Richard Steele said in his recent blog about his take on academic referencing: Formatting “makes it much easier for me to work with the document, it looks professional, and it is much easier for the examiners to navigate … this is a technical issue, not an academic issue. Grammar is ultimately a technical issue as well. Students and supervisors do not necessarily have the technical capability for grammar or layout and formatting.”

I agree with Richard about the advantages of formatting a document before editing it. An added advantage is that it requires multiple sweeps through the text. These give me an overview of what to expect, which is useful during the ensuing editing process.


But I suppose many of you are asking “HOW do I format an academic document?”

Here is my checklist of the 14 steps I take, the first six of which will be covered in this blog post:

  1. Save the original document under a new name as a template.
  2. Have the formatting style guide of the client’s institution handy, open to the page layout requirements.
  3. Switch off Reviewing mode or Track Changes before you start formatting (the author does not need to approve compliance with institutional requirements).
  4. Set page size and margins.
  5. Set font.
  6. Set page numbering.
  7. Sweep 1. Apply headings (I will explain how in Part 2 of this blog series).
  8. Sweep 2. Format figure captions (see Part 3).
  9. Sweep 3. Format table captions.
  10. Format table of contents (see Part 4).
  11. Bookmark abbreviations and definitions (see Part 5).
  12. Cross-check references with in-text citations (see Part 6).
  13. Format tables (see Part 7).
  14. Check figure format (see Part 8).

Save as a template (checklist item 1)

  1. Press F12. The Save As dialog box pops up.

Screen shot of Save As YourTemplateName.dotx

  1. In the dark area at the bottom, on the left, you will see the File Name label. In the textbox, enter a name for your template.
  2. Below the File Name is the File Type. Select ‘Word template (*.dotx)’. The folder changes to the default place where your computer stores templates, and the file extension changes to .dotx.
  3. Click on the Save button at the bottom right.

Check page size and margins (checklist item 4)

  1. Go to the title page.
  2. In the Layout tab > Page Setup group (far left), select the dialog box launcher (the arrow pointing diagonally down-right in the bottom right corner). The Page Setup dialog box pops up.

Screenshot of default Microsoft Page Setup o

  1. In the margin tab, the margins are usually either 2,54 cm (the default Microsoft inch), or the values set by the author. Change them to the margins required by the style guide.
  2. In the Paper tab, set the page size to A4 for SA and UK documents.
  3. In the Layout tab, tick “Different first page”. I set the Header to 1 cm and the footer to 0,7 cm.
  4. Click on the OK button (or press Enter).

Set font (checklist item 5)

  1. Put your cursor in a Normal paragraph. Go to Home > Fonts to see what font the client has used (usually one of the institutional guide’s required fonts, ie, Times New Roman or Arial). They have usually manually applied this font although the default underlying font of the computer’s theme is usually Calibri. You therefore need to change the default heading font and body font to match the client’s choice.
  2. Go to Design > Fonts.
  3. Scroll down and select the relevant font set. Designers like to have a different font for the heading and body, but institutions usually want them to be the same. If the client used a font that is not in the list or that does not have the same heading font as the body font (such as Times New Roman), select Customize Fonts and choose it for both the Heading Font and the Body Font.
  4. Name the font set and Save it.

Set page numbering (checklist item 6)

  1. Go to the second page of the front matter and double-click in the footer. The Header & Footer tab appears in the ribbon.
  2. If there is no page number, go to Insert > Text > Explore Quick Parts > Field.
  3. Type a P. The cursor goes to Page. Click on OK.
  4. Go to Header & Footer > Header & Footer group (on the far left) > Page Number > Format Page Numbers. The Page Number Format dialog box pops up.

Screenshot of the Page Number Format dialog box

  1. Select the Number Format dropdown arrow to change it to i, ii, iii …
  2. In the Page Numbering group, tick Start At and “1” appears in the textbox.
  3. Click OK.
  4. Put your cursor before the Chapter 1 heading.
  5. Press Ctrl+shift+8 to see if there is a section break before it.
  6. If necessary, insert a section break by going to Layout > Breaks (dropdown arrowhead) > Section Breaks > Next Page. (Delete any page break.)
  7. Go to Layout > Page Setup > Layout tab. Untick “Different first page”.
  8. If the page number format is not 1, 2, 3 or does not start at 1, repeat steps 3 to 6.


In this blog post, you have learned how to complete Steps 1–6 of my formatting checklist:

  1. Save the original document as a template.
  2. Open the formatting style guide of the client’s institution to the page layout requirements.
  3. Switch off Reviewing mode or Track Changes.
  4. Set page size and margins.
  5. Set font.
  6. Set page numbering.

In the next blog post in this series, I will share how to format headings (checklist item 7).

Images: Canva and screen shots

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of PEG.

About Anne Denniston

Anne trained as a librarian but then started editing agricultural reports, loved it, and so became a freelance editor of all sorts of document. For three years, she edited for students who attended Exactica’s dissertation courses. For more than 11 years, she edited audit reports for the Gauteng Provincial Government.

About PEG

The Professional Editors’ Guild (PEG) is a non-profit company (NPC) in South Africa. Since moving to online activities in March 2020, PEG has been able to offer members across South Africa, and internationally, access to an extensive online webinar programme. Continuing professional development remains a key offering and the first PEG Accreditation Test was administered in August 2020 to benchmark excellence in the field of editing.