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Managing Writing Projects

A guide to managing writing projects


Word can greatly aid the process of writing and formatting your work. The sections below detail some of these benefits. A word of caution: with updates and new versions options tend to move around, be renamed, or work slightly differently; the specifics of how to do some of these should be taken with a grain of salt.

Headings & Styles

[The Word Styles section; note this already contains some custom styles]

General Information

Word allows you to format text quickly using styles. These are preset collections of rules that will take whatever text is highlighted and convert it to that style.

Some examples of when this might be useful:

  • Abstracts
  • Block quotes
  • Headings & section titles
  • General body of text formatting

To apply a style, simply highlight the text you wish to format and click on the style you want to apply. Be aware that Word comes with quite a few options built-in; you can see more of these by clicking the down arrow on the right side of the Styles section.

  • In Word 2019: Home → Styles

There's a good chance that you will want to modify some of these styles or create one of your own. To modify a style, right click it and select "Modify..." From here you can modify the style in any way you want: font, font size, line spacing, margins, etc. If you want to create a style from scratch, click the Styles dropdown menu (the arrow pointing down with a line over it on the right side of Styles) and click "Create a Style."



Headings are a special type of style in Word. They are especially useful because they mark sections of the document as discrete sections, useful both for navigation purposes and for generating a table of contents.

By default, Word already includes three headings, but you can create more if you so choose. Be sure to use Heading 1 for the largest divisions, Heading 2 for the next largest, and so on; this matters especially for creating a table of contents.

Table of Contents

There are two ways to generate a table of contents in Word.

One way is manually. On the References tab, you can click the Table of Contents button. Clicking Manual Table will insert a table of content you can then fill out as needed.

A faster and more accurate method is to use an automatic table. Simply click one of the automatic tables and Word will automatically populate a table with section titles and page numbers. Note that for this to work you must use a header style to indicate any section you wish to appear in the table of contents. If your chapter titles move or your page numbers change, click on the table and select Update Table to correct these.

Headers & Footers

You can add custom headers and footers to any Word document.

On the Insert tab, you can select HeadersFooters, and Page Numbers. Each of these has a variety of options allowing you to customize things like format, information, alignment, and more. Note that all of these are automatically placed on every page in your document, although you are able to specify a different first page and different alternate pages.

Custom Lists

A slightly more involved (but useful) feature in Word is the ability to have custom lists. This is quite helpful for formatting your document in such a way that Word can automatically generate a table of contents with all of your chapters and sections without you needing to edit every single one individually.

To do this, you will need to do two things.

First, have the style(s) you want ready to go. If you are using lists for chapters, sections, etc., it is a good idea to make sure these styles are headings. This will enable Word to not only automatically generate and track your chapters and sections, but also make generating and updating your table of contents easy.

Second, you will need to create a multilevel list. Click the Define New Multilevel List... option from the dropdown menu (see image).

This will open a dialog box enabling you to change how each level of the list works. Here you will want to do two things:

  1. Modify number formatting. In the Enter formatting for number: field, you can change how that level of the list displays its number. If you want to change the type (e.g. 1, A, I), click the dropdown Number style for this level: list. The number that will be generated appears in the field inside a grey box. You can also change any elements you'd like to have as consistent across that level. For example, if you wanted to have a list that tracked your chapters automatically, your formatting should look like this:

The list itself will look like the following:

You can repeat this process for as many sublevels as you'd like, adding subchapters, sections, subsections, etc.

  1. Each level of your list can have an associated style with it. This will allow you to associate each level with a heading and thereby let Word know each level is a section that should be included in the table of contents. To do this, you will first need to click the More > > button at the bottom of the Define new Multilevel list box. Once you have done that, a box dropdown menu will appear on the right that says Link level to style. Here, simply click the appropriate style and Word will automatically format each level according to that style. Note that the same rule applies here as it does for headings in general: the first level should be heading 1, the next should be heading 2, etc. If you have the headings out of order your table of contents will not generate correctly.

To use your list, simply make sure that whenever you write a new chapter, section, or part you want included in your table of contents, use the list button to add the next entry.


The following files will allow you to import some custom styles and lists to save you some work.

To import these, first download the file below:

Next, open the file. On the Home tab you will see the Styles gallery. Click the "More" arrow in the lower right corner of the Styles gallery (see image):

Then, click on the Manage Styles button:

From here, click on the Import/Export... button:

This will then bring up a box that compares styles between the currently open document and the styles available in the global template (called "Normal.dotm"). To copy the styles in the Style Usages Sample document, select whichever styles you want in the left column and click "Copy ->".

This will copy these styles into your global settings so any new document will already have these styles in the gallery. It will not, however, immediately make these styles accessible in old documents. To access these styles, you will need to go back into Import/Export in Manage Styles and copy the styles from the "Normal.dotm" file to your current file.