heading 1 style created in step 5.

Place your cursor on the second line on the new page after the cover page and:

  • type the text for each of your main headings on a new line, with a blank line in between
  • place the cursor in the first heading
  • in the style window on the right, click on the Heading 1 style to change the style of this paragraph to Heading 1
  • repeat this for each main heading.

Format a new document in Microsoft Word - Apply Heading 1 style

You have now applied the Heading 1 style to the main headings in your document and can start writing text in each section below it using Normal style.

9. Add a contents table to your document

Overview is as important for good writing as the structure itself. If you try to reflect the ‘story’ of your document in its structure and headings, you will deliver a much clearer document for your writers.

See also writing tips.

To keep an overview of your document headings handy while you write your document, insert a contents table in the document as soon as you create
the headings.

Word can automatically create a contents table if you apply its heading styles to your headings.

To insert a contents table:

  • place the cursor after the cover page you inserted in step 6 and before the first Heading 1 in your document
  • select the References tab on the ribbon
  • click the Table of Contents icon
  • select the built-in Automatic Table 1
  • press Ctrl+Enter to place a page break after the contents table

Note: You need to have created at least one heading (as specified in step 8) to insert a contents table.

The table of contents will now be inserted and can display three levels of headings.

After you have added more sections and headings to your document, you can update the contents table automatically by inserting the cursor
anywhere inside the table of contents and pressing F9 on your keyboard. Word will automatically add all headings to which you have applied the
heading styles 1, 2 or 3.

Format a new document in Microsoft Word - Add a contents table

10. Use Print Preview to view your document

If you have applied all 9 steps in this list, you will have a clean document layout for double-sided printing.

Check the Print Preview to see how your document will print:

  • click the Office button in the top left corner
  • select Print and Print Preview.

Format a new document in Microsoft Word - Document with cover page and different odd and even footers

Continue writing your document from this point onward. If you need to modify the font, paragraph layout of text, or headings in your document, always make these changes in the styles. Adhering to these simple rules will save you lots of time and ensure your document will be print-ready at any stage of the writing process.

Your suggestions are welcome

These are my ten tips for formatting documents using MS Word 2007. Click on the link to download this Example Word file.

If you have any comments or questions, or would like to suggest further content, please use the comments below.


☙ ❧

‘Book indexing’ by Nancy C. Mulvany

This book is an excellent reference work for anyone who indexes books. While Book indexing is mostly intended for indexers, I still recommend it for writers and editors.

Content overview

Book indexing gives a good introduction to indexing. Importantly, it also contains sound advice for authors about how they can help create a book that is easy to index.

There is an in-depth discussion of index structure, and the arrangement of index entries. Special attention goes to indexing of names, short forms, numbers and symbols.

The book also covers the various index formats, options for layout and the editing requirements of an index. She also gives a good overview of software for indexing and other tools.

Naturally, this book contains an excellent index!

Other resources for writers and editors

To find other recommended resources for writers and editors, check the resources page.


☙ ❧