Using Microsoft Word Headings to Reorganize a Research Paper

This post is part of The Cafe Scholar’s Guide to Writing Awesome Research Papers. I’m going to show you a neat way to reorganize a research paper in Microsoft Word, but if you haven’t written your outline yet, check out this post first.

Here's one of my favorite Microsoft Word tricks to easily organize and reorganize your research paper! |

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In my post about creating your research paper outline, I mentioned that your organization and structure will probably change several times as you write your paper. Sometimes you come up with a clever way to word your thesis, and then you need to make your paper structure match. Other times, as you are writing and revising, you realize that something might make more sense in a different part of the paper. This can result in a bunch of cut-and-paste madness. It’s kind of a pain, and it is really easy to lose track of something or miss a section as you go, especially if you have to do a lot of scrolling to move a paragraph somewhere else in the paper. Part of the challenge of writing a longer paper is easily seeing all the structure so that you can make sure it flows the right way.
Last spring I figured out a really cool way to reorganize a research paper (and other documents) and see everything at once. All you need for this cool trick is Microsoft Word (which I think everyone should be using for research writing!).

Office Home & Student 2016 for Mac

Step 1: Create your Headings

The first step to reorganize a research paper is to create formatted (tagged) headings.  This is easiest to do in the outline stage. In your outline in Word, highlight the heading for a category and click the Heading 1 button under Styles in the ribbon. This changes the format of this heading to match the selected style, but it also marks it in Word as a level 1 heading, which will help later. Do the same thing for all of your top level categories.
Here's one of my favorite Microsoft Word tricks to easily organize and reorganize your research paper! |
Next, take your subcategories, and make them all the Heading 2 style. It’s important to click the Heading 2 button in Styles – don’t just click Bold or change the font, because that will change the appearance but won’t give it that heading tag.
If you’ve already written the rough draft of your paper, you will need to go create those headings and format them using the Heading 1 and Heading 2 styles. Make a heading for each paragraph, even though you probably won’t use most of these headings in your final draft.

Step 2: Go to Outline View

Click the Outline View button in the bottom left corner to see your paper in Outline View.

Here's one of my favorite Microsoft Word tricks to easily organize and reorganize your research paper! |

From here, you can either use the plus and minus buttons next to each heading to expand or collapse them, or (quicker way), next to Show in the top left, select Level 2 from the drop down menu. This will show you all of your Heading 1 and Heading 2 text in outline form.

Here's one of my favorite Microsoft Word tricks to easily organize and reorganize your research paper! |

Another option is to use the Collapse Headings function in Word. This is actually how I learned to organize my research papers. But some of the Mac versions of Word don’t have this function, so I switched to the Outline view method.

Step 3: Reorganize at Will

When you want to move a section in the outline view, just make sure that section is minimized, and then cut and paste just the header. This will move all the stuff underneath that header, all together as one unit. If you want to move a subcategory, make sure the header is minimized. Then cut the heading, and paste it where you want it. The same can go for an entire larger category; if you cut and paste while it is minimized, all the content under that heading will come with it.
When you are done reorganizing, go back to Draft View or Print Layout View to see your paper…looking like a paper again! If you used the Collapse headings function, you can just expand those minimized headers for the same result.

Step 4: Check your Transitions

If you do some reorganization after you’ve written the paragraphs, some of your transition sentences might not work with your new organization.  After you have moved all your puzzle pieces around, go back and review your transitions from one section to the next and from one paragraph to the next to make sure they still make sense.

Final Draft

When you are done with your final draft, you might not want to keep some of those headings. That’s okay; they were just a tool. Make sure they are expanded out first, and then you can delete the ones you don’t want to keep.

What if I need to turn in a rough draft without all these extra headings?

Here's one of my favorite Microsoft Word tricks to easily organize and reorganize your research paper! | https://www.thecafescholar.comSometimes, your professor might want to see a rough draft, and you may want to give it to them without all the extra headings, just as if it were your final draft. If that is the case, save your rough draft with a new file name. Now you have two separate files, one to work on, and one to hand in to your professor. In your professor’s version, expand everything out of the headings and remove the headings you don’t want. But leave the headings in your personal copy. Then, when you go to make corrections and revisions later, you don’t need to add them all back in and you can take advantage of this reorganization trick.

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