MS Word Functions to Make Your References Page Less Painful

There’s a lot to formatting references pages. There are so many rules, and the appearance, from the hanging indents to the spacing, is enough to throw anyone off. Here are three Microsoft Word tools that I use as a copyeditor to make formatting a references page just a little bit easier. 

The Sort A→Z button

This button makes compiling your references page so much easier. You can add references to your list in an order that works for you. Maybe you prefer to list them in the order that you came across them or in the order that they show up in your paper.

Once all of your references are assembled, it’s time to alphabetize them! Do it the easy way: click the A→Z button and choose to sort by paragraphs in ascending order. As a proofreader, this is a quick way that I can check whether all of the references are in the correct order, but this tool works well for any dissertation or thesis writer.

Choose to sort descending by paragraph.

The Hanging Indent

I’ve seen so many writers waste precious writing time using the space bar to make their references page look just right. Then their reference list looks perfect—until they have to change something! 

Instead of using the space bar to achieve your hanging indent, use the hourglass-looking-thing located on the ruler at the top of page. (It’s not really an hourglass. It has nothing to do with time.) The top portion of the hourglass, the inverted triangle, determines the indentation at the beginning of paragraphs. The bottom triangle is the hanging indent, or left indent. When you create a references page, you’re interested in the hanging indent. First, highlight your references list. Then, click on the bottom triangle and move it over half an inch. This is what your new references should look like:

You may have to play with triangles just a bit before you can make one move without the other one. This happens to me all the time. It doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong; just keep trying!

The Show Paragraph Symbols Button

If you have had to play around with space bars and indents, or if you can’t figure out why the references text is moving around, try using the Show/Hide ❡ button. Clicking the button once will turn on the paragraph marks. You’ll see spaces marked with tiny dots and hard returns marked with the paragraph symbol. When I’m copyediting, this tool is crucial when I need to figure out why something looks funny. If the spacing on your references list looks off, try turning on the paragraph marks.

Use the Paragraph symbol to more easily format and edit your own references page.

References pages can be difficult. Their formatting is very, very different from the rest of your paper. These three tools may not solve your problems, but they’ll certainly make compiling a references list much easier. 

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