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Using a worked example of a Technical Report, this article illustrates how styles and our templates can save you time.

Good Scientists and Engineers are busy people and one of our more tedious tasks is writing reports. We are often frustrated at Words ability to hinder, rather than help the process. Templates won’t make reporting writing fun, but they can make it less frustrating. This worked example illustrates many of the features in our templates to simplify technical report writing.

Getting Started

Templates make it easier to create professional documents

Begin by creating a new document based on the Technical Report Template (how?). It comes with a nicely formatted title page setup to receive key information about the report. Even if it doesn’t quite match your preferred format, the basic structure is there. Many people create new reports by reusing old reports; simply deleting unwanted text. This can quickly lead to corrupt documents and the frustrations mentioned earlier. We’ll return to populating the title page later.

Let’s move straight into the content, which starts on page 2. The introduction heading is already there. Add the first few paragraphs of the introduction. Notice the text is formatted automatically:

  • The first line of the first paragraph following the heading is flush with the left margin; subsequent paragraphs are slightly indented
  • Slightly larger line spacing improves readability
  • A serif font adds authority.

In short, emulating the design of famous publishers such as Mc Graw Hill and Wesley creates a professional first impression.

Figures, Captions and Cross Referencing

Technical reports often require cross referenced illustrations and graphs. Here’s the easy way to deal with them.


  • Turn off floating pictures or use Template→Unfloat Picture to move pictures inline with your text.
  • Ctrl + H, P to apply the Picture style.
  • Ctrl + H, T/ T to insert a figure/ table caption, or choose Insert→Figure/Table Caption from the Template menu.
  • Ctrl + H, T/ T to insert an automatic figure/ table cross-reference, or choose Insert→Cross Reference from the Template menu.

Sink Floating Pictures

Often pasting an graph into Word leaves it floating over the text. Text and image move around independantly and inexplictly. This has never been what I wanted and it stops captions and cross-referencing from working properly.

To stop pictures and graphs floating over the text choose Unfloat Picture from the Template menu. In Word 2003, you can turn off floating pasted pictures permanently.

Apply Picture Formatting

Select Picture from the style selector to automatically format a picture

Reports look nicer if pictures are centered on the page, with a little extra space before them and captions that stay connected to their figures. This is easily accomplished with a single Picture style in our templates. To apply it, simply choose Picture from the style selector (shortcut: Ctrl + H, P.

Note: body text uses fixed line spacing so pictures will get clipped if formatted with a body text style. Simply apply the picture style to fix this.


In technical documents, figures require captions. Using Word’s built-in captions (select Caption from the Insert menu) greatly simplifies cross references (see below). Not only are they numbered automatically, but the numbering updates if you reorder the figures in your document. Numbering updates whenever you print the document (provided update fields before printing is turned on). You can choose Update all fields from our Template menu to achieve the same thing. There is a small glitch, however: you need to apply the Caption style from the style selector to format the caption correctly.

For a faster caption: add a new paragraph after the picture then use the shortcut Ctrl + J, F to insert a figure caption or Ctrl + J, T for a table caption. See a list of all Microsoft Word template shortcuts.

See automatic equation numbering below.

Cross Referencing

In technical documents, all figures are should be referenced in the text, for example “Figure 1 shows our experimental setup”. If you type the figure number manually, you’ll waste lots of time updating the text as figures are added, removed or reordered. Use the built-in cross-referencing tools, and figure references will update automatically.

To insert a cross-reference, choose Reference→Cross reference from the Insert menu. For a faster cross-reference, use one of our shortcuts:

  • Ctrl + R, F to cross-reference a figure
  • Ctrl + R, T to cross-reference a table
  • Ctrl + R, E to cross-reference an equation (see equations below)

Note: sometimes you must tell Word to update figure numbers when you rearrange figures (it usually does it just before printing): choose Update all fields from our Template menu.

Bullets and Numbering

Our template’s List Toolbar helps avoid the problems (such as miss-numbering) that occur with the list buttons on Word’s formatting tool-bar.


  • Use the BLS List toolbar to format lists
  • Never use the bullet or numbering buttons on Word’s formatting tool-bar
  • Never use Word’s Bullets and Numbering dialog (found on the Format menu)

Robust Lists using the Toolbar

The BLS List toolbar simplifies reliable list formatting by applying styles instead of direct formatting.

Creating reliable numbered paragraphs from scratch is tricky. We created a new tool-bar (right) to make it easy by apply styles instead of direct formatting.

