I am constantly amazed by how many writers seem to be afraid to make any changes from what WORD offers as its default. They still treat the program as if they were working on a typewriter. Need an indent, press TAB. Want to set a section of type farther in (so it looks like a newspaper article), hit TAB and ENTER at the end of each line. And so on.
Now, I’m not going to say I know everything there is to know about WORD, in fact I just learned two new things today, and many of the formatting tricks I’ve learned came from a publisher’s (and my editor’s) tip sheet. I’m also not going to say I like WORD. I swear they love frustrating writers because every time they come out with a new version, they move things around so I have to spend time figuring out where they hid a simple command. (Such as: Where is the thesaurus now?)
Back when I started writing I was using a typewriter and learning formatting techniques wasn’t important beyond the simply ones involving spacing, margin width, tabs, etc. Nowadays, however, most publishers are accepting manuscripts in electronic form and many (if not most) want the ms formatted so it can easily be converted to print or to an e-book. This mean the writer needs to be in control of how many spaces after a period (or at the end of a paragraph). The writer needs to know how to use FIRST LINE INDENT, control line spacing, font, and font size. The writer is expected to know how to add a header or numbers, and how to keep the header and numbers from appearing on the title page.
Many editors, nowadays, as well as contest judges, are using the TRACK CHANGES and COMMENT options. Writers need to know how to hide those markups or show them. And maybe most important, writers need to know how to use the ¶. Either as you type or while editing, that symbol (usually found on the default HOME line) should be toggled on. It will show when you’ve used the tab rather than a first line indent, when you’ve hit the spacebar more times than you realized (I was amazed by how many extra spaces I had after the period before I actually hit the enter key.), as well as other normally unseen formatting symbols.
What we (writers) should do is simply play with the different options available. Take a short piece of something you wrote in the past and save it as a test piece. Then go through the tool bars of whatever edition of WORD you’re using and find out what you can or can’t do. (WORD is always frustrating me. It may say I’ve changed the default font from what they loaded to what I want, but next time around, I find that’s not true. We’re back to the font they obviously like best.) Learn shortcuts, how to undo actions, what you can add, how to change that numbering or alter your name and the book’s title on opposing pages, and so many other possibilities. Don’t be afraid of the program. Make it work for you.