How To – Advanced Microsoft Word Formatting

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Back in the middle of July, we ran a webinar about Microsoft Word formatting basics for book preparation. In the comments and questions, we ran into a lot of authors and aspiring authors who asked about some advanced formatting. As I reviewed the list of questions and sat down to write up answers for everyone, I realized the webinar didn’t cover enough.

In fact, it essentially just offered the tip of the iceberg. 

It seems people want more!

Word’s Advanced Formatting

Once again, we’ll keep our focus on MS Word, using the most up to date version. Other word processors like LibreOffice or page layout tools like InDesign are great too. But Word remains the most commonly used, so we’ll stick with that for now. I should also note that I’m using Word 2016 for Mac, so some of the menu locations will be a little different from the PC version.

I’m going to look at three advanced formatting elements in this post:

  1. Drop Caps
  2. Orphan/Widow Control
  3. Footnotes & Endnotes

Drop Caps

Purely decorative, Drop Caps (short for dropped capitals) are most often used in novels at the beginning of a chapter or section. They add flair and style to your text, as well as visually signifying a new section’s beginning. 

In MS Word, the Drop Cap options are in the Format menu:

As you can see in the image above, I’ve already inserted a Drop Cap for the letter ‘A’ in my document. To do this, I simply highlighted the ‘A’ before opening the Drop Cap menu.

Here’s what the specs look like in the Drop Cap menu:

The Position of your Drop Cap will control how it appears on the page. None, clearly, means there is no Drop Cap. Dropped means the character (or word) ‘drops’ down into additional lines. And In Margin pulls the Drop Cap into the page margin like this:

For almost all instances of Drop Caps in a novel, you’d want to use ‘Dropped’ to create a common look and feel of a chapter’s first paragraph. Depending on how many lines of text are in the paragraph, you might drop 2 or 3 lines.

Along with the positioning, think carefully about the font you select. For my example, I’ve used David font as it’s a clean, serif font with thick lines. Basically, it stands out nicely on a screen. But for your printed book, you’ll want something that works well on the page. 

As an example, this is the same paragraph, but I’ve changed the font to Baskerville and the Drop Cap to Apple Chancery:

Much more stylish, right?

The last point about Drop Caps; remember that they use a Text Box to isolate the character or word being Dropped. That means you won’t use them for an ebook, as EPUBs hate text boxes. And it also means you’ll need to be conscious of the way your text will shift with the inclusion of a text box. 

How To Add Drop Caps

  1. Select the CHARACTER

    Select the Character (normally first letter) or Characters to apply Drop Caps too

  2. Go to FORMAT

    Access the Format MenuMS Word Format Menu to Drop Cap Menu

  3. Select DROP CAP…

    Click on the Drop Cap option to open the Drop Caps menuMS Word Drop Cap menu with options for creating a Drop Cap

  4. Define POSITION

    Drop Caps can be placed in-line (dropped) with a specific number of lines or can be placed in the marginsMS Word Drop Cap with Cap in Margin

  5. Select OPTIONS

    These include the font, number of lines to drop, and the relative distance of the Dropped Cap from the other text

Orphan/Widow Control

For most, controlling the position of text is even a little beyond advanced formatting. This one might not be obvious at first, but once you start seeing orphans and widows in your document, it’ll be impossible to unsee them. So I apologize for that.

Orphan Control – When a paragraph begins so low on a page that only a single line is present on that page, that line is called an ‘orphan’.

Widow Control – When a paragraph begins on one page and ends on the next with a single line, that line is called a ‘widow’.

Basically, we’re trying to avoid lines of a paragraph that are left alone on the page. This is widely considered poor typography. And just look at this example:

Here I’ve managed to add both a widow and an orphan from a two-line paragraph. Now look at the same spread with those lines pulled together:

MS Word Spread showing Widow/Orphan Control in action

Incredible what a simple change does to the pages, am I right?

MS Word offers a few options for controlling widows and orphans automatically. You’ll find them under the Format menu for Paragraphs:

Once you’re in the Paragraph menu, click over to Line And Page Breaks to see your options:

You’ve got four controls at your disposal to clean up widow or orphan lines in your file:

  1. Widow/Orphan Control – this will simply prevent widows and orphans by pulling a line to the next or previous page. Note that this will not force paragraphs to stay whole. Instead, it simply prevents a single line from appearing at the top or bottom of a page.
  2. Keep With Next – you likely won’t need this one often. But, if you need to pair two elements, like a Heading line and a Paragraph and instruct Word to keep them together on the same page, Keep With Next is what you’ll use.
  3. Keep Lines Together – this control will ensure paragraphs stay whole. I haven’t used this one often, but from my testing, it tends to want to pull the content onto the ‘next’ page, which can create a lot of white space on the previous page. I advise using this one cautiously.
  4. Page Break Before – formatting a paragraph with a break before will automatically break the page before the first line of the paragraph. This can be useful if you’re creating multi-page forms that need a set of instructions or the like at the top of each page. In general, I prefer inserting breaks manually.

