7 Steps to Formatting Your School Assignment – just like THEY asked!

It’s the pain that a large number of students share: you’ve received your assignment brief from your school/institution and the content you can write… no problem. But that pesky formatting!!! What is “12-point font”? What does “double line spacing” mean? Some schools even impose penalties (deduct marks) if you don’t get this right! This guide has been put together with the aim of removing some of that pain and hassle.

Note: There are more efficient ways of doing this using page styles, however this guide is more suited to the beginner to intermediate level user.

For this tutorial I am using OpenOffice.org, version 3.3.0, but it should be similar in NeoOffice and LibreOffice (v. 3.0 + ).

The steps are:

  1. Setting page margins using page styles
  2. Set up your Cover / Title Page
  3. Insert a Table of Contents
  4. Setting and Using Paragraph Styles – Double Spacing and 12-Point Fonts
  5. Apply the Styles
  6. Write your assignment
  7. Populate your Table of Contents

Assignment Instructions

Normally you will get assignment instructions in a form something like the following. Some institutes like to highlight this very clearly. Some are embedded in the course requirements like this one:

Assignment instructions from your university may look like this

Assignment instructions from your university may look like this

1. Setting Page Margins using Page Styles

One of the easiest things to do is to set up page styles that will take care of the formatting for you.

Page Styles

The first style we will set is a page style. This is so that we can set the Page Margin.

Margins are the space outside the text area. Usually there will be a marking in Writer. It will look something like this:

First we are going to change our page style.

Select Format –> Styles and Formatting… (or Ctrl-T for Windows, CMD-T for Mac users).

Then in the pop-up box, select the page style icon (as indicated by the arrow below). We are going to modify two styles in the following steps – ‘First Page’ and ‘Default’.

Right click on ‘First Page’ and select ‘Modify…’.

Then change the margins in the Page Style box (the page tab). It should look like the following.

Set the margins to the measurements required by YOUR assignment

Click on OK.

Then you will right click on the style ‘default’ (just like you did for ‘First Page’ above). Also set the margins to the measurements required by your assignment (the above screen shot shows 1 inch, for example. You need to specify your measurements here).

If you are looking to change the margins to 2cm, and your measurements are in inches, then you need to change your units of measure before you perform the above steps.

Now double click on the ‘First Page’ style:

This will apply the style to your page.

2. Set up your Cover / Title Page

Usually on the front page of your assignment you need to include important information, like the name of your institution, your name, your student number, etc. A good idea is to include this on your cover page (title page).

You can be as creative or decorative as your school permits, however a good guide for information that you include is:

  • Your School Name
  • Your Class Name and Number
  • Your Name and Student Number
    (or all your group names and student numbers, if this is a group assignment)
  • Title of the assignment / report / research paper
  • Total number of pages
  • Due Date and Date Submitted
  • Lecturer / Teacher Name
  • Any other information your school has requested.

You will then end up with a page that looks something like this.

Bonus Tip: For those that have to include the total number of pages, you can have Writer calculate this for you automatically. Select Insert –> Fields –> Page Count and it will automatically insert the total number of pages.

3. Insert a Table of Contents

Before we get to the actual table of contents, we will need to insert a page break (go to the next page). The neatest way to do this is to select Insert –> Manual Break from the menu, and then select ‘Page Break’.

Now you will have a new page.

You then select Insert –> Indexes and Tables –> Indexes and Tables… from the top menu.

You will then see the Table of Contents box like the following. We are going to accept all the defaults on this for the time being, and so we will just click on OK.

After clicking on OK, you will then have a Heading for the Table of Contents. You won’t see any listings under the heading, because you don’t have any content yet! Writer will generate the table of contents as we go along.

Now we insert another page break. But this will be different from the previous one.

To start, select Insert –> Manual Break…

Then select as per the image below, and click on OK. Make sure the page style is set to ‘Default’.

4. Setting and Using Paragraph Styles – Double Spacing and 12-Point Fonts

Now we will address the following:

  • Double line spacing
  • 12 point font
  • Times New Roman font

These will all be set using Styles.

Select Format –> Styles and Formatting… (or Ctrl-T for Windows, CMD-T for Mac users).

Click on the paragraph styles icon. Then right click on ‘Default’.

Click on the ‘Font’ tab (1 in the image below), and then make the adjustments to match the requirements in your assignment.

In this example, I selected ‘Times New Roman’ as my font (2), and I set the font size to 12pt (3). If your assignment says Times font, 10 point, then you will change the font style to ‘Times’ and the size to 10pt.

Then click on the ‘Indents & Spacing’ tab (see image below).

From this you will select your line spacing.

So if your assignment says double-spaced, this is where you select that. This will set the spacing between the lines. It is so that the marker has space to write comments.

Click on OK.

Now right-click on ‘Heading 1’ and ‘Heading 2’ and change each of the fonts. Leave the size, unless your teacher/lecturer says that even headings must be the same size as everything else (I like my headings to be a little bigger so that they stand out).

Now when you type your assignment, you will have something that looks like this.

5. Apply the Styles

To apply the styles that you have just set, highlight the text you want to style, and then select the style from the drop-down apply styles menu in the toolbar. See the image below.

More detailed information on applying styles can be found here.

6. Write your assignment

I can’t tell you what to write, but use styles to format your assignment as in the previous step, including:

  • Heading 1 – the major sections in your assignment
  • Heading 2 – for the sub headings
  • Default – for the general text areas

This will allow you to then go to the next step and automatically create a Table of Contents.

7. Populate your Table of Contents

Remember step 3? Well it was just a heading – Table of Contents – because you hadn’t actually written anything to be indexed.

Now, go back to your Table of Contents page.

Right click on the heading – Table of Contents – and select ‘Update Index/Table’

Select 'Update Index/Table

Then you will see the updated index. Note how these relate to the headings that you have styled. If you haven’t formatted any headings from Step 5, then nothing will happen when you update.

If nothing happens when you update, go back, style your headings as in step 5, and try to update again. You can update your index after every change you make to ensure that it reflects the latest headings in your document.

So I hope this has gotten you started on your assignment formatting and moving forward you won’t lose any marks for not formatting your assignment incorrectly.

GOOD LUCK!

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