Hey, everybody! I’ve been using Microsoft Word since the early 1990s (version 5, to be exact), and I literally cannot guess how many tens of thousands of pages I’ve composed using the application.
Along the way I’ve developed some productivity habits with Microsoft Word that you may find beneficial. Although I use Word 2013 in my examples, you can implement any of these tips by using any recent version of Word, say, from Word 2003 and later.
Let’s get started!
Show All Formatting Characters
I worked for Transcender for a number of years writing their IT certification practice exams. It was at Transcender that I first learned the vital importance of revealing all formatting (non-printing) characters in Word.
Trust me, it took some getting used to. At first my eyes crossed seeing all the extra “stuff” in my Word documents. However, over time I became grateful for the ability to see, at a glance, whether I inserted a soft line break instead of an actual paragraph break. Or whether I put an extra space in between two words and so on.
In Word 2013, click File > Options and navigate to the Display tab. In the Always show these formatting marks on the screen area, select Show all formatting marks. You can see the “before and after” treatment in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Showing non-printing characters is very helpful in editing.
Strip Away All the “Auto Bling”
As you know, Word tries to be as helpful as possible by automatically formatting your document as you type. For example, you can type two dashes to have Word convert them to a single em dash.
I publish my content both in print and on the web. Different publishers have different tools for composing an author’s manuscript. The last thing I want to deal with is all the extra cruft Word adds to my documents.
Therefore, one of the first things I do with a new installation of Word is open the Word Options dialog, navigate to the Proofing tab, click AutoCorrect Options and turn everything off. Really. I show you the interface in Figure 2.
Figure 2: You can take control over AutoCorrect in Microsoft Word.
Disabling all AutoCorrect functionality puts you in 100 percent control over your copy, which brings with it extra responsibility. That is to say, you will really need to think about each character and/or symbol you put down in your manuscript.
Pick Up Where You Left Off in a Document
Prior to Word 2013, I used the SHIFT+F5 keyboard combination to resume work in a newly opened document. This keyboard shortcut jets your cursor to the last space you edited the document when it was previously opened.
This keyboard shortcut works in all modern versions of Word, but Word 2013 ups the ante by providing this functionality with no user intervention. You can see this behavior in action in Figure 3.
Figure 3: You can easily resume your work in Word 2013.
Quickly Change Case
Sometimes, especially when I’m working quickly, I leave behind inconsistently formatted section headings. Please understand that you don’t need to manually edit each word to get the desired title case. Instead, simply use the SHIFT+F3 keyboard shortcut. You’ll discover that this key combination toggles the case of all selected words among three states:
- title case
Make Use of the Quick Access Toolbar
Love it or hate it, the Fluent user interface (the ribbon, in other words) looks like it is here to stay. While I feel relatively neutral about ribbon navigation, I enthusiastically enjoy the Quick Access toolbar.
The Quick Access toolbar gives you immediate access to your favorite commands; these commands remain visible no matter which ribbon tabs are shown.
As shown in Figure 4, we can customize the Quick Access toolbar by opening its drop-down menu and selecting More Commands.
Figure 4: Put your most frequently-used commands into the Quick Launch toolbar.
Master the Use of Styles
Styles are one of the best-kept secrets in Microsoft Word. In publishing, we take styles for granted; they allow us to standardize element formatting across one or more documents.
A paragraph style is nothing more than a saved, named collection of formatting attributes. You can use the built-in styles in Word, customize any of these default styles, or build your own styles from scratch. In Word 2013, open the Style Gallery drop-down list from the Styles area of the Home tab to see the available options.
Figure 5: Taking control of styles in MS Word 2013.
By contrast, a character style is a formatting collection that applies only to selected text. For example, we can create a character style that puts a brand name in a particular font and color. Even if we change the surrounding paragraph style to something else, the character styled text keeps its own formatting.
Styles in Word is a huge topic; for more info, please see my friend and colleague Chris Ward’s series on Microsoft Word 2010.