To toggle numbered or bullet formatting, simply click the numbered or bullet list button on the BLS Lists toolbar (right). You can change the level of the list with the indent or out-dent buttons. Caution: If you indent or out-dent the list level using the tab key, the correct style will not be applied. Use the toolbar instead. See setting up Word to avoid this problem.

Restart Numbering for a New List

When you start a second list, you will find it continues numbering where the previous one finished. To restart numbering from 1 again, click the Reset List Numbering button. This is a toggle. If you find numbering starts at one part way through the list, use the Reset List Numbering button to continue the previous sequence. The cursor can be any where in the numbered paragraph when you use this button.

Lists inside Lists

Reliable, advanced list formats are possible using templates.

More complicated lists are possible too. The example (right) shows a main list with each item followed by a paragraph and a sub-list under the last item. This was created by starting with List Number styled paragraphs (Apply Numbered Style on the BLS Lists toolbar). Toggle Continuation Style was used to setup the sub-paragraphs under each numbered item then the last three items were indented two levels:


Word has all the tools to create and cross reference equations but they are not well exposed in the user-interface. First we will describe inserting, numbering and cross-referencing equations using the tools added by our Core Library template, then the standard Word approach will be described for those who prefer not to use the template. The goal is a nicely formatted and cross-referenced equation like so:

Formatted equation from Microsoft Word

Core Library Tools Approach

Remember, you need our Core Library template installed and loaded to use this approach.

Insert the Equation. Choose Insert → Equation from the Template menu. Or click the Image:EqnButton.png button on the BLS Standard toolbar. A standard Microsoft Equation object will be inserted ready for you to create the equation.

Format the Equation. Two styles are available for formatting equations in our templates: Equation (shortcut: Ctrl + H, E and Equation wide. The first uses a left align tab-stop to locate the equation while the second uses a center align tab-stop. Both include a right-align tab-stop, aligned with the right margin, for the equation number. So to align the equation is nicely, add one tab before the equation and one after.

Insert an Equation Number. Select Insert → Equation Number (Ctrl + J, E) from the Template menu to add the equation number. A standard Word numbering field is inserted that will update if you rearrange your equations.

Cross Reference the Equation. Choose Insert → Equation Reference (Ctrl + R, E) from the Template menu. You’ll be prompted for the equation number to reference. If the inserted reference isn’t what you expected, you may need to update the field-codes in the document so equation numbering is up-to-date (Template→Update all Fields).

Standard Word Approach

You can use this approach if you prefer not to use our templates.

Choose Object… from Word’s Insert and select Microsoft Equation 3.0 to insert an Equation.

Inserting the Equation. Select Object from Word’s Insert menu. Choose Microsoft Equation 3.0 from the Object type list and make sure [ ] Display as icon is not checked before clicking OK. An object will be inserted where you can build the equation. Notice new toolbars and menus will appear with symbols commonly used in equations. Once you’re done with the equation, click anywhere outside the equation area to return to the Word document. You can edit the equation by double clicking it.

Choose Caption from the Insert select Equation and [ ] Exclude label from caption to insert an equation number.
Numbering the Equation. Choose Caption from Word’s Insert menu to open the caption dialog. Select Equation in the Label drop-down and be sure to tick [x] Exclude label from caption. After clicking OK, add the parenthesis manually. After applying an appropriate style, add tabs to layout the equation.

Cross-referencing. Word’s cross-reference command does not work well for equations. You usually end up with unwanted parenthesis or even a copy of the equation itself in the cross-reference. Instead, first select the equation number to cross reference. Be sure to only select the number and not the surrounding parenthesis. With the number selected choose Bookmark from Word’s Insert menu to open the bookmark dialog. Even though it is in the Insert menu, we are actually going to define the bookmark. Give the equation a name then click the Add button. Most anything will do for a name, though spaces are not allowed.

Select Bookmark… from Word’s Insert to assign a name to an equation number so it can be cross-referenced.

With the bookmark defined for the equation number, choose Reference→Cross-reference from the Insert menu. Choose Bookmark as the reference type, Bookmark text as the reference to insert and choose the bookmark you defined above. Click Insert to insert the cross-reference in your document. You can reference the same bookmark as many times within the document. You don’t need to define a separate bookmark for each cross-reference.

If all has gone well, you’ll have a numbered and cross referenced equation. However, this many step process quickly becomes cumbersome if your document contains several equations. Hence the extensions, described above, we have created in our Core Library template.