I'm not that old (comments below are closed on that), but I have been using MS Word for most of my adult life, and it's so much a part of my daily life and work that I hardly ever give it a second thought. Maybe I should. A few years back I worked on a report with a colleague (not the same one who knew about the ancient coffee shop) who seemed to know how to do all kinds of things with MS Word, all of which were automated, accurate, and saved lots of time, but none of which I quite seemed to be able to get the hang of. So, being brutally honest, I have carried on doing things manually when sometimes there has been an easier and better way.
A few weeks ago I was pulling together a large report, which included many tables and figures, and which needed to have a comprehensive and accurate contents page. I realised that I probably needed to invest a small amount of time in finding out how to work with Word's headings system, and its ability to create titles for tables and headings, all of which can then automatically create (and update) tables of contents. I wish I'd done this many years ago, and I'll always use the system from now on.
Here are the main things I worked out how to do properly. Many (most?) of you are probably doing this, and it is very likely that there are even better ways of doing some of the following, but here goes:
- Use the Headings function (labelled Styles in the 'Home' view), and highlighting the heading text in your document, choose the relevant style from style box. So for instance, 'Chapter 1' is a 'Heading 1', 'Introduction' is a 'Heading 2', and sub sections of the introductions are 'Heading 3', and so on.
- Doing this for each heading means that you can then create a table of contents with just a few clicks. Under the 'References' tab click 'Table of contents'. At any point you can ask Word to update the table, and any changes to the wording, order or page number of your heading will automatically be updated.
- When you include a table in your document, right click on the table (with your cursor over the box in the top left of the table) and click 'Insert caption'. Word gives the table a number, and includes it in the table 'legend' which you can add to with a description - e.g. Table 1: the proportion of dogs in Cardiff who wear glasses'.
- You can do the same thing for figures. And for both tables and figures, Word will always place the legend in the correct place (and you can change where this should be).
- If you insert a new table/figure into to your document, change their order, or delete a table, Word will automatically update the table numbers in the legends. So, for instance, if you have Tables 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, and you remove Table 2, Tables 3, 4 and 5 will automatically change to 2, 3 and 4.
- Just like for your section headings, Word can create (and, with one click, update) an index of tables, and the same for figures. This is particularly helpful if you have a lot of tables/figures in your document.
- If you want to refer to a table or figure in the main text of your report, you can insert a 'cross reference' to it from the 'References' option. Say you want to include the statement 'Table 1 shows the proportion of dogs that wear glasses in Cardiff'. Word inserts the text 'Table 1' (though you can alter what text is displayed). Word doesn't always seem to update the table numbers in the cross references, but a tip I picked up is that if you click 'Print' and then 'Print Preview' this does make all the revisions. Don't ask me why!
- Right-clicking on a table and selecting 'auto fit' gives you the option to fit the table to its contents, and/or the width of the page. I found these options good for making the tables tidier, and much better than trying to do it manually.
- Right clicking on a table and selecting 'Table properties' allows you to choose if you want text to be able to 'wrap around' it. For example, you may have a relatively narrow table, around which the text can continue to flow (like the photo in this blog piece). Or you may prefer to have text, then the table, with no text by the side of it, and then more text.