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Improving the look of papers written in Microsoft Word

Word generally produces worse looking papers compared to a typesetting program like LaTeX. However, many, if not most published research papers are written in Word because of ease of use and the ability to track changes. I typically write papers in whatever format my co-authors are most familiar with, which is often Word, and have picked up some tricks to make the papers look nearly as good as LaTeX.

Text

The text in Microsoft Word lacks a number of typesetting features that LaTeX has by default. Making these fixes should put Word's typesetting on par with LaTeX's.

  1. Kerning: Kerning adjusts the whitespace between characters in the text. For example, there is a large gap between "T" and "o" when they are next to each other; enabling kerning moves the "o" closer to the "T" and lessens the gap. Word has had this feature for a while but it has to be enabled manually; select all the text in your document, go to Font → Advanced, check the Kerning for fonts checkbox, and put "1" for Points and above. One side benefit of enabling kerning is you often free up a couple of lines in your paper so you can add a few more sentences.
  2. Ligatures: Word 2010 supports ligatures for most fonts. Ligatures squeezes two characters together when appropriate. For example, "f" and "i" placed next to each other don't look right because the hood of the "f" almost touches the dot of the "i". I feel ligatures are less important than kerning but I enable them anyways; set Ligatures to Standard only in the same place where you enabled kerning.
  3. Hyphenation: Most conferences and journals require you to Justify the text which aligns the text to both margins. However, this will occasionally produce lines with a lot of spacing between words, especially in documents with 2 columns, making the text look sparse Enabling hyphenation allows Word to segment words using a hyphen, eliminating the worst cases of bad word spacing. In the Word toolbar (Ribbon), set Page Layout → Hyphenization to Automatic. If you prefer less or more hyphens, you can adjust when they kick in under Hyphenation Options.
  4. Punctuation: There are few things that make the punctuation in Word look a little nicer.
    1. When writing page numbers in your references, many people use a hyphen, e.g. 179-188. The correct symbol should be an en dash, e.g. 179–188. You can find the en dash under Insert → Symbol → Special Characters.
    2. Word automatically converts all quotes into directional (smart) quotes; this is incorrect for abbreviated years, e.g. '08 for 2008, which should use an apostrophe (a regular single quote) rather than a directional quote.
    3. Instead of putting a bunch of spaces to force line-breaks in your centered titles, use Shift+Enter instead.
    4. Check for accidental double spaces after periods; before I submit, I always search for instances of two spaces "  " and reduce them to one " ".

Citations

When using the ACM or IEEE citation format, e.g. [23] or [6,11,32], you probably don't want to re-number every citation whenever you insert a new reference. LaTeX has a nice BibTeX system for handling this automatically, but you can get similar functionality using Word's cross-references.

  1. Cross-references: To cite a reference, go to Insert → Cross-reference in the Word toolbar (Ribbon). Make sure the Reference type is "Numbered item" and Insert reference to is "Paragraph number" and find your reference. It should insert something like [23] which is linked to the actual reference. When you update your list of references, your citations are updated automatically when you select all and press F9.
  2. Multiple cross-references: Multiple citations show up as [6][11][32] by default, which is not the correct format for ACM and IEEE. To fix this, right-click on the citation number and Toggle Field Codes and add "\# 0" after the reference, e.g. "REF _Ref261299636 \r \h \* MERGEFORMAT" becomes "REF _Ref261299636 \# 0 \r \h \* MERGEFORMAT". This removes the brackets around the citation number, and you can add your own brackets and commas to make it look like [6,11,32] while maintaining the reference link.

Distilling to pdf

Making the pdf for submission is an important step since the final pdf is the only thing that will be seen and archived. The objective here is to make the smallest but best-looking pdf as possible.

  1. Unused fonts: Many Word documents accidentally use a couple of extra fonts in one or two instances, maybe from a copy+paste. You will probably not need more than 2 fonts per document (a serif like Times New Roman and sans-serif like Arial). Use this script to generate a list of fonts used in the document and if you see some unfamiliar font, find where it's being used and replace it. Not only does this cut down on the final pdf file size, but also reduces font dependencies.
  2. Images: Images often take up most of the space in a pdf file, but image quality does not have to be compromised to make the pdf smaller. Always use vector graphics when possible (.eps, .emf, .wmf), especially for charts and diagrams; vector graphics are both higher quality and take less space! Sometimes, Word renders vector graphics poorly during editing, but they come out fine in pdf. Screenshots should be .png and you can compress them down further using PNGGauntlet. .jpeg should only be used for photos. After distilling, make sure the .png images are not reduced to .jpeg, and that Word is not compressing your images, which is does by default; you can disable this under File → Options → Advanced → Image Size and Quality → Do not compress images in file.
  3. Distill: The pdf will be different depending on the program used to make it. I always compare the pdf distilled using 3 different methods and keep the nicest one: (1) Save As PDF in Word (2) Print to Adobe PDF Printer (3) Save to file in Word using any printer, then use the Ghostscript ps2pdf tool to convert it to pdf. I usually get better results by printing to an Adobe PDF Printer.

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