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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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I wanted to write a blog post today containing a tip that I employ for structuring long pieces of academic prose. One of the main difficulties that people encounter is sticking to a structure, avoiding digression and spatialising their work. However, most word processors (MS Word and OpenOffice) include all the tools necessary to automate this process. How? The solution I use is, while writing the document, to put headings above each paragraph. Using the range of official headings (denoted here by <h1> to <h4>) within the word processor (note: I am talking about proper styles, not font sizes), a document would appear as follows: <h1>The main point</h1>
This is the master point of my argument
<h2>A sub point</h2>
A sub point
<h3>A sub-sub point</h3>
A sub point of the sub point
<h2>Another sub point</h2>
The final sub point Now, while this, clearly, isn't ready for publication, if you then go to the top of your document and insert a table of contents (OpenOffice: Insert Menu -> Indexes and Tables -> Indexes and Tables) you will get a tab indented outline of the argument in your document. It is little effort to strip these out when you are ready for final formatting but, while in progress, this provides an excellent way to keep tabs on your structure as every paragraph reveals its purpose and placement within the argument.