The lazy user’s guide to Writer

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All hail the lazy, for they will find the most efficient way to work a computer in general, and a word processor in particular. In this article, I’ll look at three lazy writer’s tricks that can relieve you of most of the drudgery involved in creating a fairly large document in Writer (henceforth, OOo Writer or simply Writer).

Make the computer do most of the work

A word processor such as Writer is “bloated" for a reason—it has features that save you a whole lot of work. Of course, masochists or uber-workaholics might hate these features, but the lazy user can’t imagine life without them.

These are the three things I’ll show you how to do:

  • create a title page,
  • create a table of contents,
  • and change the page numbering styles

...the lazy way, of course.

Creating a title page

I’ll create a title page where the title lands in the middle of the page. This title page might also include author information—either just below the main title, or right at the bottom of the page.

Start with a blank page. If you’re adding a title page to an existing document, you’ll have to insert a new page before the first one. If you were workaholic or masochist, you would then type in the title, set its character and paragraph attributes, then hit the Enter key until it “looks" centered.

Masochists or uber-workaholics might hate these features, but the lazy user can’t imagine life without them

But you’re lazy and more sensible. So, you draw a text box anywhere on your blank page—its size doesn’t matter, because you can always adjust it later to fit your title. Use InsertFrame to do this, type your title into the text frame, then resize as necessary.

Once you’re happy with your title, you’re ready to center it on the page. Right click on the text frame, select Frame, then choose Center from the Horizontal drop-down list, then Entire page from the to drop-down list. Also choose Center from the Vertical drop-down list, and Entire page from its corresponding to drop-down list (as shown in figure 1).

Figure 1: Centering the titleFigure 1: Centering the title

This should give you some idea of how to place an author frame at the bottom right of the page, which I will leave as an exercise for the reader.

Creating a table of contents

Once your document is long enough—say, upwards of 10 pages—it may be time for a table of contents to help your reader out. You can create a table of contents from an outline of your document, or from paragraph styles that you select—e.g., Heading or Heading 1. With Writer and, I suspect, MS Word and other modern word processors, you can create hyperlinks to your outline. So, when a reader clicks on a section heading in the table of contents, the program will move the cursor to that heading. For instance, if you click on the text “Planning the Migration" in figure 2 (take note that it’s got a blue underline), Writer will move to Chapter 5—which just “happens" to be titled “Planning the Migration".

Figure 2: A sample table of contentsFigure 2: A sample table of contents

While I’m on the subject of outlines, you’ll notice that the sections and subsections are numbered. Again, I told Writer to put those numbers in. The cool thing about it is that if I insert a level-one outline item (say, between “Degrees of migration" and “Planning the migration"), the latter will be renumbered 5, and its sections 5.x and 5.x.y. Even cooler is that it’s not that hard to create a numbered outline—ToolsOutline Numbering did it. That’s just a bit of setup upfront to save tons of manual work.

To create the table of contents, first move the mouse cursor to the start of the document, then InsertIndexes and Tables, then click on Indexes and Tables. Below the Create from pane, check the Outline box, then click on the ellipsis (...). The Outline Numbering dialog box should come up (figure 3). Select 1-10 and click OK. If you want to create hyperlinks, click over to the Entries tab, click on the empty box to the left of the E and click on Hyperlink, then click on the empty box after the E and click on Hyperlink again. Click OK to create the table of contents.

Figure 3: Setting up the table of contentsFigure 3: Setting up the table of contents

The computer can do so much for us if we only let it

I should mention that Writer doesn’t automatically update the entries in the table of contents. If you inserted a new section between 5 and 6, for instance, or typed in enough text in section 5 to cause a page renumbering, the table of contents wouldn’t reflect the changes. Not to worry, Writer will do it for you, you just have to ask nicely—just right-click anywhere within the table of contents, then click Update index/table.

Changing page numbering style

A long document’s preface or foreword will come after the Table of Contents and its pages numbered with lower-case Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, ...). After that comes the main body of the document, numbered with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, ...). Here’s how to do it.

First, insert a new page. Use InsertManual Break (as shown in figure 4), then Page Break, and be sure to change the Style to Default. You can’t use the Ctrl-Enter keyboard shortcut because if you do, you’re stuck with the No Style option. Also set the page number to 1.

