A Basic Guide for Using Microsoft Word

Microsoft (MS) Word is a word-processing software that is most frequently used by students for writing academic essays. The software is also called Microsoft Office Word. Depending on the version and year of MS Word on your computer, the screen shots below may be slightly different from what you see on your screen. This tutorial was developed for users with MS Word 97/2003.

The Basic Guide for Using Microsoft Word will aid students in the basics of using word to type, format, and save Word documents.

MS Word User Terminology

As with most technology, using MS Word requires some understanding of user terminology.

Cursor: The cursor is a moving pointer that indicates position. The blinking vertical line within a MS Word document is the cursor. The cursor indicates where the text, or inserted object, will appear on the page. For example, you may be asked to insert the cursor at a certain point within a document. Using the mouse, single-click at the point where the text or object is to be added. The blinking line should appear, and when you begin typing, your text should appear at the point of the cursor (with the cursor moving as you type).   

Double-click: This simply means to quickly click the left-button of your mouse twice. Double-clicking is typically used for opening or selecting software/documents/files. If a file/document does not open, simply try double-clicking again (perhaps a little faster).

Highlight: Place the cursor either directly in front or behind of the text to be highlighted. While holding down the left mouse button, drag the mouse until the required text is highlighted. When the required text is highlighted, let go of the left mouse button. There will be a black bar behind the text (with the text color being white). This black bar indicates what text is highlighted. You might highlight text to change the font (italicize, bold, underline, double-space, and so on), delete a large selection of text, or move text to another place on the page.

Right-click: When asked to right-click an object, click the right-button of your mouse once.

Single-click: When asked to select an object, click the left-button of your mouse once.

Opening a New MS Word Document

To begin, you will first need to open a MS Word. To open MS Word, locate the Start icon on your screen. For most users, the Start icon is located in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. It is also possible that MS Word is an icon on the desktop.

The start button is located in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. Select Start, and then All Programs to locate the Microsoft Word icon. Please note, depending on the version of MS Office on your computer, your software application may display differently.

After selecting the start button, single-click the All Programs button to open a screen with a list of programs available on your computer. Then, double-click the Microsoft Word icon.


For some users, the Microsoft Word icon will appear on the desktop. Double-click the MS Word icon to open the application (which will open a new document).

Selecting the Microsoft Word icon will open a new MS Word document, and a screen similar to the one below should appear.


Saving an MS Word Document

Before typing the first word of any essay, you will first want to save the document. As many students can attest, losing an unsaved document is terrible – particularly if you’ve spent a great deal of time and energy in writing the first few paragraphs, or pages! Saving, and re-saving, the document as you type will help to ensure your work is safe.

With the new document open, select File from the menu (click once to expand the file menu).


From the File menu, select Save As.

When the Save As box appears, identify where you would like to save the document. You can save it any place on your computer; however, students most frequently save documents to their Desktop or to the My Documents folder. Select the location (desktop, my documents, etc.) for where you would like to save the file. Note: there are two places where Desktop and My Documents are located – selecting either one will take you to the same location. Refer to the circled items and arrows in the image below.

Be sure to make note of where the document was saved so that you know where to go to retrieve the file.

In the “File name” box, type the name of your file. Your instructor may have a specific file name they would like you to use for each assignment, so be sure to review his or her guidelines for naming the file before submitting the assignment. For additional information on how to upload written assignments, please review the “Guide to Uploading and Retrieving Assignments,” which is posted in your classroom.

As you work, be sure to save your document regularly. After you’ve used the Save As feature (above), click on the Save icon to save changes to your document.

Formatting an Essay

When using APA formatting for your academic essay, you may need to reset the margins. The margin indicates the amount of space surrounding the text. To reset the margins, select File from the menu. Then, select Page Setup.

Margins continued…

Click on the Margins tab. Adjust the margins as necessary. You can use the arrow keys to increase or decrease the size, or you can manually type the margin size. Select OK when finished.

Note: The margins will be adjusted only on the open document. If you wish to adjust the margins on all Word documents, select the Default button. You will then be prompted to confirm the margin change for all MS Word documents on your computer. 

Centering text
For nearly every essay, you will need a title page. When using APA formatting for the title page, the title will be centered on the page. To center the title, select the Center alignment icon from the toolbar (see image below). Your cursor will then be in the center of the page.

Note: If the Center alignment icon is not listed, select Format from the menu bar. Then, select Paragraph. A box will open. Select the Indents and Spacing tab, and look for the General Alignment option (it may be a drop-down menu that allows you to select left, right, center, or justify). Select center. Refer to the second image, on the next page, for details.

Centering text continued…

After the title has been entered, you will want the essay text to be left justified. You can use the left justify icon (located alongside the center justify icon), or go to the Format: Paragraph menu, and select left from the Alignment drop-down menu.

Next, you need to set your paper up for double spacing. If you don’t set your paper up for double spacing, you’ll have to hit the enter key twice between each line, which can lead to formatting problems, especially if you need to revise or add text to the essay.

To double-space your essay, select Format from the menu bar. Then, select Paragraph.

Double-spacing continued…

In the paragraph box, select the Indents and Spacing tab. Under the “Spacing” section, go to Line spacing and select double from the drop-down menu. Select OK. This will double space everything you type throughout the document.

If you need to use single spacing, simply return to the Format: Paragraph menu and select single from the drop-down menu.



Indent the first line of text each time you start a new paragraph. An indentation signals to your reader that a new idea will be developed. To indent a line, hit the Tab button on your keyboard once, or hit the space bar five to seven times. The cursor will then be one tab (or five to seven spaces) from the left margin. An example of indented lines is shown below:

Indent (hit tab key once, or hit the space bar 5 to 7 spaces)

To change the font style or size, you will also use the Format menu. Select Format, and then Font.

Font continued…

In the Font box, you will have the option to change the style and size of the font, as well as numerous options for underlining, italicizing, and other text effects.

Note: Academic essays require specific fonts, styles, and sizes. When in doubt, use Times New Roman, Regular, Size 12. Additional information on font requirements can be found in your Student Writing Handbook or through your instructor.

Select OK to verify your font selection.

Add a Header and/or Footer
You will use a header and/or footer when you need to have the same line of text appear at the top (header) or bottom (footer) of every page.

In APA formatted essays, a Running Head is inserted at the top of each page within the one inch margin. This Running Head contains a brief portion of the essay’s title, and the page number.

Running Head


To add a header/footer, select View from the toolbar. Then, select Header and Footer.


Add a Header and/or Footer continued…

The Header and Footer menu bar will show. You can type your header/footer directly into the Header or Footer box (select the highlighted icon below to switch to the footer). You can also use the icons to add a page number, date, and time to your header or footer. Select the Close button when finished. Your header/footer will now appear on each page of your document.


MS Word Features
Obviously, there are many more features of MS Word. However, the information presented above should give you a quick overview of the most commonly used functions for formatting your academic essays when using MS Word 97/2003.