Microsoft Word is the global standard for word processing. At the same time, it’s one of the most maddening applications to master, which is why this Geek School series is all about learning how to format documents in Word.

Word 2013 and a Little Perspective

Microsoft is far more than a typical staid word processor. Word is one of the most affordable and closest things you can get to your very own printing press. In fact, it is for all With Word, you can write textbooks, create full magazine and newspaper layouts with graphics, write a novel with indices, and much, much more. You can do in mere hours, what twenty years ago might have taken an entire editorial team days or even weeks.

Microsoft Word completely eliminates the aggravation of typos (in theory at least). There is no need to retype whole chapters in order to add or rearrange content. Instead you can add, move, or even remove complete sentence, paragraphs, and chapters in mere seconds!

Of course, we take this power for granted but we can tell you, it really beats using a typewriter (let alone movable type) – making a mistake using a typewriter meant stopping what you were doing, rolling the platen up to better expose your typo, and then either using an eraser to remove the offending characters, or carefully dabbing on White-Out and patiently blowing it dry. Then, of course, you’d have to roll the platen back to the line you were typing on, taking further care to make sure it all lined up perfectly.

If you can imagine how many daily typing errors you make then you can probably get an idea of how long it took to produce even simple documents. Needless-to-say, it paid to be accurate, and unless you were a really good typist, typing an essay or book report, could be a long arduous process. And forget about adding pictures into your document. Doing that kind of stuff at home was nearly impossible. Oh sure, you could include your illustrations and photos and then refer to them, but it wasn’t as simple and elegant as cut-copy-paste we’ve become so accustomed to.

Nevertheless, all this power and control does arrive with a fairly steep learning curve. It can be a pain to get the hang of and be fluent in effectively formatting eye-catching documents. Luckily, that’s where we come in – with How-To Geek School’s Formatting Documents with Microsoft Word 2013.

What We Will Cover

This series aims to introduce you to a large swath of Word 2013’s document formatting features through five lessons.

In this lesson, we first cover some Word basics like the Ribbon and page structure like tabs, margins, and indents. Additionally, we show you how to manipulate formatting marks or simply turn them on/off. Our first lesson concludes with an exploration of fonts, and finally templates.

Lesson 2 begins with paragraphs, specifically alignment, indentation, and line spacing. After that we move on to shading and borders, and then lists (bulleted, numbered, and multilevel). We’ll also briefly touch upon AutoCorrect options.

After that, Lesson 3 begins with a lengthy exploration of tables (inserting, drawing, formatting, etc.) and then we dive into other formatting options, including links, headers, footers, equations, and symbols.

Lesson 4’s primary focus will be illustrations and multimedia such as pictures, shapes, WordArt, and more. We move on from there to briefly cover working with more than one language.

Finally, in Lesson 5, we wrap up with styles and themes, covering the gamut, new styles, inspecting styles, managing and modifying, and lastly themes.

Before we do all that however, let’s take some time to orient ourselves with Word’s anatomy and layout.

The Ribbon

As you may be familiar, Microsoft employs a “Ribbon” interface throughout their products. These ribbons are prominent in Office and Windows 8 (File Explorer and WordPad).

Here we see the Ribbon in Word 2013, the application we’ll be using for all our work.


The Ribbon is further subdivided into tabs (Home, Insert, Design, etc.) and each tab is further broken down into sections (Clipboard, Font, Paragraph, etc.).

Each of these sections can be expanded by clicking the small arrow in the lower-right corner.


Here, if we click on the arrow on the “Font” section, it opens to the trusty “Font” dialog:


While some menus may open to dialogs, others may spawn panes that slide out from one side of the screen. Also, if you use a computer with a lower resolution screen and need more screen real estate, you can click the small arrow to the very far lower-right corner of the ribbon.


This will cause the Ribbon to collapse, giving you more vertical space to work with. To get the Ribbon back, simply click on a tab and it will spring back into view (you can pin it if you want it to stay open).

Alternatively, you can quickly hide/unhide the Ribbon by typing “CTRL + F1.”

Home is Where Word’s Heart is

We’ll take some time before diving into actual document formatting, to talk about the “Home” tab. Even if you never touch another part of Word for the rest of your life (fairly impossible but still), the Home tab contains its most essential functions and is vital to formatting your documents consistently well.


See here how the “Home” tab has a total of five sections: “Clipboard,” “Font,” “Paragraph,” “Styles,” and “Editing.”


“Clipboard” functions are pretty rudimentary; you should know them by now: cut, copy, paste. Most likely you use right-click menus to do many of your cut-copy-paste functions, or keyboard shortcuts: “CTRL + X”, “CTRL + C”, “CTRL + V,” respectively.

Opening the “Clipboard” pane however, reveals a goldmine of functionality that can actually prove quiet useful when formatting documents. The Word clipboard collects everything you cut or copy for later use. This is particularly useful if you need to paste several distinct passages of text and/or images throughout your document. You can simply place your pointer at the correct insertion point, open the “Clipboard” viewer and select the piece you want to paste.



The “Font” section and applicable dialog should be pretty familiar to the majority of Word users. Even if you’re not a Word pro, you’ve used the font functions in Word every time you create a document. Each time you bold or italicize something, you’re employing font functions. So knowing your way around the “Font” section and dialog is an excellent approach to mastering Word’s formatting bells and whistles.

We’ll go further into depth on fonts and typefaces in this lesson, for now, take a little time to familiarize yourself with its various functions.



Important also is the “Paragraph” section, which lets you set critical formatting features such as indenting, line spacing, and page breaks. Further, adjusting paragraph controls lets you play with borders, shading, and turn paragraph marks on or off. We’ll talk more about this in Lesson 2.



Styles are a great way to manage the way your entire document’s headers, titles, and text quickly and easily. Rather than going through a document and adding or changing headers one by one, you can simply apply a style, and then make changes to it using the “Styles” section. We’ll go into styles a great deal more in our final lesson of this series.


The Page

Your page is where all the magic happens, it’s where you compose your masterpieces and as such, knowing your way around is essential. Let’s dive in by turning on the “Ruler” and then explain how to set tabs and margins.

To turn on the ruler, we’ll first click the “View” tab and in the “Show” section, check the box next to “Ruler.” Note the horizontal and vertical rulers that appear along the page edges.


If you want to work according to another measurement system, you can change it from “File” -> “Options” -> “Advanced.”