Understanding writing software

To ensure a consistent formatting of your thesis, it is important to master features of the word processing program you use. Most use Microsoft Word. Some swear by other programs, such as LaTex which gives a far more professional looking document and is commonly used by scientists because it can handle complex signs.

If you do not want to use Word, but do not want to use something very different, consider open-source tools such as OpenOffice and LibreOffice. These programs allow files saved in .doc (x) format and have basic functionality for version control built in (Rao. A. 2015).

Mastering the main features of the program you use will ensure you a better control of your document and allow for automatically setting up tables of contents, lists of tables and headings.

Keep in mind that writing tools should fit in with the series of activities and related tools you use for developing your research. This may include:

The list is endless as new tools are continuously being developed. This can make it hard to decide on commitments made to certain tools. Talk to others and keep informed.


101 Innovations in Scholarly Communication

Data visualisation (Jisc), an infoKit will be of benefit to anyone interested in creating well designed, informative and easy to understand charts.

Data visualization for researchers, note from a workshop facilitated by Jaume Nualart at UC (February 2015).


LaTeX is an alternative word processor often used by people in science since it can deal with complex signs and produces documents of a high quality.

LaTeX is freeware (can be downloaded from the web). LaTeX is in fact a high-quality typesetting system, originally specifically developed for the production of technical and scientific documentation. LaTeX is now the de facto standard for the communication and publication of scientific documents in many countries. It might take some time getting used to it, but it seems worthwhile.

A big advantage in using LaTeX is that there are templates all ready and with nice typography.  In Word it is harder to get the same control of a text set out in LaTeX. LaTeX is really good for

  • references and bibliography
  • numbering of captions, tables…
  • hyperlinks and cross-references.
  • tables of contents, of figures, etc.
  • typesetting mathematics
  • plots
  • documents ready for printing in various versions


  • it is not user-friendly
  • changing formatting requires advanced knowledge

A lot of support for LaTeX users is available. Check


LyX is an advanced open source document processor running on Linux/Unix, Windows, and Mac OS X. It is called a “document processor”, because unlike standard word processors, LyX encourages an approach to writing based on the structure of your documents, not their appearance.

readWhat is LyX?

Microsoft word

For many, the default writing tools is Microsoft Word. If you intend to use Word, take some time to understand its features – particularly those that are useful when composing long documents. This will, in the long term (and it is a useful skill to have) save you time. The main things you should probably understand are styles, outline, tables of content, captions and lists of figures/tables, section breaks, headers & footers, footnotes, combining and sharing documents, meta data, track changes & comments, file management, linking sections and document.

An online module ‘Using Word for long documents’ can be accessed for free by UC students and staff via Lynda.com. Check http://www.canberra.edu.au/library/research-gateway/research_help/lynda to find out how to register and to access training offered. The module that covers working with long documents is ‘Using Word for long documents’. It is a self-paced module. The content is good.

Techniques for Managing Theses Using Microsoft Word 2010 (University of Waterloo) http://ist.uwaterloo.ca/ew/thesis/ThesisCourse/WordTheses.html includes information on how to best use Word with Macs.


Scrivener is a tool for developing and bringing together content. It allows writers to concentrate on composing and structuring long documents. The focus is on helping writers to get to the end of that awkward first draft.

Scapple, developed by the same people, is an ideas mapping tool accessible from the same site.