It’s fair to say that most people use Microsoft® Word as a typewriter. You open a new document and start typing. This applies no matter how simple or complex the document is.
The problem with this, though, is that Word was meant to be used with styles – whether it’s Word’s built-in styles or industry-specific ones that are added in.
Styles are what characterize different parts of a document (i.e. paragraph, heading, subtitle etc.). Using the different styles allows for consistency, proper formatting, less risky documents, and time savings.
Here are some tips (and habits to avoid) when working with Word’s styles in your legal documents.
Avoid Direct Formatting for Legal Documents
You’ve typed out your document and have come to the formatting phase. You might want to change the font, add in some numbering, and include a few headers.
When you do the above without using styles, you are formatting a document directly (or manually). This should be avoided, especially in legal documents, because it opens the door for inconsistency, error, as well as taking up more of your time than necessary.
A common instance of direct formatting is changing a document’s font size. For example, if your entire document is size 12 and you need to change the headers to size 14, what most people do is select each header one by one and change the size in the toolbar.
This is risky because you could accidentally miss a heading, which would be bad formatting and unprofessional. It can also be time-consuming if you’re working on a long document.
Another common issue that often comes up with direct formatting is applying numbers in your documents. Manually formatting numbering schemes is one of the easiest ways to cause formatting issues and frustration.
For example, when most people want to add numbering, they type, “1.” and Word understands that a numbering scheme has begun. However, what most people do when they want to get rid of a number is backspace until their cursor is where they need it.
The problem is that Word still thinks a number should be there. So, the next time you or anyone else working on the document goes to put the next number in, the scheme’s formatting won’t match up.
Related article: New some help to improve your legal writing? Check out these 6 tips.
Make Global Changes to Documents
So how do you avoid manually changing the font size of headings in a 30-page document? And how do you tell Word that you’re done numbering the document?
The answer is using styles and global changes.
As you start typing a new document, open the styles task pane to apply styles. Do this by hitting the little arrow button in the bottom right-hand corner of the styles bar at the top of your document. You can then assign styles to the different parts of your document (paragraph, heading, etc.).
If you need to make a change to all your headings, like the font size example from above, you need to make a global change. This means modifying and editing a style, as opposed to editing the document directly. So you can modify the headings style to go from size 12 to 14 without going line by line. Just a few clicks and you’re done.
When it comes to styles and numbering, instead of manually inserting and deleting numbers, turn numbering on and off by clicking the Numbering button on the toolbar. This way Word knows when your numbering scheme is starting and when it’s complete.
Using styles for your formatting and numbering schemes will need to become a habit. Change can be difficult, but once you get used to these best practices, anything else will seem inefficient.
Formatting and Editing Software for Legal Professionals
Since Microsoft® Word wasn’t designed specifically for legal professionals, utilizing a solution that enhances the software you already use daily is the most resourceful option.
Word LX™ has many features that simplify tasks that made document creation and automation as efficient as possible, including formatting and editing tools.
With Word LX™, the functions of Word that legal professionals use the most are brought forward in one tab so they’re easily accessible. This way you can quickly insert legal-specific styles and numbering schemes, signing line, tables of contents, etc. without searching through Word’s native tabs.
Remember, just as Word documents are meant to be used with styles, legal documents should be used with legal styles.