Tech tips for new materials writers

These tips may sound simple to some, but useful to others! As a new writer I reckon you’ll have to do some of the things below, so this primer could help you hit the ground running…

note: instructions for Word based on Office 365

Tips for using Word… because we are all lazy until we actually need most of the cool functions!

Applying a template to a Word document

A publisher might send you a Word template to use and you need to upload it. Google how to do this if you don’t know, but it’s fairly straightforward (for me: Developer tab – Document template – Attach… that’s it really).

Changing the author name

Sometimes a publisher, or particularly an agent outsourcing work for a publisher, will ask you to alter author names in a document. That’s actually quite easy: File – Options – Personalise your copy… and you’ll see the options there.

Styles and the navigation pane

How often do you use Styles in Word? I’m lazy, I never used to bother….

Most materials writing I’ve done has been on Word using templates. These templates range in complexity, but the basic premise is the same as the Word Styles – it’s just applying a particular format to a body of text. Give yourself a refresher on using/changing these. Press Ctrl+F to open the navigation pane in Word. This will show you how easy it is to find your way around a document that uses Styles formatting.

Why practise this? More familiarity with Word, gets you in the zone for using templates.

Reveal formatting

Let’s imagine you’re writing materials for a publisher using Word and you’re using their template. You’ve taken time to learn the ins and outs of the template (DO THIS!!!!) and you want to check that you’ve applied the correct formatting to each section of the document. Click Shift+F1 for reveal formatting, then click on ‘Distinguish style source’. Awesome, a great timesaver and essential for copy editors checking that the correct formatting has been applied.

Track changes

This is massively important. If you are not comfortable with using this then give yourself a refresher or look at online demos. If your content team are using this function (probably are) then DOUBLE CHECK IT’S ON! People I know who have self-published ebooks or teaching materials are familiar with using track changes.

 As well as the above there are other things that you might need to be familiar with – adding fonts, watermarks, etc. There’s no point in listing every Word feature but you get the gist… doing a quick refresher now will save you time in the long run.

Other stuff…

Adobe tip – because copy editing might involve this…

I’d never bothered with the full Adobe Acrobat, I just always used the Reader as it met my needs. However, Acrobat is (or seems to be) a must if you’re copy editing. A publisher might send pages of a coursebook (a spread, they seem to call it) for you to mark up – add comments, highlight necessary changes, etc. The annotations toolbar in Adobe Acrobat is fairly straightforward. Still, it’s worth mucking about with it for twenty minutes if you have it to hand, just to become familiar. For writers/copy editors I’d say Adobe Acrobat is a worthwhile investment, although it might not be totally necessary when just starting out. Monthly payment might be the way forward.

File transfers and sharing

Google Docs, Dropbox, WeTransfer, FileZilla… this type of stuff. Different organisations work in different ways, so you could come across any of these and more. It’s worth getting clued up on common tools like this if you’re not already.

Naming conventions

I’m rubbish at naming my work files – it’s not unusual for me to call a flipchart ‘flip’, or to save a lesson as ‘Week 3 lesson’ rather than refer to the content. This is useless when, down the line, I’m trying to find an activity on the present perfect to recycle in another class, and I’m looking in folders thinking ‘I must have taught it sometime around… Week 4? No, week 3? Er…’

Get into the habit of saving files using a proper naming convention. Writing teams will often do this and although it might seem fiddly to begin with it is clearly useful.


You’ll probably find that you don’t often need to source images yourself. Publishers have materials banks or subscriptions to stock photo sites, so you just need to write a brief (like I mentioned in this post). Still, you never know, you might need to provide images. Pixabay (among many others) is a good source of images that are free to use. It’s worth getting a subscription to nounproject if you need vector images.

Text writing tools

I’ll repeat the mention of Text Inspector here as it’s really useful for level-checking. I’ve mentioned basic, user friendly collocations dictionaries like Just-the-word before, which I still find handy.

Anyway, there are a few tips for those starting out. Feel free to add more!

Categories: General, materials writing

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

2 replies

  1. Another (free) cefr level checker I use is vocab
    Other than that, not much to add to this great list of tips!

    Liked by 1 person

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