Word Tips and Tricks

When creating a law school outline, writing a research memo, or formatting any structured document, some steps tend to be tedious.  Thankfully, by following a few tips, a program like Microsoft Word can make this process efficient and flexible.  In this post, we share tips on creating course outlines and structured documents, focusing on technical features.

We presented these as part of an in-person demo and Q&A session in the law school lobby.  Here you’ll find direct links and a few screen shots to get you started.

Here are five tips and examples of how they work:

  1. Use headings
  2. Use styles
  3. Use templates
  4. Use outline view
  5. Automate your table of contents

Use Headings

In any structured document, you should separate document organization from presentation.  To do this best, use headings to organize topics and sub-topics. Here you see headings as well as the Title and Subtitle elements in the toolbar for Word for Windows and Word Online:

Word Headings
Headings toolbar in Word for Windows
Word Headings
Headings toolbar in Word Online

In a contracts law outline, you might choose this structure for the topic of formation:

  • Heading 1: Formation of Contracts
    • Heading 2: Offer
    • Heading 2: Acceptance
    • Etc.

Use Styles

By default, every heading and element of a document has a specific style.  Each heading has a specific font, size and style of text.  You can edit these globally in the style menu on word.

This graphic shows the editing features, here adopting bold, 22 points, Times New Roman and a line beneath the text for a Heading 1.

Word Style Editor
Style Editor Window in Word

Note that this is done once and it updates the entire document.  There’s no need to highlight text and update individual elements.

Use Templates = “stock” or customized

To enhance the look and feel of a structure document, explore two features found in the Design tab in Word:  These are the Themes and Style Sets.

You may be familiar with themes from PowerPoint.  Each theme contains a specific color palette, typeface and layout elements as a starting point.

Microsoft Word Themes
Microsoft Office Themes

Style Sets are more suitable to standard legal documents.  With these, the focus is primarily on text attributes.

Word Style Sets
Microsoft Word Style Sets


Use Outline View

When you’re writing an outline for class, if you follow the tips to structure content with headings, you can use the Word Outline View to organize, sort and structure your own content.

Word Outline View
Outline View in Word

With this, Word presents your content in a hierarchical view.  This makes it easy to rearrange sections and see the relationship between topics and subtopics in a visual layout.

Example Contracts Outline
Outline View for a Contracts Course

Outline View is also relevant to memos for legal writing or other longer-form assignments.  With this, you can move sections around in the document with the confidence that each section remains self-contained.

Automate your Table of Contents

As a final matter, with most longer documents,  you probably want a table of contents.  Many legal writing memorandum assignments require a table of contents.  Thankfully it’s possible to automate the steps to create an automatic Table of Contents. – As long as you’ve structured your document with headings, you can create and update an automatic table with just a few steps.

Word Table of Contents
Table of Contents options in Word for Windows

Other Resources

When working with document creation software like Word or Excel, you probably have thought: there out to be a better way!  It turns out, you are often right.  We close this post with tips on where to find answers and develop skills on your own.

Everybody at the University of Richmond has access to LinkedIn Learning, which provides training tutorials for numerous software programs, as well as productivity concepts and broad techniques and concepts. The best option to learn about styles is their: Word: Formatting and Styles in Depth (Office 365 / 2019) course.  There’s also a version for Word 2016. This explains how styles work, how to structure outlines, and how to create reusable structured documents.  There is also a tutorial called “Organizing an Outline” that is less about mechanics of Microsoft Word and more focused on outlining concepts and techniques.

The law library also provides access to Procertas, which you can use to learn Word and even get certified for your skills.  This service covers Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Acrobat.   This tutorial about Procertas explains how it works, and how you might use it as a student here at Richmond Law.

Tips on Outlines and Structured Documents in Word

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