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Top 12 Word Tips

by Walter Glenn

Word is a fairly complex program and this often means you have to drill down several levels into its menus to get to the command you need. Add to that the fact that Word uses adaptive menus by default and what you end up with is a lot of extra clicking. Many of the tips I've presented here are aimed at helping you get to important commands quicker and make it easier to do common tasks, like formatting paragraphs and fonts. I've also thrown in a few tips on interesting features Word users may not know about, such as hidden text.

  1. Turn Off Adaptive Menus. By default, Word 2000 uses adaptive menus that display only certain basic commands (as decided by Microsoft) and your most frequently used commands. After a pause of about two seconds or by pressing the double-caret (>>) at the bottom of the menu, Word expands the menu to show its full complement of commands.

    Many people find this feature frustrating. I am one of them. As someone who is already familiar with the Word interface, I like to see all of my menu commands immediately. This convenience aside, there are two other reasons why I think adaptive menus are less than helpful. First, new users of software often rely on menu commands to get the lay of the land. Scanning through a program's menus is a great way to figure out the capabilities of the program and also to understand some of the logic of the interface design. Second, users who are familiarizing themselves with a program need to know that a command they found on the Edit menu a few days ago is still going to be there. Not seeing a certain command immediately is frustrating.

    Fortunately, you can easily turn adaptive menus off. Use the Tools->Customize command and switch to the Options tab on the dialog that opens (see Figure 1). Turn off the option that reads "Menus show recently used command first." Word will then show the entire menu every time you open it.

    Figure 1
    Figure 1

  2. Drag Text With Your Right Mouse Button. Dragging selected text with your left mouse button moves that text to the place you drop it and deletes it from its original location. This is basically the same as using the Edit->Cut command to remove text, and the Edit->Paste command to paste text into a new location. Dragging text with your right mouse button instead provides some additional capability. When you drop the text (by releasing the button), a context menu appears displaying these commands:

    Figure 2
    Figure 2

    Choose Move Here to move the text in the same way that dragging with the left mouse button moves text. Choose Copy Here to paste the text into the new location without removing it from the original location. Choose Link Here to paste the selected text into the new location as a link. The text remains in the original location. Any time you edit the text in the original location, those changes are reflected in the new location. The Create Hyperlink Here command also appears for certain types of items you drag. Choose it to create a link that, when clicked, jumps to the original location.

  3. Don't Use Tabs to Indent. Many people use tabs at the beginning of a paragraph as a first-line indent. I don't recommend this. Not only will you have to press Tab at the beginning of every paragraph to indent, you will have to delete the tabs manually if you combine consecutive paragraphs. Instead, use Word's first-line indent feature: Format->Paragraph->Indents and Spacing.

  4. Use Context Menus. If you've been reading Word's Help documents, you know that the official name for the pop-up menu that appears when you right-click on something is a Shortcut Menu. I prefer to call them context menus, for two reasons. First, it helps distinguish them from other types of shortcuts in Word and Windows. Second, it better describes their use, which is to provide quick access to commands based on context.

    You can right-click just about any item (text, interface element, etc.) in Word and a context menu presents most of the commands applicable to that object. For example, right-clicking a text selection gives you quick access to the commands for cutting, copying, and pasting the text, as well as changing character and paragraph formatting and creating a hyperlink. Context menus are one of the most timesaving features available in Word.

    What's more, every context menu in Word can be exposed and customized using Word's Tools->Customize command. This means you can add commands where you need them most.

  5. Use Styles. Styles are a formidable weapon in Word's formatting arsenal. A style is a collection of formats saved under a name. Applying a style to a selection applies all the formats defined by that style in one stroke. Styles come in two flavors: paragraph styles (which apply paragraph formats) and character styles (which apply character, or font formatting). Word comes with a number of built-in styles and they are easy to access via the Style drop-down list on the Formatting toolbar. It is also easy to modify these built-in styles or create your own using Word's Format->Style command.

    If you're already familiar with styles, here's a bonus tip for you. Go to Word's Tools->Options command and switch to the View tab on the dialog that opens. At the bottom, find an option named Style Area Width. (It has a spin box beneath it.) By default, the width is set to zero, which disables the option. Figure 3 shows a document with its style area set to one inch.

    Figure 3
    Figure 3

    As you can see, all the paragraph styles are identified in this area--a handy way to keep tabs on the styles used in your document.

  6. Turn on Hidden Formatting Characters. Most of the formatting that takes place in Word is embedded in special characters. For example, a space is actually a character--it just isn't displayed by default. Go to Word's Tools->Options command and switch to the View tab on the dialog that opens. The Formatting Marks section lists several formatting marks that are hidden from view by default. However, you can turn these on by selecting the options. Figure 4 shows an example of formatting marks displayed in a portion of a document.

    Figure 4
    Figure 4

    As you can see, turning on these marks gives you a whole new way of understanding what's going on in a document's formatting.

