Perhaps no enterprise productivity tool is used more often in today's office setting than Microsoft Word. It is the familiar workhorse that creates our emails, reports, proposals, and just about every other document important to the daily operation of business. Yet despite that popularity and familiarity, many quirks and tricks in Word go neglected and unused—tricks that could save us time and frustration if we could just remember them.
In an effort to remedy that situation, here are 10 useful Microsoft Word tips that many of us have forgotten about but shouldn't have. These tips apply to any version beyond Word 2007 and in some cases even earlier versions than that.
1: Start typing anywhere
This is a simple tip I often forget myself. In the default Print Layout display mode, you can just double-click anywhere on a page and start typing. It doesn't matter if the page is blank, Word will fill in the space above your cursor with blank paragraphs automatically. You don't have to start at the top of the page and manually fill it in with blank lines.
2: Auto generate filler text
Even though it might not be the best tool for the job, many people use Word to create layouts in columns and around images, like in a newspaper. In some cases, planning a layout will require the use of filler nonsense text to help gauge page breaks, image placement, and so on.
You can generate filler text written in Latin by using a special command. Type this text into the document body:
Replace the "p" with the number of paragraphs you want and replace the "l" with the number lines you want. The command will fill in the Latin text for you automatically.
3: Replace special characters
As a former editor, I can attest to the usefulness of this next tip. You can use the search and replace function in Word to locate and replace special and nonprinting characters. This comes in handy when you want to replace double paragraph marks between paragraphs with single marks, for example, as shown in Figure A.
In the Find What field, I entered the code for double paragraph marks (^p^p). In the Replace With field, I specified a single paragraph mark (^p). You can use this technique to replace things like tabs, line breaks, and page breaks as well.
4: Replace styles and formatting
Similar to the previous tip, you can also use the Word search and replace features on styles and other formatting. For example, you might replace the boring normal text used for every mention of your new product in a press release with bold formatting.
To reach these extra parameters, click the More >> button in the Replace dialog box to access expanded options (Figure B). Then click on the Format button and set the format or style to what you desire.
5: Generate quick calculations
This tip may have limited uses, but it can still be useful in a pinch. You can use Word's Calculate command to solve algebraic equations you have typed as text. The Calculate command is an obscure listing found deep in the All Commands tree. Navigate to File | Options | Quick Access Toolbar | All Commands and add the Calculate command to your Quick Access Toolbar. You can then use it to solve a highlighted equation. For example, if you type
the calculated answer will appear in the lower left-hand corner of the Word document where the number of words normally appears.
6: Auto update date and time
In business, you often have to create a dated document, such as a monthly invoice, on a recurring schedule. You can save yourself some time by adding a date function that automatically updates the date each time you create a new invoice.
Place the cursor where you want the date to appear and then navigate to the Insert | Date & Time item on the Ribbon. You'll have your choice of formats—just be sure to check the Update Automaticallybutton before you click OK.
The underlying style of each paragraph or section of a document can sometimes be vital information. This is particularly true when a document is going to be run through a specific publication process.
Using an obscure setting found in the Word options menu, you can show the style of each paragraph in the left margin (Figure C). First, change to Draft Mode. Then navigate to File | Options | Advanced and scroll down to the Display section, where you will see this entry: Style Area Pane Width In Draft And Outline Modes. Change the number in that box to .5 inches and click OK. You should now see a pane that displays style information for your document.
8: Remove all manual formatting
It happens to everyone who uses Word on a regular basis—sometimes you screw up the formatting to a point where you just want to start over. There is a button on the Home tab of the Ribbon that many people don't realize is there. It is the Clear All Formatting button and it can be a real time saver.
Highlight the text you want to clear and click that button (which looks like the letter A with an eraser over top of it). All manual formatting will be removed and the text will revert to the underlying style. Then you can start over.
9: Spike it
Just about everyone is familiar with the usefulness of the Copy and Paste keyboard shortcuts—but there is an often overlooked feature called Spike that may be even more powerful. With Spike you can move several bits of text, images, and tables from one document to a different part of the current document or to another document all at the same time.
First, highlight an area you want to cut. (Note: Spike will cut, not copy.) Next, press the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + F3. That places the text onto a special clipboard. You can keep adding to that clipboard using Spike without each new cut replacing the old one. Once you have everything you need, open a new document (or click somewhere in the same document, if you prefer) and press Ctrl + Shift +F3. Everything you cut will be placed at the new spot and the Spike clipboard will be cleared.
10: View side-by-side documents
On occasion you may want to view documents side by side. Word makes it easy with a feature found on the View tab of the Ribbon.
Open the documents in question and navigate to the View tab, where you will see the View Side By Side button. Clicking it will split the display in half, so you can see both documents at the same time. Clicking the Synchronous Scrolling button on the View tab will make comparison even easier.
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Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.