It never ceases to amaze me how many students come in, having grown up with computers all their lives, and don’t know some of the most basic features Word has to make your paper formatting easier. I’ve seen students who have manually returned twice between each line to create a double spaced paper and works cited pages halfway down the page because the student didn’t know about page breaks.

Word was created in 1983,1 so Microsoft has been figuring this program out for over thirty years. They’ve made a few tweaks in that time to make it easier on you. Having some basic knowledge of its features will make your paper writing a less stressful experience (or at least not a more stressful one).

For a complete explanation of how to use these features, you can use our handy tutorial How to Use Word to Format a Paper, but for now I’ll go over some of the useful features Word offers and what exactly they do.

Double Spacing: This one may seem like a no brainer, since most people do have this one figured out, but I’ve seen enough green grammar lines on online papers to realize there are still plenty of people who don’t. Almost every teacher is going to ask that your paper be double spaced, and Word can do this for you automatically.

First Line Indent:This one is either far less known or simply ignored, because I see it not being used a lot. Just like double spacing, Word will automatically create your indent at the beginning of a paragraph. No more counting out five spaces only to hit four or six and having uneven paragraphs. No more forgetting to indent a paragraph in the middle of the paper. It’s all done for you.

Hanging Indent: This is another one that seems to be lost in the ether a lot. Whether it’s a works cited page, reference page, or bibliography, all the entries will need to have a hanging indent. This is where the second and following lines of an entry are indented in, but the first line isn’t. And guess what, the same place you can make the first line indent, you can also choose the hanging indent. No more tabbing over and screwing up the entire entry when you add a comma.

Page Break: This is going to become your best friend. I love this feature. Using page break will keep different sections of the paper from moving when you add or delete from other sections. Think about how your works cited/reference page will never stay at the top of the last page because of revisions to your paper. Make a page break for that final page and no matter what you do to your paper, the final page will not be affected. This is great any time you need something to always start on a new page.

Headers—Page Numbers: This feature is fairly well known, but I know some people still have problems finding it. Word can easily assign page numbers that will appear sequentially on each page. The thing to remember here is to use the page number feature and not try to put them in the header manually. That will only show the same number on every page.

Headers—APA Running Head: The the most common question I get about APA format is, “How do I get a different header on the first page?” I have to wonder if this feature was added just for APA. When you’re in your header, Word allows you many different ways to present your header, including having a different header on the first page. It also offers different headers for odd and even pages, but what we’re concerned with is that first page.

So, if you’re new to Word or just never looked at everything it offers, open it up and play around. It’s there to make your life easier.


1. Microsoft, “Microsoft Word Grows Up,” Microsoft, posted Jan. 4, 2007,