MS Word: chapters and subheadings
February 27, 2012 6:57 AM   Subscribe

Microsoft Word with chapters and numbered subsections: I was a good boy and wrote my dissertation draft with well-organized hierarchical headings. Now that I am going back to fine-tune the format, the numbering has gone completely haywire, the spacing is off, and I am literally pulling out my hair trying to fix it. I don't even know where to look for help.

Heading 1 is my chapter title. For some reason, the numbering doesn't work so that Ch. 2 still reads as 1. Chapter 3 reads as Ch. 2. If I manually set the numbering to begin at 2, it doesn't affect the sub-headings. Heading two is for the subsections. The numbering is set to continue from previous section, but I don't get 2.1, 2.2 etc., it acts as if the previous ch. is where it is continuing from. So Chapter 2, subsection 1.6, 1.7. I can manually set this to restart at 1 (1.1) but I can't get it to manually bet 2.1.

In the meantime, the spacing as gone wonky such that there is not enough space between the sub-headings and the paragraph below. And to top it off, in Chapter 5, all of the normal text is stuck in Heading 2 style and I can't get it out (even when I tried to start over from an unformatted earlier copy).

Any help or suggestions on where to get help are greatly appreciated.
posted by imposster to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Make sure the formatting markup is turned on in Word. This will help quite a bit to see where you are pasting in your text and what formatting it is taking on. I would start afresh with the template that the school website provides. Also, your university will most likely have graduate school resources where you can get a one-on-one appointment and have someone go over the document with you and figure out the formatting issues.
posted by ssri at 7:03 AM on February 27, 2012

Forgot to add, the school would also have workshops for thesis and dissertation writing once or twice a semester that you can sign up for (if you haven't already done that).
posted by ssri at 7:07 AM on February 27, 2012

Response by poster: I'll try the format mark-up. The writing center can't help on this one, according to them.

I've traced the problem back to inserting the List of Tables and List of Figures. I apply Heading one to those titles and turn off numbering (since I only want chapters to be number.) This causes all hell to break loose with the subsequent chapter numbers.
posted by imposster at 7:09 AM on February 27, 2012

One of the things I noticed in my thesis document was that inserting section breaks after sections which you can only see with the mark up was important. Sometimes I would paste in text and unknowingly remove a section break and the following text would take the same formatting.
posted by ssri at 7:14 AM on February 27, 2012

The way Word handles formatting can be incredibly annoying. Can you possible use section breaks to wall off the chapters from the list of figs? (This is on the page layout tab on the ribbon in Word 2007, I don't know your version)
posted by Wretch729 at 7:17 AM on February 27, 2012

Best answer: You may have trashed your section splits. Turn on all show formatting options so you have complete information

Clearly the header 1 you used for your Chapter 2 title is screwed up (hence the subsection mis numbers and Chapter 3 reading as 2). Try either using the format paint brush from a Header 1 that's working (Chapter 1 or 3) or making the paragraphs on both sides of the Chapter 2 text normal and then re-formating the Chapter 2 text with Header 1.

For the Table of Contents, List of Tables and List of Figures, do not use Heading 1 or you risk the Word equivalent of circular references, as you've discovered. Instead, find a heading you're not using, say Heading 8, and format it to be exactly like Heading 1. Use it instead so it looks right.

For your chapter 5 issue, again paint over the whole text including the Chapter 5 heading and then repaint Ch 5. The text has gotten into the style range accidentally.

For your spacing issue, if it's one of your subheaders, find a place that's right and use it to redefine the style. NOTE: Do not do this with Normal as any other styles that derive from it (bullets, for example, will lose their bullet-ness).
posted by carmicha at 7:18 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Welcome to the world of pain that is Word's outline numbering. There isn't really a quick fix that can be explained in a sentence, but there is some help to be had here and here. Definitely show all your formatting marks, and be careful using cut and paste. We should ask how long you have to fix this, because it ain't easy. John McGhie (the first linked article) is as good as it gets on Word, and he describes it as a real brain-breaker. if you're in a desperate hurry and can't take the risk of having it break on you, you might be better off numbering with sequence fields, which John's articles will tell you how to do. They aren't quite so slick and need some setting up but after that they are pretty bullet-proof.
posted by Logophiliac at 7:19 AM on February 27, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions. Is there a way to maintain chapter numbering for Heading 1, but hide that number? Right now, I have the numbering working but the titles read "2 Chapter 2: Blah, blah, blah." If I delete the leading two, I lose the numbering.
posted by imposster at 7:19 AM on February 27, 2012

