Formatting Headings & Subheadings for Your Thesis or Dissertation

Formatting Headings and Subheadings with Word’s Heading Styles
A carefully organised thesis or dissertation communicates advanced research and sophisticated discussions to readers and examiners more clearly than a poorly organised one does, which is no doubt why universities and departments tend to have detailed guidelines regarding the structure and format of theses and dissertations. One tool that can be extremely helpful when you are working to divide your text and differentiate several levels of heading with consistency is Microsoft Word’s Heading Styles. The process for laying out headings and subheadings using Word’s Styles is a simple one.

Three levels of heading are fairly common in theses and dissertations, so I will assume three levels here: chapter headings, section headings and subsection headings. In most cases, each level of heading should appear in a format slightly different from that used for other heading levels. Chapter headings are generally the largest, so a 14-point bold font might be used for them. Section headings could then be formatted in a 12-point bold font and subsection headings in a 12-point italic font.
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To achieve this pattern via Heading Styles begin by typing in the heading for the first chapter in whatever style and size of font you are using in the main body of the document (for example, ‘Chapter 1: Introduction’). Then select the heading and left click on the Heading 1 box at the top of your screen. Your heading will automatically take on whatever options are currently set for Heading 1 in your Word document, so do not worry if your heading is suddenly formatted in an odd way. Simply right click on the Heading 1 box with your chapter heading still selected and then left click on ‘Modify.’ A box will come up in which you can set the specific formats (font size, style, colour and so on) that you want to use for your chapter headings, in this case a 14-point bold font. Once you are done, click ‘OK’ at the bottom to apply those formats to your first chapter heading. You can then make all other chapter headings match the first one by selecting them after they are typed in and left clicking on the Heading 1 box in each case.

For section headings, select each heading after it is typed in and left click on the Heading 2 box. The first time you do this your heading will take on the formats currently set for Heading 2, so you will need to right click on the Heading 2 box with the section heading still selected, then left click on ‘Modify’ and set the formats (to a 12-point bold font here). Again, click ‘OK’ when you are done. Follow the same procedure when formatting the subsection headings by using the Heading 3 box and choosing a 12-point italic font.

Word will continue to produce a new Heading box (Heading 4, Heading 5 and so on) each time you assign a different heading style, so you can format far more than three levels of heading using this technique. Modifying your headings once they are all typed in and formatted is easy as well: simply select any heading of the level you wish to alter, right click on the appropriate heading box, left click on ‘Modify’ and make the required changes, which will then show up in all headings of that particular level.

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