TLDR: This is a short tutorial to show you how to automatically turn a combination of characters – for example, .cite – into formatted text within your MS Word or other MS Office file so that you can use that as a placeholder for an idea or a citation. Essentially, it’s something that you need to return to later in your writing and editing process.

My situation

As I am writing (my literature review, as it happens), I have a clear idea of what I want to say. I also have a long list of interesting articles, documents, chapters and so on that I want to cite in my writing. However, whenever I stop to insert a citation, particularly when I am not citing a specific idea or sentence from one source, I can’t help myself from “quickly doing a bit more research”. This approach has pros and cons.

The pros

It’s wonderful! I stop writing, fall down the rabbit hole that is the internet or the library, and an hour later, I emerge with lots of new information and possibly a fantastic new selection of people to cite.

The cons

My writing flow is interrupted. Instead of quickly getting my ideas down so that I can refine them later, I spend hours getting information out of my head and into my document.

My solution

To allow myself to simply write without interruption in the form of “doing a bit more research”, I now simply add the text [CITATION NEEDED], formatted in bold and highlighted in bright blue, to my sentences as I go. Once I have put all my ideas onto paper (virtual paper, made of 1s and 0s, but I’ll call it paper nonetheless), I can then scan my text and identify where I need to add citations, and I can then go through the process of adding citations directly from Zotero OR I can treat myself to some additional research time to identify new and interesting authors. This speeds up my writing process and keeps me focused.

Manually typing out and formatting [CITATION NEEDED], however, was also taking too much time. So I automated this using the Auto Correct feature in MS Word. By using a collection of symbols and characters that aren’t “standard English”, and then pressing the spacebar or enter key, I am able to quickly insert text consistently.

Read the step by step instructions (with screenshots) or watch the video tutorial if that’s how you learn.

Step-by-step instructions (with screenshots)

Step 1:
Decide what text you want to have inserted automatically and how you want it styled, and in a new MS Word document, type out and format the text. For my example, I want the text to be [CITATION NEEDED], in bold and uppercase and highlighted in bright blue. Then SELECT the text.

How to quickly insert placeholder text into your academic writing

Step 2:
Go to File > Options.

How to quickly insert placeholder text into your academic writing

Step 3:
Go to Proofing > Autocorrect options

How to quickly insert placeholder text into your academic writing

Step 4:
You’ll see your selected, formatted text appear. Now you need to define a set of characters and symbols (that you don’t typically use in your normal writing) that you will type in your document, and that will be replaced for the lovely, formatted text – I call this the “shortcut word”. For my purposes, I keep it simple with “.cite” (I start with a full-stop because that’s not common in my writing).

How to quickly insert placeholder text into your academic writing

Step 5:
Once you’re done, click Add and Okay.

Step 6:
Back in your Word document, test your autocorrect. Type in your shortcut word, press enter or space bar…

How to quickly insert placeholder text into your academic writing

…and voila!

How to quickly insert placeholder text into your academic writing

Video walk-through

[Coming soon]

Other applications

I regularly use this to create other “shortcuts” for content that I use often. For example:

→ .vbw becomes “Very best wishes,”
→ .em becomes an em-dash (—)
→ .aso becomes “and so on”

I also use this when I am writing business or funding proposals and there are gaps in my knowledge that I need to research and fill in later.

Final tip

I always start my shortcuts with a period (full-stop) and that works for me, but if you are a coder and regularly need to write about CSS classes, that might not work so well for you, so be mindful of this when you go forth and create your own shortcuts.

Over to you

Questions? Comments? Other suggestions? Pop them in the comments area to make this useful to other folks (and me!)

Yours ever,

Suzanne Whitby

This is an archived version of a post that originally appeared on the senstoryscapes website. View it here →