Using Word Effectively while Writing Your Thesis or Dissertation
As an efficient tool for authors, Microsoft Word can be incredibly helpful while you write your thesis or dissertation, but only if it is used effectively with an understanding of its abilities and limitations. Functions such as automatic formatting, spell check and grammar check can be as detrimental as they are beneficial if the user does not understand exactly what the program is doing and keep a close check on anything added or altered by Word. Word is, after all, a software program rather than a thinking author in its own right, so it can only do so much, and the ways in which it formats a text and ‘corrects’ spelling and grammar may not always be right, thorough or what the author intended.
When it comes to formatting, for instance, Word will automatically number sections and subsections in a document, but it is essential that the author type in the numbering and other information for all headings in a consistent manner or the program may miss a section or subsection and introduce errors by misnumbering all subsequent sections or subsections. On the other hand, if an author uses numbers for other reasons but in positions and formats similar to the headings, Word can turn these into section numbers, again resulting in structural confusion. It is therefore necessary to check all automatically formatted section and subsection headings very carefully for accuracy before you share parts of your writing with your mentors or submit your finished thesis or dissertation for examination.
Word will also adjust and correct spelling as an author composes a text in the program, but it can miss and introduce mistakes as readily as an author can. For instance, ‘consolt’ and ‘rsearch’ are not words in the English language, and Word does underline them as errors, but it may not automatically change them to the obvious alternatives ‘consult’ and ‘research.’ Often many different words will work in a particular position in a sentence, and if a writer types a word incorrectly, the program might adjust it to a word with similar spelling but a very different meaning than the one intended. Furthermore, if what is typed is a valid term though an incorrect one for the context, in most cases Word will not know this, and the error will remain despite the use of spell check, so it is essential to proofread your text thoroughly and use a dictionary to confirm the spelling and definition of each problematic word.
Word’s grammar check function also requires particularly careful attention on the part of authors. It can be very tricky indeed to use correct English grammar at all times, and Word is far from being a grammatical master. The program will certainly underline obvious errors in simple sentences, but it will not always underline the problematic part of a sentence. When sentences grow complex, as they often do when a student is reporting the methods and results of advanced scientific or academic research, the program can ignore true problems while underlining as incorrect perfectly acceptable syntactical structures. This can prove especially frustrating and challenging if you are not a native speaker of English, but it is an effective reminder of just how important it is to proofread your writing with painstaking care. However, if you do not have the time or inclination to do so, the services of a professional
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