Why I would not do my thesis with Word 2013 (and why I might)

I have been working with Word 2013 since the public beta was made available in October 2012—more than two years now.

While I have always had my pet peeves about the Office products, I have, in many ways, also been a bit of a fan boy for products like Word and Excel. Even with Word 2007, which many people deplored, and about which I had my own complaints, I was still quite able to see improvements which made the upgrade worthwhile. However, even after two years of use, I find myself particularly unimpressed with Word 2013. In fact, most of Office 2013 has left me rather unimpressed, if not downright disappointed. A prime example is the dumbed-down Presenter view in PowerPoint 2013—which Microsoft touted as a big improvement, but which is, in comparison to what PowerPoint 2010 offers, so pathetic that I refuse to do live presentation with PowerPoint 2013 if I can help it. Excel 2013 is the only program where, along with the regressions (like the dumbed-down sheet tab controls that I detest, and the dumbed-down charting tools that I find actually hinder the quick creation of charts), there are also noticeable improvements that matter to me. I suppose that’s an important point to make, because, of course, Microsoft has made many “improvements” to all their products in the 2013 iteration, it’s just that most of them are the kind that I could happily live without, and the things that are important to me, I find frustration.

In fact, if I stop to think about what it is I find so distasteful about Office 2013, it is that I feel it is a definite dumbing-down of the product. Some things are superficial and cosmetic (even after two years, I prefer the Office 2010 ribbon—which is, itself, a toned-down version of the too-loud Office 2007 ribbon—to the bland, dead Office 2013 ribbon). Or the new UI messages which are just too informal, even for me (actually, it’s not the informal that bothers me, but that fact that they have, at the same time, become uninformative). Other things are more serious, like the removal of tools that I actually use (see autocorrect below).


But before I make this one long gripefest, let me highlight some of the positives in Word 2013. You can see this article to see what’s new in Word 2013, most of my comments here relate to the new features.

Microsoft has made some significant changes to reviewing. While you will see below that some of them are negative, one positive is that reviewers can now comment on each other’s comments. The process is quite smooth, and, if a student and multiple promoters are all into electronic reviewing, a real time saver. Promoters can see what other promoters have said, and can weigh in themselves. Of course, we will all debate like adults, won’t we! J

Word 2013 now also offers the option to embed videos into a Word document. While PowerPoint has been able to do that for a very long time, it has always seemed a bit pointless in Word, but that has changed with the rise of eBooks and the rising popularity of multimedia content in eBooks. So while you still can’t print out a video on paper, put it into an eBook, and it could work. So there, Word is keeping with the times, and this an important addition.

Furthermore, Word 2013 now also has the image guides which were added in PowerPoint 2010, but not the rest of the 2010 Office suite. This also makes working with images much easier, and is a welcome addition, although it should have been available in Word 2010 already—I sometimes get the impression that the Office team doesn’t get time to complete all the planned work before the scheduled release date, and so we have one feature being progressively made available throughout the suite across several releases.

The integration of OneDrive giving you cloud storage of your documents is also a boon, but I must add that one does need to use the cloud “carefully.” If your account gets hacked, and your files get deleted, and those are the only copies around, you might be in for some trouble.

The layout of the Office 2013 applications are supposedly to also make them easier to use on small devices like tablets, but I find that a bit of a non-argument, as I really can’t see why I would want to do my thesis on a small device like that in the first place. Maybe for some extra work at the airport or on the road, yes, but for the data-to-day work needed to complete something big like that? No way!


The Resume reading feature is a waste, since Shift+F5 has worked in every version of Word except Word 2007, and in any case the little message often disappears before you can click on it—what good is it then?

While I like the ability to comment on comments, the change to “simple “reviewing is a downright pain. Again, Microsoft dumbs things down, which may make them more unobtrusive, but also make them less efficient.

Microsoft removed AutoCorrect. I’m not alone in missing it. They say people never used it, which just means that they never survey people like me, who do use it. Fortunately, Greg Maxey shows how to fix this.

Microsoft also made important changes to the way their citation tools work which render even advice Microsoft posted about how to customise the tools invalid. I discuss some of these changes here. What really irks me is that they did not announce these changes in any way that I could find—they just made them. That is not the way to win or keep the confidence of your users.

Did I mention how much I detest the flat, uninspiring interface of Office 2013?

One of the things I really hate is the vanishing scroll bars. Type in Word, and the scroll bars disappear. Move the mouse and they momentarily reappear. I suspect this also has to do with getting Word ready for smaller screens, but for goodness sake, I have a big screen, and I am proficient enough to type for an extended period of time without have to resort to the mouse. I have grown accustomed to glancing at the scroll bar, as it provides important visual feedback as to where I am in a document (I read a lot of other people’s documents, so I need this information very frequently), and I still get irritated when I look in its direction to get that information, and it’s not there!

