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Ten Tips to Help Microsoft Word Work for You

You probably touch almost every screen of your tax and accounting applications, but you may not use more than about 10 percent of Microsoft Word. Word has become a monster, a terrific tool for page designers, but way too much for most of us.

Still, Microsoft Word is a mainstay application for almost everyone. It can do just about anything with documents you could ever want, but besides not using the lion’s share of it, many people don’t use it in the most efficient way. The tips below, which apply to all versions of Word from 2000 on, will help you work faster, smarter, and simpler with Word.

Whether you’re composing a simple e-mail, creating an engagement letter, or designing a client newsletter with lots of pretty graphics, saving a little time here and there can add up, even if you’re not a power user.

Select Text with Your Mouse

Since Word works best when you first select text, then format that text, speeding up text selection can save precious time. The key is using mouse clicks, rather than clicking and dragging.

To select a single word, left click twice on the word. To select a complete paragraph, left click three times in the paragraph.

For even more speed, you can select text by clicking in the document’s margin. Click once next to a line of text to select the entire line. Click twice to select the paragraph. Select the entire document by clicking three times in the margin.

Finally, to select a block of text that spans more than one screen, left-click at the beginning of the selection, then scroll down until you can see the end of the selection. Hold down either Shift key, then left-click at the end of the selection.

Use Your Right Mouse Button, Not Menus

That right mouse button is there for a reason, but most Word users ignore it. You can save plenty of time when formatting, cutting and pasting, and many other operations by simply right-clicking in the document where you want to make the change. Select the text or object before right-clicking. A context-sensitive menu will pop right up, with just the commands you need. Even graphics, tables, and other objects get specialized menus when you right-click.

Get Rid of Blank Pages at The End of Documents

Most Word users are puzzled when blank pages turn up at the end of a document. This happens often after you’ve edited documents to make them shorter. The quick fix for this is to press Ctrl-End, then backspace until you reach the last page of the document.

Create Instant (Almost) PowerPoint Presentations

If you’re creating a document that you’ll eventually turn into a PowerPoint presentation, you can speed up the process by following a couple of simple formatting techniques in Word. Just use Word’s styles to format main headings as Heading 1. Use the Heading 2 style for subtitles in the document. If you need even more text in the slide, use the Heading 3 style for further subheadings. Use the last style sparingly, since you’ll probably have to reduce font sizes in PowerPoint for it all to show.

If you do this, you can create a PowerPoint presentation based on the saved document by selecting File*Send To*Microsoft PowerPoint while in Word 2000-2003. Word 2007 users can do the same by simply opening the Word Document in PowerPoint after closing Word. PowerPoint will open, with slides already containing your headings. Text formatted as Heading 1 will be the slide titles, and text formatted as Heading 2 will appear as bulleted lists under the related Heading 1 text. Heading 3 text will appear, indented, under the Heading 2 text. From there, use normal PowerPoint tools to format the presentation.

Use Keyboard Shortcuts to Speed Operation

The mouse is great, but there are times when moving a hand to manipulate the mouse slows things down. This is especially true when working with a word processor. Notebook computers too, with their touchpad mouse alternatives, present problems when you need to mouse around.

Microsoft ¬Word has always had a wealth of valuable keyboard shortcuts that can speed up operations that could take several mouse clicks, letting you get on with your typing instead of reaching for the mouse. The table below lists some of the most useful. Many other shortcuts can be found by searching for “keyboard shortcuts” in Word’s Help system.