Re avoiding 2 Chapter 2, you can instead define header1 referencing a new list format you create that inserts "Chapter x:" instead. That way you type in Blah blah, format it with your header1 style and it will show Chapter 2: Blah Blah. To make the new list format, hit the button with the 1,2,3 on it and you'll see an option to define a new one.
posted by carmicha at 7:25 AM on February 27, 2012

Microsoft Word is not really built to write large structured documents. It's certainly possible to do so, but I always find myself switching to LaTeX, which is a professional typesetting program that uses explicit markup, rather than styles, implicit section headers, etc. It's not WYSIWYG, which may be a deal-breaker for you, but I find that all the difficult work is done up front, and the end result is rock solid. This is opposed to Word, which seems to be easy at first, but getting the "last 10%" done takes the other 90% of the time. For example, see this template for Stanford dissertations. You'll want to look around for a template that fits the structure of the document you're writing.
posted by wnissen at 7:54 AM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

It appears that whenever I finish a massive work document that needs to be emailed to somebody that night the formatting has gone to pieces. At that point I normally go home, pour myself a large glass of wine and resign myself to a very long and frustrating process of fixing formatting as I am not prepared to email it looking like that. It's long and frustrating because the fancy templates they want us to use are developed by people who know how to use Word...unfortunately they are then used by people like myself who don't know how to use word well and therein lies the fix this kind of stuff easily you need to have more Word knowledge than non personal assistant types have.

From this experience however I can only nth that you need to be able to see all formatting, so make sure you have clicked all relevant options to do so, and that inserting LOTS of section breaks fixes most problems of inconsistent, I don't know why the hell it's doing that here, formatting problems.

However, to keep your sanity, you may want to think about getting help to do this. Either get somebody knowledgeable to show you how to fix this efficiently or else get them to fix it for you. Be prepared to pay for this either in cash or in trading some kind of favour. But I'd rather live on beans on toast for a month than do this myself with internet stranger support. The degree of frustration this kind of stuff causes and the ridiculous amount of time it can take if you don't know what you're doing cannot be underestimated. If you decide to pay somebody to format this for you now be sure to explain to that person what other changes you will be making to the document so they can explain to you how to work with the newly fixed format....
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:09 AM on February 27, 2012

I struggle with this constantly; my old firm had additional software added to Word to do this stuff for us, and it was better but still not great. In the end, if it's a non-work item, I end up just paying someone to do it for me. If it's worth some cash to get rid of the frustration, post something to craigslist, or ask around. I can highly recommend legal secretaries as someone who can help. If you want a specific recommendation for someone who might be able to help for pay, memail me.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:32 AM on February 27, 2012

I had a similar problem and split the document into chapters and just tweaked it manually. Trying to solve a problem like this can be a crazy-making distraction, so I always think it's best just to deal with doing it the hard way. It's not that bad to do it manually, honestly.

(And please don't distract yourself further by deciding that you need to learn LaTeX. You don't.)
posted by yellowcandy at 9:18 AM on February 27, 2012

Seconding the advice to break long Word docs into chapters and formatting headings and page numbers for each doc individually. That's how I produced my master's thesis, and back when I edited books, it's how I insisted the writers deliver their work. For them, we set an arbitrary limit of 20 pages per doc and didn't have any trouble.

Something else to consider -- when cutting and pasting from other sources, by default Word applies formatting and styles from the source. In Word 2007 you can change this setting under [Word Options] -> [Advanced] -> [Cut, copy and paste]. Leave the top option as is and change the others to "Match Destination Formatting".

Good luck getting this sorted. Nothing worse than working with clunky tools when deadlines are looming.
posted by notyou at 10:05 AM on February 27, 2012

What you want is to use multi-level lists. If you are using multi-level lists, you want to adjust the styles attached to the list of figures and list of tables to be within the multi-level lists but not have numbers. It's easy enough to set up, but hard to explain. The help topic is not very complete, but the Word blog entry is a little better.

You don't have to post this to Craigslist or break it into multiple documents -- I'd be happy to fix it for you. It only takes a few minutes. Just send me MeFi mail.
posted by Houstonian at 5:27 PM on February 27, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you to everyone for their help. It was very kind of many of you to offer personal help. With the suggestions here and some advice via Mefi Mail I was able to solve the problems. I'm not done formatting it yet, but at least things are under control.
posted by imposster at 7:09 PM on February 27, 2012

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