  7. Turn on Word's Hidden Work Menu. Word provides a built-in menu named Work that is not displayed by default. Turn it on using Tools->Customize->Commands->Built-In Menus, and drag the Work command to the Word Menu bar. Once this menu is activated, you can add any open document to the Work menu by choosing Work->Add To Work Menu. Any number of documents can be added to the Work menu and, once added, a document can be opened by simply selecting it.

  8. Use Ctrl+Spacebar to Remove Manual Formatting. Whenever you type text in Word, that text is formatted according to whatever paragraph style is in effect. If you then apply specific character formatting to text in a paragraph, that character formatting overlays the paragraph formatting. You can quickly remove all manual character formatting by selecting a range of characters and pressing Ctrl+Spacebar. This causes the characters to revert to the character formatting defined in the paragraph style.

    You can also remove manual paragraph formatting from a paragraph by selecting the whole paragraph, including the paragraph mark, and pressing CTRL+Q.

  9. Customize Your Places Bar. The Places Bar is a handy feature of the Open and Save As dialog boxes, which allows you to quickly jump to various places on your system. Unfortunately, Microsoft (displaying its usual logic) decided that there are only five locations where Word users commonly look for files: History, My Documents, Desktop, Favorites, and Web Folders. There is no built-in way of changing these locations.

    Fortunately, you can customize the Places bar using a utility called the WOPR Places Bar Customizer (a COM add-in), which provides a handy interface for customizing the Places bar. It was created by Woody Leonhard and is available on the Office Update Site. Figure 5 shows a modified Places Bar.

    Figure 5
    Figure 5

    The Places bar is common across all Office 2000 applications. Any customization performed shows up in the Open and Save As dialog boxes in Access, Excel, Power Point, Outlook, and Word.

  10. Clean Up Your HTML. One of the most common complaints I've heard about Word 2000 is that, despite the marketing hype, it isn't very good at creating Web pages. More accurately, while it can create nice-looking Web pages, the HTML code it generates is clunky, imprecise, and it's often dozens of times larger than the code you could generate by hand to accomplish the same thing. This is all true.

    Marketing hype aside, the goal behind Word's ability to create Web pages was never really to put a good Web design tool in your hands. It was to give you an easy way to put Word documents up on a Web or Intranet site and have them look basically the same as the originals, formatting and all. What's more, it was designed so that someone can pull one of these documents from the Web and convert it back to a Word document, formatting intact. This feature has been dubbed "round-tripping"--to the Web and back--and it actually works very well.

    If you're using Word to create real Web pages, however, I have two pieces of advice for you. The first is: Don't. There are much better tools out there. The second is: If you go ahead and use Word as a Web design tool, do yourself a favor and download Microsoft's Office HTML Filter. This utility integrates into Word and is used to remove the Office-specific markup tags embedded in Word-created Web pages. It is available for download on the Office Update site. You can also get there by choosing Help->Office on the Web from within Word.

  11. Use Hidden Text. I love hidden text and use it for all kinds of things, so I just had to make it one of my tips. For those who don't know, one of the types of character formatting in Word is named Hidden. You can select text and make it hidden by going to Format->Font and choosing the Hidden option from the Effects section of the dialog. When you OK out of the dialog, the text disappears. It's not really gone; it's just not displayed (or printed) by default.

    You can view hidden text by going to Tools->Options->View and turning on the Hidden Text option. Hidden text then appears in your document display with a dashed underline. You can also print hidden text by going to Tools->Options->Print and turning on the Hidden Text option there. To prevent all this menu diving, I created a custom toolbar containing the commands for applying the Hidden Text formatting and for toggling the display and print options.

    I've used hidden text to do many different things for people, but here is one of my favorite applications. I have a client who often serves as an expert witness at trials. He likes to print out his materials to hand out to the various trial participants (lawyers, etc.). However, he also likes to have a copy of the materials himself, which have extra notes to help jog his memory about certain items (should he be asked for more details or for his sources of information). He used to create two totally different documents. I showed him how to create just one document and put his material in as hidden text (we also made it yellow). When it comes time to print, he prints one copy without the hidden text showing and one copy with.

  12. Work With Tables in Outline View. Tables are a great way to organize information. However, they are not always easy to rearrange once they're created. Most people rearrange rows in a table by selecting the row, cutting it, and then pasting it where they want it to go. This method often leads to unexpected results (the row not being pasted in the right place, for example). It is also subject to error because selecting just the right thing with a mouse can be tricky. A much easier way to rearrange table rows is to switch to Outline view (View->Outline). Each table row is displayed as a separate paragraph in the outline, complete with the outline bullet to the left of the margin. Drag the bullet to move the row around. A horizontal line indicates exactly where the row will be placed.

Walter Glenn has been working in the computer industry for nearly fifteen years, beginning as a PC and Macintosh technician and trainer. He has since formed his own business providing networking solutions for small- to medium-size companies. Recently, he has authored and coauthored several computer and networking books, including his latest, Word 2000 in a Nutshell. He also coauthored another O'Reilly book, Windows 98 in a Nutshell, with Troy Mott and Tim O'Reilly.

O'Reilly & Associates recently released Word 2000 in a Nutshell.