Now, I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that MS Word, though obviously a vitally necessary programme (at least for those humanities students who have not upgraded to MacBooks...), has often left me banging my head on my desk in frustration. Without guidance or advice - and I don't count the online help pages as very useful guidance! - it seemed to me to be a programme that did its level best to be overly complicated and unintuitive. Do you really need that many options on the 'ribbon'?
However, as I learnt this morning, Word has some very useful features, particularly for someone (such as a PhD student) who is anticipating composing a long and complex document (such as a thesis!) These features are all bound up in the concept of 'styles', which you can select on the left-hand side of the 'home' section of the ribbon.
The thing with styles is that there is more to them than first meets the eye. They can provide a way of quickly and flashily formatting a document, but they do more than just change the physical appearance of a sentence or paragraph keyed to a certain style. If, for example, you allocate all of your chapter headings 'heading style 1', and all of your subtitles within a chapter 'heading style 2', not only do these then appear in the navigation pane (which you can pull up via the 'view' ribbon), but you can also move around huge chunks of text within that pane, and you can also use the headings to automatically create a hierarchical table of contents, which can be updated as you go along to take into account any changes in page numbering as you edit the document. Gone are the days of tearing your hair out producing a contents page manually and double- and triple-checking the page numbers!
This blog post is a great survey of how you can use styles purely from a visual formatting point of view, whilst this page talks about using the navigation pane, and this site provides a host of tips on using styles - search beyond just the page linked for more. I would very strongly recommend anyone preparing a long document in Word to read up on and try out using styles. It might seem like hassle to start with but I think it's the sort of thing that would really help in the long run. I'm certainly a convert!