• How-To: IT Issues & Academic Writing

    by Alan Batt. Last modified: 26/01/14

    Double line spacing

    Almost all universities and colleges specify that typed assignments must have double line spacing. Students sometimes seem to have trouble applying this formatting to their assignments. The easiest way to do this is to type your essay out normally, using single line spacing. Word 2003 – When you have the essay typed click Edit>Select All. This will select all the text in your essay. Next click Format>Paragraph. You will see an option called Line Spacing. Click the drop-down box, and select Double. This will apply double line spacing to your entire assignment. Word 2010 – When you have the essay typed click Edit>Select All. This will select all the text in your essay. Next in the Paragraph tab in the Home Ribbon, select the Line and Paragraph Spacing icon, and select 2.0 in the dropdown menu (Figure 1)

    fig1

    Figure 1

    Formatting your essay

    The general format for most universities is typed on A4 paper, font either Arial or Times New Roman, font size 12, with double spacing. Presentation of work is important when submitting an assignment. Countless students find that headings and sub-headings start to look slightly different throughout their essay. One way of ensuring that this doesn’t happen is to use Styles. Word 2003 – Select the text you wish to format (e.g. a heading in your essay). Click Format>Style, or using the drop-down menu next to font, select the style you wish to apply to the text Word 2010 – Select the text you wish to format (e.g. a heading in your essay). Select the appropriate style to apply in the Home Ribbon, as in Figure 2 below.

    fig2

    Figure 2

    For instance Heading 1 style is useful for separating your Introduction, Main Body and Conclusion, whilst Heading 2 or 3 can be used to divide your Main Body into distinct sub-headings.

    Backup!

    A great deal of students, including students in courses I have taken myself have fallen victim to the corrupt disk. Save yourself the stress and hassle of losing an assignment by following these rules.

    • Be paranoid – have 3 to 4 soft copies of your assignment. E.g. save one on your computer at home/laptop, one on a USB stick, one on an external hard drive and also email a copy (or 2!) to yourself. It may seem a bit excessive, but it’s worth it when you find your USB stick is corrupt, you delete you assignment by mistake or your home PC crashes.
    • Be sure to update all copies of your essay when you have made changes to it.
    • USB sticks are the best option for transporting data. They are now highly affordable.
    • Cloud storage is an excellent idea, allowing you to edit on multiple machines whilst keeping your assignment up to date, and allows you to access your assignment from any PC connected to the internet. Check out the resources page for cloud provider links such as
      • Dropbox
      • Google Drive
      • Skydrive
      • Box
      • SugarSync

    Help!

    • If you’ve accidentally deleted your assignment – stop! Check your recycle bin. If it is not there, stop using the computer.
    • Ideally on an different machine, download a free copy of Recuva – this should be able to find your file and recover it for you. It is also available in a portable version that you can install on a USB stick in case the worst happens!

    Check it!

    Many students hand in assignments that have very obvious spelling and grammatical errors. This reflects badly upon the student as there are many easy and quick tools to prevent these errors. In Microsoft Word, once you have typed your essay, Word 2003 – click on Tools>Spelling and Grammar (or press F7) to apply a spell check to your work. Word 2010 – click on the Review Ribbon, and select Spelling & Grammar to apply a spell check to your work. Be careful with the suggestions a spellchecker suggests – it reads sentences out of context, and checks using strict rules that often are difficult to apply to normal writing. Print out a draft of your essay, and read it looking for and marking mistakes. Ask somebody else to read it and see if it makes sense to them. Accept criticism, and consider making any changes suggested. Microsoft Word also contains a valuable thesaurus tool. To use this simply highlight the word you wish to see alternatives for, then Word 2003– click Tools>Language>Thesaurus (or press and hold Shift and press F7). Essays are best written in simple English however, so beware overusing this tool! It is the content of your essay that the examiner is looking at, not how many big words you know. Word 2010 – click on the Review Ribbon, and select Thesaurus.

    Word Count

    This is another area that seems to confuse students. As a general rule, I recommend you type and save your essay as two separate files (this will also be useful for applying page numbers). The first file should contain your title page, declaration page, table of contents, references and appendices (if applicable). The second file should be your introduction, main body and conclusion. The reasoning to this is quite simple. References, title pages etc., are not included in your word count. Therefore by using this method of file saving all you need to do is Word 2003 – click Tools>Word Count in the second file and the figure returned is an accurate word count. Word 2010 – – click on the Review Ribbon, and select Word Count. Be sure to read the Word Count, and not the Character Count!

    fig3

    Figure 3

    Page Numbers

    Page numbers should be included with an assignment, especially if your essay contains a number of headings and sub-headings, and a table of contents. However, your title pages should not contain page numbers. The easiest method of applying page numbers to your assignment is to open your second file (as described above). Word 2003 – Click View>Header and Footer. The header and footer toolbar will appear, and you will be viewing the header. Switch the view to the footer (by clicking the switch between header and footer icon on the header and footer toolbar. Word 2010 – – click on the Insert Ribbon, and select Footer or Page Number as needed. Once viewing the footer, click on the Insert Page Number icon, and this will insert the correct page number for each page. You can change the alignment and font of this page number in the footer view, and changes will be applied to the number on all pages.

    fig4

    Figure 4

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    Alan Batt

    Alan Batt

    Paramedic, educator, researcher
    Alan is a critical care paramedic, paramedic educator and prehospital researcher, currently working around the world as an educator and researcher. He has previously worked and studied across Europe, North America and the Middle East. He holds a Graduate Certificate in Intensive Care Paramedic Studies, and an MSc in Critical Care. His main interests are in care of the elderly, end-of-life care, patient safety, professionalism (including role and identity), and paramedic education.

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