A few useful things I have learnt about using Microsoft Word for materials writing and academic writing

You know when you learn something and you wish you had known it sooner? Microsoft Word has made me feel that way on more than one occasion. Here are a couple of things I wish I had known well before I actually wound up learning them:

1. ‘Split screen’ function

In first place by a long way, I give you the ‘Split screen‘ function. ‘Split screen‘ really is nothing short of magical. I (like to) forget how much time I have spent scrolling up and down between various parts of a document to add things in, to make changes to things before I discovered it was possible with the mere click or two of a button to split the document and half so that I could keep one bit still and move the other bit!

How?

In Word for Apple, you click on “Window” in the tool bar and select “Split” – simple as that! In the version for Windows, you will find “Split” nestled in the “View” tab.

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 12.54.14

Mac

When you click it, the magic happens:

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 12.54.52

You can drag the bar up and down to make one or the other portions bigger, as you need to.

splitscreen

Windows sufferers

When?

I’ve found it useful (read: a Godsend!) in the following situations:

  • Materials writing: when editing a document containing both teachers notes and a student hand-out. It is much easier to make sure that teachers’ notes and student hand-outs correspond correctly if you can see both at once. You also save a lot of time by not scrolling up and down the document between the two!
  • Materials writing: when editing a document containing both student activities/tasks and answer keys. You can add the answers as you go, again with no scrolling required, and actually SEE the tasks as you write the answers rather than try to memorise/go back and check/repeat.
  • Academic writing: adding references as you go is much easier if you can have the reference section right there to add to as you use new references in the main body of the document. Again, no tedious scrolling required! (This becomes increasingly beneficial, the longer your document grows!)

Right-click shortcuts

How

When you right-click anywhere on your document, a list of options appear:

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Hopefully you won’t need the Cut/Copy/Paste options as you will be using ctrl/cmd + X/C/V respectively, but if you prefer using the mouse, then there they are to use – just do your right-click over the portion of text you have just highlighted to move around (rather than moving your mouse All The Way to Edit!)

The Font/Paragraph/Bullets and Numbering options I think are a bit redundant given they are right there in the Home tab above the document (in both Apple and Windows versions).

The hyperlink option, however, is quite useful for inserting links quickly. (Alternatively you have to go to Insert and then scroll down to the bottom of a long list to “hyperlink”)

I like the synonyms option – if you highlight a word in your text, and right-click then select synonyms, Word will, funnily enough, show you some synonyms of that word. Could be useful for those times when you are lacking in inspiration…

There is also a dictionary option and a translator option that you can use if you can’t be bothered to open a web browser and go to a web-based tool!

When

When you want to do things more quickly!

Keyboard shortcuts 

How

So, remember I explained at great length how to find the “Split” option? Well, rather than go clicking around to do it, you could also use a keyboard shortcut. The default one on the Mac version is cmd+alt+s

How do you know what all the keyboard shortcuts are? (Other than cut/copy/paste which everyone knows!) Well, in the Apple version, quite a few of them are helpfully listed alongside their function within the menu bar drop-down menus:

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If you take against one of the shortcuts assigned, or you want to add a shortcut for something else, you can change it by going to Tools -> Customise Keyboard:

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All the potential commands are listed by category, and where there is a shortcut you will be told what it is in the Current keys. In the above example, for Insert Symbol there isn’t a shortcut so I am assigning one by making the shortcut while the cursor is in the Press new keyboard shortcut box. Once I click Assign, it will move into the Current keys box. Now when I press Command+Option+Shift+S, I will be able to insert a symbol! Don’t worry, if the shortcut you choose is already assigned to something else, you will be told next to where it says “Currently assigned to”. As you can see, my new shortcut is as yet unused. (I had to try a couple of options before I found this one!)

Shortcut keys are your friend – learn the shortcuts for the things you do most often, and if there isn’t a shortcut key, add one! (This link tells you how to do it for Windows versions)

When

The sooner the better! Make Word work for you, rather than the other way round.

What’s your favourite Word time-saving trick?

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Making general EAP more specific – academic writing

The 10-week pre-sessional programme at Sheffield University is an English for General Academic Purposes course rather than an English for Specific Academic Purposes course. This means that students learn general academic skills and vocabulary rather than subject specific. However, even working with a general EAP course book, like Oxford EAP, it is possible to tweak a lesson so that it links in with students’ academic fields, and, in my experience, this has a very beneficial effect on students’ engagement with the (often rather dry) lesson content, as the relevance and usefulness is clearer to them and the content more meaningful. I managed just such a lesson tweak in my most recent academic writing lesson (yesterday). Though far from being rocket science or anything particularly special, a few simple tweaks made a big difference, so I thought I’d share what I did here…

The aim of the lesson was for learners to be better able to write comparison essays, in terms of structure and complex comparison sentences using subordinators. The Oxford EAP spread was logical:

  • dividing a list of ideas corresponding to a given essay title by perspective (e.g. financial, social…)
  • focusing on the overall structure by getting students to match block and point-by-point outlines (with no content) to descriptions
  • matching outlines with content relating to the beginning essay title and evaluating the clarity of each
  • producing an outline for another essay title (using notes given to help)
  • identifying the chosen outline in a paragraph of text responding to another essay title and using this as a springboard for focusing on subordinators (highlighting, analysing, controlled practice)
  • writing a comparison essay (in response to another title)

My students are approximately 50% medicine, 50% dentistry in terms of field, so for this lesson I got them to sit grouped accordingly. Before starting on the above sequence, I encouraged them, in their groups, to brainstorm a list of comparisons they might make in their field. For example, in dentistry, they might compare systemic fluoridation with topical fluoridation (as I have discovered in the course of the project thread of this programme!). Once they had generated their lists, I asked them to look at each item and think of at least two perspectives from which they could compare their items. So, for the above example, it could be from a financial perspective or a health perspective. These are M.A. students to be, so they are interested in what they are going to study. Thus, starting the lesson in this way immediately grabbed their attention because it was fully relevant to them.

Having done that, with relevance of comparison essays established, we moved onto the OUP EAP sequence and worked through it up till the end of the controlled practice activity for subordinators. Then we returned to the information generated in the above-described opening sequence, from which they selected a comparison and produced an outline (choosing a block or point-by-point structure) based on that, thus linking the learning back to their field. They also wrote some complex sentences, using subordinators, comparing their chosen items from their chosen perspectives. This was far more engaging than writing sentences in response to a random essay title that they didn’t really care about. Obviously in an EGAP course these are inevitable, but even on such courses it definitely pays to be on the look out for ways of linking the general content back to the specific disciplines. (Without needing to be an expert in those fields, of course!)

Next week we are looking at problem-and-solution essays: hopefully I can make these as engaging as comparison essays turned out to be!

Yay, writing! ;-)

Yay, writing! 😉 (Image licensed for commercial reuse with modification)