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Microsoft Word for Dissertations

Describes many of the special features of Microsoft Word you can use to make formatting your dissertation easier. While it's focused on dissertations, this information is useful for any long document.


What is this black box that appears before my chapter and section headings?

We occasionally see documents where a section heading shows a black rectangle before the chapter title, where it should instead show "Chapter 2" and the chapter title. In the image to the right, it's actually happening in a Heading 2 section heading. This is basically a corrupted numbering scheme, and is a rare but known bug in Word. The problem has been around for years, but Microsoft has never managed to sweep it out of there.

Here is a collection of some solutions that have worked (or not…) for solving this problem. 


Turn it off, and turn it on again

This solution is the best first step, since it’s quick & easy -- it doesn’t always work, so proceed to the others if it doesn’t.

  1. Place your cursor in the offending line.
  2. In the Home ribbon, open the Mulitlevel List button  and select Define New Multilevel List...
  3. Make a note of what the Current List type is.
  4. Select None as the new numbering scheme. The black box should disappear.
  5. With the cursor still in that line of text, return to the Multilevel List button and again Define New Multilevel List..
  6. Select the original list type, noted in step 3

That will often reset it.  Essentially, it’s like “turn it off, turn it on again”.   Here’s a quick video showing how to do it.


Reapplying the style has worked for some people

Rather than re-writing what others have already done, just check out this link:

If that doesn’t work:

We’ve had success by completely recreating the numbering scheme. Start by removing the numbering scheme from ALL heading styles (as in Step 2 of the "Turn it off, and on again" approach above, but do it for chapters, for sections, and for sub-sections -- all the heading levels you're using).  Then click in some Heading 1 text, and open the multilevel list button (Home tab). From the List Library section of the menu, select the “Chapter 1” numbering list.  This is a default from Word. Then you will need to modify the multi-level list numbering scheme to update the numbering format for level 2, 3, etc...


And if nothing else has worked, you can remove the black bars by restoring the heading style as directly above, saving the document as an old-style Word doc (.doc) and keeping it in that format.  If you go back to .docx….the black bars, not a perfect solution, but it works.

Why do my page numbers start at 1 for some sections?

If you're following our suggestions, then you're dividing up the various parts of your document into sections, most often using a "Section Break (Next Page)". Among other things, sections allow you to control page numbers -- you can set them to continue the numbering from the previous section, or start from 1 or any other number. 

If a chapter is erroneously restarting at 1, here's what to do.

  1. Double-click the footer of the page incorrectly showing "1". This lets you edit the contents of the footer.
  2. Select the page number
  3. At the top of the screen on the left side of the Ribbon, click on Page Number, and then select "Format Page Numbers..."
  4. In the window that appears, select "Continue from previous section"
  5. Click OK

You'll need to do this for every section that is misbehaving. 

Why are my figures/tables being numbered with a zero, like this: "Figure 0-1"

One of the most useful features of Word in regards to a dissertation is that it can manage all of your chapter, section, figure, and table numbering for you. And, indeed, if you'd like to include the chapter number in a figure or table numbering scheme ("Figure 4.3", for example), then Word has to be managing those chapter numbers for you. 

When your figure or table numbers display a zero for the chapter number, it's because you either haven't set up your Heading 1 styles to automatically include the chapter number, or you aren't using the Heading 1 style for your chapters, or you've actually deleted the chapter number from the chapter title.  This last example often happens when people don't want their Introduction to be called "Chapter 1 Introduction", so they delete the "Chapter 1" bit.  If they then insert a figure or table into the numberless Introduction, Word will get confused because it won't have a chapter number to include in the figure caption. Thus, "Figure 0-1".

How do I keep a table from splitting across two pages?

  1. Select all the rows in the table, as well as the caption/title and any other text that needs to be kept together with the table (source citation, for example)
  2. Go to the Home tab 
  3. Open the Line Spacing tool  and select Line Spacing Options...
  4. In the dialog box that appears, click the Line and Page Breaks tab
  5. Check the boxes for Keep With Next and Keep Lines Together
    • If those checkboxes are all black or have a dash (-) in them, click them until they display a check (√)
  6. Click OK.

Now, even if you add text above that table, as soon as it gets to the point that it would normally push the caption or the last row to another page, instead it will move the whole table and caption/title to the next page.









Every Section Break (Next Page) is changing into Section Break (Continuous)!

This is a frustrating one, and turns out to be a long-standing bug in Word for Mac and Windows. But it has an easy fix.

  1. First, select all the text in your document (Ctrl- or Command-A, depending on whether your on Windows or a Mac)
  2. Then...
    • On Mac:
      • From the menubar along the very top of the screen, choose Format>Document
    • On Windows:
      • Go to the Layout tab
      • In the Page Setup category, click the More Settings arrow:


  1. In the window that appears, select the Layout tab.
  2. Set Section start: to be New Page
  3. Click OK
  4. Double-check your entire document to make sure all of your Section Breaks are now "Next Page", rather than "Continuous"


There's a blank page I can't delete!

This is almost always due to a Page Break or Section Break (Next Page) that is on the "blank" page.  

  1. Toggle on the invisible characters (the  button on the Home tab)
  2. Determine whether the Break should be there or not
    • There should be a Section Break (Next Page) at the end of each major section of your document (Abstract, List of Tables, Chapters, etc...). But sometimes there's enough text directly before the Section Break that it gets pushed down onto the next page by itself. If that's the case, then place your cursor just to the left of the Section Break and press Backspace until the Section Break gets pulled back onto the previous page.
    • If there are two or more Section Breaks, you need to delete all but the one that is supposed to be there. Selecting a Break can be a little tricky, but you can do it if you click in the page margin area just to the left of the Section Break. That will select it, and you can delete it.