10+ ways to help your users transition to Word 2007

If you're one Word 2007 support call away from a nervous breakdown, these tips may help. Susan Harkins addresses the most common areas of confusion and offers practical advice for helping users conquer the steep learning curve.

If you're one Word 2007 support call away from a nervous breakdown, these tips may help. Susan Harkins addresses the most common areas of confusion and offers practical advice for helping users conquer the steep learning curve.

Word 2007 has been out for a while now, so you're probably pretty familiar with it. However, despite your best efforts, many of your users might still be struggling. In fact, some of them probably took one look at the new version, closed it, and never opened it again.

Let's face it: For anyone who's been using a previous version of Word, opening Word 2007 (or any of the Office 2007 applications) is a bit like landing on an alien planet. It's completely different and not terribly intuitive. Some users are going to need bit of help and encouragement before they're willing to embrace Word 2007. Easing them into embracing Word 2007 will cut down on calls to you and help them be more productive.

Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.

#1: Help users find their favorite commands

The Ribbon is by far, the most controversial change to the Office 2007 products. However, you're in luck in this department because Microsoft provides a downloadable Excel worksheet that maps Word 2003 menu commands to Word 2007 Ribbon tabs, groups, and commands. You can distribute the worksheet as is or quickly create handouts. This worksheet will help your users conquer their apprehension by allowing them to start using Word 2007 much quicker.

Users can also access an online guide via Help. Simply search on Word 2003 To Word 2007, click Interactive: Word 2003 To Word 2007 Command Reference Guide, and then click Start The Guide to watch the demo. Of course, the local system must have a live connection to the Internet for this to work.

Better yet, download the Word 2007 Guide: Word 2003 to Word 2007 interactive command reference guide and then show users how to use it. All they have to do is point to a 2003 command or tool, and a tip window shows them exactly where to find it in Word 2007.

#2: Explain the Ribbon

Word 2007's Ribbon is so different that it can be a bit overwhelming. Break down its geography so your users will understand the way it works. The Ribbon has three components:

  • Tabs represent the active area of commands. There are seven of them across the top of the Ribbon. Clicking a tab will determine the Ribbon's groups.
  • Groups display related items together.
  • Commands are the familiar buttons, tools, and menus that execute a task or display settings.
Encourage your uses to spend some time familiarizing themselves with each tab and its many groups. And don't forget to introduce the dialog box launcher -- that's the small arrow in the bottom-right corner of some groups, such as the one shown in Figure A. Dialog box launchers display more options related to the group, often in the form of the more familiar dialog box interface.

Figure A: Use a dialog box launcher to display more options.

dialog box launcher

#3: Change the new format if necessary

Most users don't think about file formats; that's your department. Word 2007 blurs the boundaries a bit because 2007's format isn't compatible with earlier versions. Word 2007 files are XML-based, but don't expect that to mean much to your users. This format creates smaller files and is more secure than previous formats, which is important to you. However, your users will want to know why they can't open Word 2007 documents in earlier versions of Word. There's really no way around that limitation. If it's a problem, show users how to use Word 2007 while saving files in a previous format, as follows:

  1. Click the Office button and then click Word Options (in the bottom-right corner of the resulting dialog box).
  2. Choose Save in the left pane.
  3. Select an alternate file format from the Save Files In This Format drop-down list shown in Figure B and click OK.

Figure B: Change the default file format so previous versions of Word can open documents saved in Word 2007.

save options

After you make the switch, users can open Word 2007 documents in previous versions of Word. Be sure to introduce users to the new extensions:

  • .docx identifies standard Word 2007 documents.
  • .docm identifies Word 2007 documents that contain macros or VBA code.
  • .dotx identifies Word 2007 templates.
  • .dotm identifies a Word 2007 template that contains macros or VBA code.

Word 2007 can open documents created in older versions, but options new to 2007 won't be available.

#4: Help users find their favorite configuration options

Your users are probably used to configuring things via the Options dialog box on the Tools menu, but there's no such place in Word 2007. They're going to be lost when they can't find the options they need. Show them how to click the Office button and select Word Options when they would normally go for the Options dialog box. Most of Word's configuration settings are in there somewhere.

As you can see in Figure C, the old tab interface is now a list to the left. Click one of these items to update the options and settings to the right. The downside is that the options aren't organized exactly the same way, so your users still might have to look around a bit. There's little you can do to make this adjustment easier beyond pointing out the change and encouraging them explore.

Figure C: Users will find Word 2007's configuration settings via a new interface.


#5: Customize the Quick Access Toolbar

The Quick Access Toolbar is one of my favorite new features because the Ribbon displays only items for the selected tab. By adding commands to the Quick Access Toolbar, users can have ready access to what they need, regardless of the tab that's currently in use.

The toolbar comes with a few options, but it's easy to customize. Now, you can do this for your users, but it's so easy, you should just teach them how to do it for themselves. That way they can adapt it as their needs change.

To add a command to the Quick Access Toolbar, click the appropriate tab or group (on the Ribbon) to display the command you want to add. Then, right-click the command and choose Add To Quick Access Toolbar from the shortcut menu. To remove a command from the toolbar, right-click that command and choose Remove From Quick Access Toolbar.