I have also found Word 2013 to be significantly slower than Word 2010. This is in all areas, from running macros (I have documented tests for running the same macro in both versions, showing Word 2013 to be up to 40% slower), to loading documents, saving documents, and even just the time it takes to open. I have Word 2010 and 2013 installed on my current system, so it has nothing to do with the system. The degraded performance is noticeable.

With Office 2013, Microsoft have gone all out for online help. That already irritates me, because getting online help is necessarily slower than getting installed help. When you click on Help in Office 2013, you don’t get a help browser that open—no, you get your web browser opening to go to Microsoft’s site. That takes a few seconds at best, and each time a web page loads, more time is lost. Thankfully, you can still set the Application help to Offline help, but the help from the VB Editor goes straight to the browser. And that’s the help I use the most. But it’s not just that that frustrates me. Microsoft has changed the very nature of their help content. The impression that I get is that, I would assume to save costs, they seem to have fired all their help-writing staff, and now all you get in your web browser is a search of various Microsoft sites and the rest of the Internet on your help topic. If I had wanted to go to a search engine to see what the rest of the world has to say on a topic, I would have done that. When I click on help, I expect to find the documentation provided by the people who made the program on how their program works. It seems harder to get that now than ever before.

One last thing (I think). I simply deplore the new dumbed-down spell checking pane which has replaced the old spelling and grammar dialog. Not only is it not now possible to ignore grammar rules, you can now also not edit the misspelled item in the dialog (e.g., if none of the suggested items matches what you actually intended to type–yes, I do type that badly!), but have to jump to the text to change it, and then resume spell checking. These are small changes, but I find that spelling & grammar checking now take much longer than they used to (i.e., a decrease in productivity). Oh, and to make matters worse, despite the buttons in the pane being marked with accelerators, they do not respond to the keyboard, so you have to manage the process with the mouse now, which is even slower! And it’s not just in the pane that the dumbed-down spell checking annoys me. I have already mentioned the missing auto-correct, but the long history of red, and green underlining for spelling and grammar errors, respectively, with blue added for contextual errors since Word 2007, has been changed. Now, in Word 2013, we have red for spelling errors, and blue for grammar and contextual errors. I realise that the choice of red, blue, and green may have been unfortunate for those who are colour blind, but why not include options in the interface to change those colours? Now, however, Word 2013 is giving me less information than Word 2007 and Word 2010 in terms of inline spell checking. And I find that annoying.


In short, if you asked me for advice, then unless you were a hardcore going-paperless-all-the-way student (who has promoters who can actually play along) or a cutting-edge creative arts student, where your thesis will incorporate video, I would tell you to stick with Word 2010 for your thesis.

I am still rooting for Microsoft, and I am hoping that Office 2016 will be to Office 2013 what Office 2010 was to Office 2007—the way it was meant to be.


Harvard SA update for Word 2013

As you can imagine, it’s been a while since I’ve used the Word referencing system (having switched totally to Mendeley, as my book on the topic attests).

So it was a bit of a surprise when a student came to me and said that my Harvard SA style for Word is not working in Word 2013. It took a bit of head scratching, and then some internet searching, to get a solution. As usual, it was Yves Dhondt of BibWord who had already come to the rescue.


I have made the change he recommends, and it now works in Word 2013.

It still took a little more trying, after making his recommended modification, to find that I needed now to add the HarvardSA.XSL file to


and not (on my system):

c:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\Office 2013\Office15\Bibliography\Style\

In short, I recommend doing a complete file search for Chicago.xsl, and copying your extra style files to each place where you find that file from Microsoft.

The updated file can be downloaded from my example files page:
http://insight.trueinsight.za.com/word/dissertation/examples (or directly from here). Unzip it, and copy it to the aforementioned folders.

The new file works on Word 2007, Word 2010, and Word 2013 (tested on my system), so there’s no need for separate versions.

I must say that I am a bit disappointed (understatement!) in all this. Think about it. Microsoft creates a new tool (in Word 2007). They even encourage us to customise it for our own use:



Then they go and change the way the tool works, so that the customisations they encouraged us to make are rendered inactive. But they don’t post any notice about these changes, not in their online documentation (such as this page or this page or this page), not in their blogs, nowhere. This is not the kind of thing I expect form a company that charges you serious money for their product (I confess that I still feel it’s worth the money, but then they need to give the support the product’s price demands).

Ah well, ranting like that doesn’t help. But at least you can still do your thesis referencing, even if you are using Word 2013! Thanks Yves, you’re a hero!


Using BibWord for extended referencing capabilities in Word

What options does a postgraduate student who wants to automate their referencing have? Should they buy an “expensive” RMS program? Should they consider an open source alternative? Or can Word’s citation tool  still make the grade for a thesis or dissertation despite it’s shortcomings?

