12 Tips to Make Your Dissertation, Thesis, or Long Paper a Breeze

| December 12, 2016

Jin Kuwata completed his EdD without an editor and insists that anyone can. Although the Office of Doctoral Studies encourages hiring a professional editor to look over your dissertation, Jin tells us that with the right set of Microsoft Word skills, anyone can learn the tricks needed to edit their own manuscript.

To master this notoriously pesky program, Jin spent three full workdays watching Microsoft Word tutorials on Lynda.com. The most important thing he learned was how to link up headings, titles, and table and figures numbers in the document so that he didn’t have to search through the entire manuscript every time he needed to make a change. In addition, he learned how to make Microsoft Word keep track of all his tables and figures so that if he had to delete or add one, the number would automatically update so he didn’t have to do each manually.

In light of Jin’s Microsoft Word tips, we thought we’d give you a few more to make your dissertation formatting process a breeze—or at least not as painful as it could be! Not only are these useful tips for dissertation writing, they’re useful to know before embarking on any long paper. Without further ado:

  1. Read the style guide thoroughly before you begin formatting—and well before you turn your manuscript in! For TC students completing their dissertation, you’ll want to read the ODS style guide and follow it exactly so you don’t have to waste massive amounts of time down the road. You only get a week to make all the formatting changes and resubmit it once you’ve handed the first draft into the ODS!
  2. Enable “Track Changes” when getting feedback from your advisors (similar to Google Documents). Check out this Lynda tutorial for more guidance. And remember, there’s probably hidden tips and tricks with even the most common features of Word.
  3. You can landscape sections of your dissertation through Page Layout -> Page Setup -> Section Breaks. Make sure that when you do use landscape pages, they follow the same rules as a normal page would via the style guide. Here’s a Lynda tutorial on how to mix portrait and landscape pages in the same document.
  4. Under Header and Footer Tools Design, you can customize page numbers that need to be Roman or Arabic. Also, make sure that each page number is in the same place throughout your document. Faulty pagination is one of the most common problems in dissertation formatting. And, yep, you’ve got it, another Lynda tutorial on the topic.
  5. Tables and pictures can be anchored in your document by selecting Text Wrapping. This also allows eliminates unused white space. We’re not letting Jin down! Here’s another Lynda tutorial.
  6. You can insert captions through the References section in Microsoft Word; creating a cleaner look under tables and pictures. Here’s a Lynda tutorial.
  7. When you use the caption feature to number your tables and figures, Microsoft Word can automatically update the numbers if you add or delete one, saving you the trouble of manually fixing each number. To do this, select the whole text (CTRL+A) and then press F9. Voila!
  8. Link your headings, tables, and figures by inserting hyperlinks and bookmarks. If two phrases are bookmarked, you can link them to each other. This will easily transport you from one to the other in your document so you don’t have to spend ages scrolling through a long manuscript. Here’s a Lynda tutorial for this tip and the last.
  9. When copying over tables from Microsoft Excel, or another platform, you Paste Special to get more formatting options.
  10. You can create a table of contents more quickly through References -> Table of Contents -> Customized Table of Contents.  Here’s a Lynda tutorial.
  11. Insert blank pages when finishing sections, that way when printing a double sided dissertation each section starts on the same side.
  12. Don’t leave your citations for last! Have your references that you will continuously add to instead of filling in citations after you finishing writing your research.


Jin Kuwata graduated with his Ed.D from the Communication, Media & Learning Technologies Design program. He, along with other doctorate students, had to go through the editing process of getting their dissertations approved for not just content but also the format. As Jin shares some of the best tips he had for formatting his dissertation, what do you believe is important to keep?