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Creating documents: a Practical Guide

Creating documents

Creating documents: a Practical Guide

Text processing applications like Microsoft Word and Google Docs are a staple of the modern world, allowing everyone to create and format documents to be printed or read on screen. Whether you're writing a thesis or dissertation, collaborating on a report, or taking notes, there's a lot you can do to create documents in these tools. In this guide we'll take an in-depth look at how to set up and structure your pages, insert content, and finalise and review your documents.


Editing headers and footers, size and position, automatic page numbers, different first page

Table of figures, list of tables

Insert breaks, paragraph marks, unlinking sections

Images, diagrams, shapes, other media

Spelling and synonyms, word count, Track Changes and suggestions

Combining Word documents, tables of contents and other content after combining, using reference management applications when combining documents

Converting to PDF, anonymising documents, unkling references from reference management applications, sharing methods

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Wherever you see a box with the pencil icon on this guide, you'll find suggested exercises to complete once you've read over the content on the page.

You can work through the content in order to use the guide as a full course, or read specific pages to help you with particular tasks you're doing.

Microsoft Word or Google Docs?

So you need to create a document - the first question is which text processing application are you going to use?

At York we support both Microsoft Word and Google Docs. Both can be obtained for free by members of the University, either through Microsoft Office 365 or your University Google account. They both have different strengths and weaknesses, which we'll explore below.

WordMicrosoft Word

Microsoft Word is part of the Microsoft Office suite. You can access it on University computers or download Microsoft Word as part of Microsoft Office 365 (which is available to all University staff and students).

Strengths of Microsoft Word:

  • Good for long, complex documents
  • Lots of features for print documents
  • Can create accessible PDFs
  • Import in content from other Office programs like Excel
  • Works well with captions and tables and automatically genarating tables of contents and figures

Weaknesses of Microsoft Word

  • Hard to use with other people - no collaborative features (in the versions of Word you can use at York)
  • Not easy to work across multiple devices
  • Have to back up your work frequently

Google DocsGoogle Docs

Google Docs is part of Google Workspace, which you can access through your University Google account. It is accessed through your web browser (e.g. Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge) so you don't need to download anything. Your files are stored in Google Drive, which means they are stored in the cloud (i.e. over the internet) and not on your device.

Strengths of Google Docs

  • Collaborate with others and edit a document simultaneously
  • Easily work across different devices
  • Saves as you're working on Google Drive
  • Download documents in different formats including .docx (Word file format) and .pdf

Weaknesses of Google Docs

  • Limited functionality compared to Microsoft Word
  • Fewer features for print documents - works best with documents read on screen
  • Not as easy to work with images and diagrams

Creating documents glossary

There are a few terms and specific names used by some text processing tools which we mention in this guide:

Microsoft Word

Ribbon - The main toolbar with all of the controls that runs across the top of MS Word.

Tabs - The uppermost row of labels on the ribbon that divide the controls into different sections (Home, Insert, Design etc).

Google Docs

Menu - There are a set of menus, titles that offer a range of options when you click on them, at the top of the screen in Google Docs.

Toolbar - The series of icons underneath the menus at the top of the screen, which include Undo, Zoom, and Styles, as well as setting text formatting.

Creating documents resources

This guide can be worked through as a self-directed course or reference, but can also be used alongside our training sessions on Microsoft Word and Google Docs.

Here are the resources that support those sessions, which you can take a look at even if you're not attending the session.

Saving and backing up your documents

Saving and backing up your work is crucial, especially when you're creating long documents.

Saving is different in Word and Google Docs: Google Docs automatically saves your files on Google Drive (and keeps saving in the background as you work, as long as you have an internet connection), whereas Word tends to require manual saving and backing up.

Google Drive

All Google Docs files are created and stored in Google Drive, which is part of your University Google account. You can access and share Google Docs through Google Drive.

When you edit a Google Docs file, it automatically saves in the background on Google Drive. This means that you don't have to remember to click 'Save', and also means that you get a version history, which can be accessed from the File menu. The version history shows all changes that have been made to a Google Doc and who made them, and you can name versions to have a record of previous versions or drafts.

You can also use Google Drive to store and share other files, including Word documents. This can be a good way to back up your Word documents in case of issues, and to be able to access Word documents on other devices. You can also edit Word documents within Google Drive, though you may lose some functionality as this is done through the Google Docs editor, which has fewer features than Word.

Saving and backing up in Word

Microsoft Word is a desktop application that doesn't by default save your work automatically. Get used to saving (using the icon or Ctrl+S/Cmd+S on a Mac) regularly in case your computer freezes.

Recent versions of Word (part of Office 365) do have an 'autosave' feature, but this is not available when signed in to Word using a University of York account. We recommend that you save regularly and back up your work in other ways (such as uploading to Google Drive) instead.

Word documents can corrupt sometimes, so it is important to save copies of your documents elsewhere when you edit them. Getting into a good routine for having backups of your work can be very useful should disaster strike!

Creating documents on a Mac

If you're using a Mac computer rather than Windows, you can still use either Microsoft Word or Google Docs.

As Google Docs works through a web browser, it will behave the same as it does on a Windows device. However, Word for Mac is slightly different to Microsoft Word on a Windows computer.

Differences in Word for Mac

There are a few differences in Word for Mac, so you might find alternate instructions in this guide, or have to find the same command in a slightly different place. Here are some of the key differences:

  • The ribbon does not have the small square 'pop out' icon in the bottom right hand corner of sections. Instead, these options are usually in a menu or a text button on the ribbon.
  • There is no Drawing Canvas, meaning you cannot use this feature to place together images and shapes within one area.
  • As well as having the ribbon at the top of the screen, Word for Mac also has a series of menus along the very top of the screen when it is open, including the File menu for saving and exporting your work.
  • Settings can be found by clicking on Preferences on the Word menu (click on where it says 'Word' at the very top of the screen).

Macs also may come with Apple's text processing application, Pages. We do not offer support for Pages at the University, and if you're using it, you will need to export to another format to send your document to someone else or submit work. Pages does export to both Word's .docx format and to PDF.