Basic Word Processing Tips for Writers

Word processors are so widely used now that I tend to take it for granted that most writers know how to perform basic tasks (e.g. double space their work, count the number of words, and indent a paragraph automatically). Every so often, however, I see a manuscript that reminds me that there are a lot of writers who are still using a word processor as they would an old-fashioned typewriter.

They put a double space after a full stop; they hit the space bar half a dozen times to indent a paragraph, and they tap 'Enter' at the end of every line to achieve double spacing. This can result in some peculiar effects - such as capital letters at the beginning of every 'double spaced' line. (The computer thinks you are starting a new paragraph when you hit 'enter', so it automatically starts it with a capital letter.)

Here are a few tips on how to perform basic word processing functions. I'm using Microsoft Word for these examples, because it is the most widely used word processor (and the one I'm most familiar with). However, you should find that most word processors work in a similar way.

How To Double Space Your Work

  • Type your story or scene in normal single spacing

  • Look for the word 'Edit' on the menu bar at the top of your screen. Click on it, then choose 'Select all' in the drop down menu. Slick on 'select all' and your story will be highlighted in black.

  • Look for the word 'Format' on the menu bar. Click on it, then choose 'Paragraph' from the drop-down menu.

  • A pop-up text box will appear. Look for the line that says 'Line spacing'. It will probably say 'single' in the rectangular box underneath it. Click on the arrow beside the box and a menu will drop down with other choices. Choose 'double' and then click on OK. Your whole story should immediately become double spaced.
How To Indent Your Paragraphs

If you set your work to the accepted layout for business letters and documents, your paragraphs will all be flush left, and you will have a space between each paragraph. Don't use this format for your manuscripts- otherwise when you double-space your work, the spaces between get double spaced as well. You will waste a lot of paper, and it can be annoying for the reader if you have a series of short paragraphs and therefore a lot of white space on the page.

Before you start typing, set your paragraphs up using this method:

  • Click on 'Format' on the menu bar at the top of your screen.

  • Click on 'Paragraph'. A text box will pop up.

  • Look for the word 'Indentation'. In that section, you will see the word 'Special'. It will probably be set to 'none'. Click on the arrow beside the box, and choose 'First line'. This means that just the first line of each paragraph will be indented. Don't close the text box yet.

  • In the section underneath you will see the words 'before' and 'after'. This refers to the space before and after your paragraph. Make sure both are set to zero. Then click OK.
How To Count Words
  • Click on 'Tools' on the menu at the top of your screen.

  • Choose 'Word Count'. A box will pop up with various statistics for your work in progress, including a word count.
Cutting, Copying, Pasting and Deleting
  • You can select (highlight) one word quickly by double-clicking it. You can select a whole paragraph by clicking the left mouse button three times.

  • To delete a word or a paragraph once it is highlighted, simply press the 'delete' key.

  • To move a highlighted sentence (or a word) to a different place in the paragraph, you can use either of these methods:

  • click on the 'edit' menu at the top of your screen, choose 'cut' from the drop-down menu, move your cursor to the place you want to insert the sentence, choose 'edit' then click on 'paste'.

  • Place your cursor (which turns into an arrow when you highlight text) anywhere in the highlighted text. Click and hold down the left mouse button. You will see a little box appear at the bottom of the arrow-this represents the block of text you are moving. Making sure you continue to hold down the left mouse button, drag the highlighted section to its new position. (You will see a grey cursor line moving with the text-just position that cursor where you want the sentence to start.)

  • If you want to copy text from one document to another, simply open two files at once. Highlight the text you want to copy as described here, but choose 'copy' from the 'edit' menu rather than 'cut'. Move to the second document (which will be open in separate window - look for it on the taskbar at the bottom of your screen; click on it and it will pop up. Alternatively, click on 'Window' on the menu bar at the top of the page, and choose the document you want from the list that drops down.) Place the cursor where you want to place the text copied from document #1, choose "Edit" then "paste".
How To Start A New Page

Sometimes (for example, when you want to start a new chapter) you will want to move to a new page when you are only part-way down the existing page. DON'T just keep tapping the 'Enter' key until you eventually arrive at a new page. This makes it harder for the editor to format the work later on.

To finish working on one page and move quickly to a new one, click on 'Insert' on the menu bar at the top of your screen. Then click on 'Break'. A box will pop up so you can choose what kind of break you want - in this case, it's simply "page break". This will probably be the one selected. Make sure there is a black dot in the circle next to 'page break' (do this by clicking on it if the circle is empty) and then click OK.

The "Undo" Arrow

This is a blessing for writers. If you make a mistake while editing, and end up losing a whole paragraph, page or section, simply click on the little blue curved arrow at the top of the screen. If one click doesn't get you back to where you were, keep clicking until you've undone the disaster. The arrow that curves to the left is 'undo'; the arrow that curves to the right is 'redo'.

(c) Copyright Marg McAlister

Marg McAlister has published magazine articles, short stories, books for children, ezines, promotional material, sales letters and web content. She has written 5 distance education courses on writing, and her online help for writers is popular all over the world. Sign up for her regular writers' tipsheet at http://www.writing4success.com/

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