Enter BibWord. BibWord was developed by Yves Dhondt of MIT in an attempt to overcome some of these limitations to the Word Citations & Bibliography tool. It is downloadable freely from the website (http://bibword.codeplex.com).

Essentially, BibWord allows you to “hotwire” Word’s citation styles and add styles of your own. The tool basically consists of two parts: Firstly, the “end user” tools are for students who just want to use the tools, you will find some extra styles which Yves created on the site. These can be copied to the Bibliography Styles folder on your PC  Also, there is the BibWord Extender which allows for the creation of numerically ordered in-text citations (e.g., when referencing according to the Vancouver referencing style). Secondly, there are the “developer” tools, the BibWord template and the BibType tool, for more advanced users, who wish to develop their own styles. I have, for example, used the BibWord template to develop a (relatively complete) South African Harvard style for Word.

If you want to use the developer set of tools, details can be found on the BibWord site. I will briefly show how to use the BibWord end user tools here.

The first thing to do is to copy the BibWord styles to the Style folder of your Word installation (typically, for Word 2010,
C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office14\Bibliography\Style, and not
C:\Users\UserName\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Bibliography\Style)—you may need administrator access to do this. The figure below shows this folder on my PC (Windows 7, Office 2010, 32-bit), before the BibWord styles were added (i.e., these are the styles provided by Microsoft with Word 2010 SP1 or Word 2007 SP3).


Word Citation Styles folder

The styles that are available from the BibWord web page (as at September 2012) are listed in the table below. One more style—HarvardSA.XSL—which I created using the BibWord template, can be downloaded from the examples page.

Referencing Styles Available via BibWord

Style File names
Associação Brasileira de Normas Técnicas (ABNT) ABNT_Author.XSL
Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) ACMCitSeq.XSL
American Medical Society (ACS) ACSCitSeq.xsl
American Medical Association (AMA) AMA.XSL
American Sociological Association (ASA) ASA.XSL
Chicago Footnotes (beta – not in zip) CMSFootnote.XSL
Council of Science Editors (CSE) CSECitSeq.XSL
Harvard – AGPS HarvardAGPS.XSL
Harvard – Anglia HarvardAnglia.XSL
Harvard – Exeter HarvardExeter.XSL
Harvard – Leeds HarvardLeeds.XSL
Humana Press Humana.XSL
IEEE IEEE_Alphabetical.XSL
Lecture Notes in Computer Science (LNCS) LNCS.XSL
Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA) MHRAFootnote.XSL
Nature Nature.XSL
Vancouver Vancouver.XSL

Once these styles have been copied to the Style folder, they will appear in the Style list of the Citations & Bibliography group of the References ribbon, and can be used as described before.


Citation Style list showing extra BibWord styles

Note, though, that if the document is opened on another computer which does not have the styles loaded, the Style will display as Unknown, and any attempt to work with the citations or bibliography will result in Word changing the style to the default style for that computer.

BibWord style not found on computer

A last lifeline from Yves is the BibWord Extender, which overcomes two problems with Word’s own referencing system. Firstly, if multiple references are used from the same author(s) in the same year, the convention is to add a date suffix (e.g., 2012a, 2012b, etc.). Word cannot do this. Secondly, while Word can number references in the order they occur in the text (when using numerical referencing styles, of course), Word cannot order the bibliography alphabetically and then assign the numbers in the text accordingly. The BibWord Extender allows both of these possibilities, and it should be noted that the BibWord styles which are suffixed with an asterisk are styles which will benefit from the use of the Extender. Unfortunately, because of the way Word creates citations, making any changes to the references (e.g., adding new sources), may invalidate what has been done by the Extender, requiring it to be rerun. Thus, it is best to use it only when the document has been finalised, and no more changes to the sources will be made. Simply start the tool (it may as for confirmation or an indication of where the bibliography styles are located on your computer), then use the file browser button to load the file to the Word Document text box, and select Extend. Once it has completed, re-open Word, and re-select the same referencing style to force an update of the citation and bibliography fields.

BibWord Extender

A nice touch of this tool, which I recommend you use, is that it first creates a backup of the Word document. The backup is indicated with an “_orig” suffix before the file extension.


So can a thesis be done with this tool? In short, yes. I remain very disappointed by a generally substandard offering from Microsoft, but if you look at the thesis.docx file on the examples page, you will see an example of a thesis that used this for its referencing, and was submitted and accepted. If you’re planning a serious, long-term academic career, then I would say: Don’t waste your time. If you have to do a thesis or even a dissertation so that you can complete your degree and then venture out into the big wide world, then this tool will do the job for you with the minimum of fuss. Just don’t try to add hundreds of references–you will find it becoming unwieldy as you try to manage your references. I suspect that one or two hundred references will be fine, but the more you add, the worse it’s lack of serious sorting, searching and grouping tools will count against it.


Struggling to view those folders mentioned above to which you need top copy the files? Then read this post: Getting proper access to all the files on your PC