Action Keyboard Shortcut
Move cursor to beginning of document Ctrl-Home
Move cursor to end of document Ctrl-End
Select from cursor to end of a word Shift-Ctrl-Right Arrow
Select from cursor to end of paragraph Shift-Ctrl-Down Arrow
Select entire document Ctrl-A
Create new page (Insert page break) Ctrl-Enter
Create new line without creating new paragraph Shift-Enter
Save current document Ctrl-S
Print current document Ctrl-P
Create new document Ctrl-N
Create hyperlink for selected text or object Ctrl-K
Increase font size for selected text by one point Ctrl-]
Decrease font size for selected text by one point Ctrl-[
Format selected text as boldface (toggle) Ctrl-B
Format selected text as italics Ctrl-I
Remove manual formatting from selected text Ctrl-Space
Insert Copyright symbol Alt-Ctrl-C
Insert Trademark symbol Alt-Ctrl-T
Open Search dialog box Ctrl-F
Undo the last action Ctrl-Z
Redo last action Ctrl-Y

Save Paper and Space for File Copies of Documents

If you print copies of documents for filing, Word offers you a simple way to conserve paper and filing space. Few users take advantage of this valuable tool, which produces very readable copies of documents with two pages printing on each sheet of paper. Doing this is simple. Just use your normal process to print. When the Print dialog box appears, look for the section marked Zoom. In the Pages per Sheet drop down list, select 2, then click OK. Word will print two pages per sheet, in landscape format, scaling the document to fit. You can print more pages per sheet, but with far less readability.

Shrink-To-Fit Document Printing

It’s a common problem. You’ve finished typing your memo or letter, but it has some text that has jumped to a second or third page. You could go back and edit the document to try to get it all on the number of pages you want. That uses up valuable time.

Word can solve that problem for you, by shrinking font sizes down, a tenth of a point at a time, until the document fits on one less page. As long as there is not too much text on the additional page, you won’t even notice the size change, so use this feature only when a small amount of additional text is on the extra page.

To use this feature in Word 2000 and 2003, Select File * Print Preview. In the Print Preview window, click the Shrink to Fit icon on the toolbar. It looks like two pages becoming one page. In Word 2007, click the Office button, then click Print Preview. Click Shrink One Page. Word will attempt to shrink the document to fit on one less page, and will let you know if it can’t. Press Esc to return to the normal view, then print as usual. You can save the document in this shrunken form, or press Ctrl-Z to undo the change, then save it in the original form.

Pasting Text into Word from Other Sources

Whenever you need to paste text from emails, web sites, or any other source into a Word document, just pressing Ctrl-V or selecting the Paste command often doesn’t do the job the way you’d expect. The text may come in with strange fonts or font sizes, or with different indentations.

Avoid this problem by copying the outside text into the clipboard as you normally would, but select Edit*Paste Special, rather than another mode of pasting. In Word 2007, click the small arrow under Paste, then select Paste Special. In the resulting dialog box, choose Unformatted Text in the list of options, and then click OK. The text will paste into your document in Word’s normal document format.

Use Word To Create Formatted Email

Whether you use Outlook, Outlook Express, or a third party email client, you can create formatted email text in Word, then copy and paste it into your email editor. Most will accept formatted Word text and retain headings, text formatting, and more, letting you use familiar Word tools to work more efficiently.

Create your email content in Word, then press Ctrl-A to select it all. Press Ctrl-C to copy it to the clipboard, then press Ctrl-V to paste it into your email editor. You can also select text from an existing document then copy and paste it into your email.

Inserting Data from Excel into a Word Document

Quite naturally, Excel data is compatible with Word. It’s easy to bring data from that program into a document. Simply open the Excel worksheet, then click and drag to select the data range you want to include in your document. Press Ctrl-C to copy it to the clipboard, then switch to the word document and click where you want the data to appear. Press Ctrl-V to paste it into the document.

The data will be converted to a Word table, so you can format it, or edit it as you choose, using normal Word Table tools. The data will be static, with no link to the worksheet.

An Old Horse

Yes, it’s hard to change old habits. When you’re in the middle of composing a client collection letter, it’s easier to just do things the way you’ve always done them and finish the task. But teaching yourself some new patterns of interacting with Microsoft Word will help you finish that task more quickly, to stop wrestling with your software and use it the way it was meant to be used.

Kathy Yakal
Kathy Yakal has been writing about personal and business technology since 1983, as an editor and writer at COMPUTE! Publications. She writes frequently for The Progressive Accountant on technology topics.She began freelancing and specializing in financial applications in 1988. Her columns, features, and reviews have appeared in publications including Barron’s, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine, and PC Magazine.
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