You have the option to turn this feature on for your entire ‘Normal’ style by right-clicking the style, selecting Modify, and opening the Paragraph menu. If you plan to use Orphan/Widow Control, I suggest doing it this way and then carefully reviewing the file. Because controlling widows and orphans is such advanced formatting, it’s recommended to carefully review your pages after updating the style.

Footnotes & Endnotes

Used primarily for academic and nonfiction books, footnotes and endnotes are one of the few areas where I think MS Word shines. Yes, I said it: I like using Footnotes in Word.

Footnotes & Endnotes live under the Insert menu:

Note that, using Word 2016 for Mac, I only see ‘Footnote…’ here. But when I open the menu, I have the option to create a Footnote or Endnote:

So first we have the positioning, which is the only real difference between a Footnote and Endnote. I don’t want to delve into when to use which style of note, but this article has some good pros and cons to review.

The rest of this menu has controls for the layout and format for your Notes. I recommend for most to keep the ‘Columns’ set to ‘match section layout’ unless you’re pretty comfortable with using columns in Word. The majority of book layouts won’t want the columns for Notes anyway.

When you click ‘Insert,’ a character or number (based on the Format options) is dropped into your file. As soon as you do, the Note is created between the end of your page content and the Footer (for a Footnote).

And basically, that’s it! 

Okay, oversimplifying this a bit. Using Footnotes and Endnotes means your page layout and formatting shifts. For most writers who will be using Footnotes, you’ll have that content ready alongside the main content. So adding the Footnotes prior to laying out the page should make it relatively easy to manage.

You should keep in mind Widow and Orphan lines when you add a Footnote too. These two features often go hand-in-hand when it comes to finalizing your page layout.

Mindful Formatting

My final thoughts are to be very mindful when adding elements to your file. Every time you change, add, or subtract something from your content, the remaining content will shift on the page. Among Word’s many flaws, adapting to content changes is the most cumbersome. Always be careful, particularly if you go to add a Footnote after the major formatting is done.

And there we have it. Let me know in the comments if there is more Word formatting I can cover, or if you have a follow-up question about these three.

7 thoughts on “How To – Advanced Microsoft Word Formatting”

  1. Hi Paul, I’m editing an incredibly long complex paper and just went back to insert a few footnotes. Then I decided to take one out. I don’t remember how I did this (from text or from the note itself). However, now it’s gone and the numbers are all off. HELP!!!! Going bind and pulling hair out.


    1. Hi Luise,
      If the numbering didn’t update automatically, I’m inclined to think Word is still including the deleted footnote in some form. It could actually be a blank line that is basically holding the space for that note.
      If you’re using Office 365, I think you could roll the document back to the version before you deleted the footnote and try removing it again.
      The other thing to do is to force the footnotes to update. Here’s the info on how to do that from Microsoft’s help pages.

  2. Hi Paul, I’m trying to create an endnotes section that occurs before the index rather than at the complete end of the book. I have many sections in the book and have found a 22 step process for creating an endnotes section in front of the index section, BUT the process is Windows PC, not Mac. Where is the “suppress endnotes” action in the Mac version of 365?

    Or, is there an easier way to create endnotes in front of the index? Is it possible to just create the endnotes before creating the actual index? Thanks again for your wisdom!

    1. Aa! I just found it! Suppress endnotes isn’t in the Layout ribbon tab, of course, as it is in Windows, it’s in the Format/Document menu bar. Hopefully this gives one way to do this. It ought to be more simple!

  3. Please, help. What button should I press in my computer to automatically correct page numbers in the contents to correctly correspond with the page numbers in the body of the manuscript, should l make changes that expand or shorten the number of pages?

    1. Hi Emma,
      There isn’t a simple button to update the flow of page numbering in Word. Everything is based on the way those page numbers are inserted and the way sections are broken up in your document. Here is a post with some details about adding page numbers.
      The best way to go about using page numbers in Word is to complete any and all updates to the contents first, then review the settings for all footer sections before inserting the page numbering. It can be a tedious process, but I find it easier than adding the numbering early on and struggling to update them as changes are made.

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