We should learn more about what our software can do for us so we can apply our hard work to things that really matter

Figure 4: Inserting a manual page breakFigure 4: Inserting a manual page break

Next, format the page so that page numbers are lower-case Roman numerals: select the Page tab and select i, ii, ... from the Format drop-down list (as shown in figure 5). Also make sure that either your Header or Footer is on (depending on where your page numbers should be) by clicking on the appropriate tab and checking the relevant box. Type in your preface.

Figure 5: Setting the preface page numbersFigure 5: Setting the preface page numbers

When you’re done with the preface, it’s time to go back to Arabic numeral page numbering: force another page break with InsertManual Break, then Page Break, and be sure to change the Style to Default, and the page number to 1. Also set the page number format to 1, 2, 3, ....


The computer can do so much for us if we only let it. I believe we work too hard at times, taking 20th or even 19th century habits into the 21st. We should learn more about what our software can do for us so we can apply our hard work to things that really matter.



Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I really mis the printer-friendly page option. :-( pdf may be dead according to fsm, printing and filing paper for reference certainly isn't. Can we expect such a 'feature' in the near future?

admin's picture
Submitted by admin on


Yes, we are working on it right now!


HXC's picture
Submitted by HXC on

Thanks you so much for adding this feature so fast! (Yes I was the "anonymous coward" who posted the request above). Thanks again and keep up the good work!

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on


Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Ok...I have scanned this software ...I'm going crazy,,,so how do i delete pages that I don't want to print..ahhhh

Can't find delete anywhere...can you?


Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

It's great to write a guide for the lazy as long as the person writing it isn't too lazy to verify the content.

Page styles must be different for the page numbering styles to be different. If you use the same page style for the preface as the main body of the document, the page numbering style of the preface will change when you change the page numbering style for the main body of the document.

Also, if the title page, preface, and main body of the document all have the same page style, a footer inserted/changed at any point will be reflected everywhere.

If someone follows the directions in this article within the same document. They will end up with a title page that has a centered title (correctly done, but not the easiest/laziest way because the size can be set automatically as well), and a footer with a page #1, a table of contents that is most likely empty since a lot of people don't know how to change a paragraph to "Heading 1" style, the preface will start with a page #1 (not i), and a main body starting with a page #1. Of course, the instructions don't include how to insert the page number field in the footer (or header for that matter). So, it might not be obvious that the page numbers are there at all or what format they're in. Also, even if the table of contents weren't empty, there aren't any instructions on how to get hyperlinks to the contents, and even though I have become accustomed to using this feature, it's not very intuitive.

To avoid having a footer (with a page number) on the title page, it should be set to a distinct page style (i.e. "First Page" or a new page style). In order to have two different numbering styles the preface should also use a distinct style (probably easiest to create one called "preface" or whatever seems good). And, if you want each chapter to start on a new page, the easiest way to accomplish that is to format the "Heading 1" paragraph style to insert a new page before the paragraph (text flow tab).

I am a big fan of using the built-in features of OOo, and I have often tried to convince others that formatting a document is far easier when using OOo correctly. Unfortunately, the biggest reason that I have seen people do things the hard way is because being "lazy" requires people to stop treating a computer like a glorified typewriter. Even though people are accustomed to inserting graphics, they just don't want to learn how a word processor is actually designed to be used (which would allow them to really be lazy).

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

In tagging documents for presentation on a web page, need to start by searching for double para breaks and replacing them with one. In Word, one can search for ^p^p and replace with ^p. Have found that I CAN find double spaces and replace them with singles. Any suggestions?

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I never use word so I am uncertain if this answers your problem, but try to find empty paragraphs by using ^$ in the find field, leave the replace field blank and check "Regular expressions" under "More options"

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Have you written any articles on the subject of adapting pre-existing multiple files to OpenOffice master/sub documents? I've got nine separate files that make up one manuscript--I've struggled with pagination and numbering the Table of Contents. My husband has been helping me, but I want to learn how to make the document myself. If you haven't written anything addressing this subject, can you please recommend where I can locate comprehensible instructions to guide me through this task of changing my current files to master/sub docs? Many thanks!

Teresa Morales, Ph.D.
Art Education

Daniel Escasa's picture

Hello. Just in case you haven't visited my blog and seen my reply, here's a link to an article that might be helpful:,289483,sid39_gci1230368,00.html

Daniel O. Escasa
IT consultant and writer for hire
contributor, Free Software Magazine (
personal blog at

wim's picture

Just wanna say thanks. this is wonderfull. I read it from Yogyakarta, Indonesia. have you ever visit this city .....

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Daniel Escasa's picture


Technologist. Writer and Editor. Shakespearean actor.