It's important to remind users that not every tool on the Ribbon is a traditional command. That means that not every tool can be added to the Quick Access Toolbar. If Add To Quick Access Toolbar isn't on the shortcut menu, you can't add that tool.

Occasionally, users will want to add a command that they can't find on the Ribbon (because it's not there). Fortunately, they can add these commands to the Quick Access Toolbar, as follows:

  1. Click the Office button and then click Word Options.
  2. Choose Customize in the left pane.
  3. From the Choose Commands From list, select Commands Not In The Ribbon.
  4. Scroll through the list and highlight the command.
  5. Click Add.
  6. Click OK.

Users can also use this method to find an elusive command when everything else fails. They might find it quicker than some of the methods reviewed in #1.

#6: Demonstrate (or suppress) the Mini Toolbar

The selected tab determines which commands are available at any given time, so the commands users might need aren't always available. They can add those commands to the Quick Access Toolbar (#5) or use the Mini Toolbar. This toolbar displays a number of common commands. For instance, if you point at selected text, Word 2007 displays a faded version of the Mini Toolbar. Click a formatting option on the Mini Toolbar instead of clicking the Home tab and hunting for the same tool.

On the other hand, some of your users may find the Mini Toolbar intrusive. If that's the case, disable it as follows:

  1. Click the Office button.
  2. Click Word Options.
  3. Select Popular in the left pane.
  4. Deselect the Show Mini Toolbar On Selection check box in the Top Options For Working With Word section.
  5. Click OK.

#7: Introduce Key Tips (and reintroduce keyboard shortcuts)

The traditional menus use an underscore character to indicate a hotkey, or keyboard shortcut. For instance, the letter F in File is underscored. Most users know that pressing Alt + F will display the File menu. Word 2007's Ribbon doesn't support hotkeys the same way -- it offers Key Tips instead.

To display Key Tips for the Ribbon, Office button, or Quick Access Toolbar, press the Alt key to display the labels as shown in Figure D. Then, with the labels displayed, press the appropriate key for an action. For instance, pressing H will display the Home tab. Just keep pressing keys (as long as they labels are available) until you complete your task.

Figure D: Pressing Alt displays Word 2007 Key Tips.

key tips

Ctrl + C, Ctrl + X, and Ctrl + V still work to copy, cut, and paste. In addition, users with good memories can continue to use the Alt shortcuts. Word 2007 still supports them, but there are no display clues to remind users.

#8: Explain the features of the Zoom tool

Zooming in on text and other content is as easy as ever, if you can find the tool! There's a new Zoom tool in the lower-right corner. It's a slider: Slide to the right to zoom in, slide to the left to zoom out. This tool really isn't hard to find and your users will probably find it on their own, but you might have to show them how to use it more efficiently:

  • Click the percent number to the left to open the Zoom dialog box to specify a zoom percentage or specify multiple pages.
  • Hold down the Ctrl key while turning the mouse wheel forward to zoom in; turn the mouse wheel backward to zoom out.
  • More zoom options are on the View menu in the Zoom group.

#9: Open the header and footer sections

In earlier versions, users chose the Header And Footer command from the View menu to access those sections. In Word 2007, it's incredibly easy, but you might have to learn the method by accident the first time. That's why you need to show your users how to open a header or footer section the easy way. Simply double-click the section -- that's it! Word automatically positions the insertion point marker in the section and you're ready to go.

When you're in the header or footer section, you can use the Design tab, which Word displays automatically. After you finish, simply click Close Header And Footer in the Close group or double-click the section tab.

#10: Obtain word count and other statistics

Word count is critical to me and it might be to you. In 2003, you display the Word Count toolbar, but that's gone in Word 2007. Now, the word count is on the status bar. You don't have to do a thing. If nothing's selected, the word count considers the entire document. Select text and the control displays the number of selected words and the total word count, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E: Word 2007 displays the word count on the status bar.

word count

That's probably easy enough for most users to find on their own. What you might need to show them is the additional statistical information that they can also display. Simply right-click the Word Count tool to display the Status Bar Configuration menu shown in Figure F, which displays the statistics for the current document. To add a statistic to the status bar, simply select it. Of course, you can remove statistics by deselecting the item.

Figure F: Add statistics data to the status bar.


#11: Work with templates and add-ins

Your users probably have a few favorite, or required, templates, and they'll have trouble getting those to work in Word 2007. That's not because the templates aren't compatible, but because users won't be able to find the feature. All the commands for working with templates are on the Developer tab, along with macro and XML commands. (It's an odd place for sure.) The problem is, the Developer tab isn't enabled by default. Instruct your users to enable this tab as follows:

  1. Click the Office button.
  2. Click Word Options.
  3. Select Popular in the left pane.
  4. Select the Show Developer Tab In The Ribbon check box in the Top Options For Working With Word section.
  5. Click OK.

To attach a template, click the Developer tab. Then, click Document Template in the Templates group.

#12: Free up screen space

Word 2007's takes up a little more space than the traditional menu/toolbar interface, and you can hide those if you like. If users mostly enter and format text, they don't need the Ribbon often, especially if you show them how to use the Mini Toolbar (#6). Fortunately, your users are just a double-click away from hiding the Ribbon and gaining an extra inch of working space. To hide the Ribbon, double-click the active tab. This action is a simple toggle, so double-clicking the active tab will display the hidden Ribbon.


Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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