Software optimize

The 10 most important things to teach your Word users

Sharing these tips and precautions with your Word users will help them become more confident and proficient -- which is a win for everyone (including you).

Most people can use Word right out of the box, which has its pros and cons. The pros are obvious, but Word has some complex features and tools that can quickly land a user in hot water. The following tips will help your users avoid troublesome issues and adapt to the environment quickly.

1: Don't be afraid to call support

Encourage users to learn new features on their own -- experiment and learn! But also encourage them not to waste time trying to work through a problem or new feature on their own if they're really lost. Many Word users are reluctant to call support (I'm not sure why); encourage them to call support before they've wasted half their workday.

2: Use styles

Users who don't understand styles hate them and refuse to use them. That complicates their work and consequently, your work. Styles should definitely be on your training list -- not just an introduction to styles, but a heavy-duty, serious training session. Supply a tutorial for applying styles. Then, using examples from their workday, show them how styles will make them more efficient and solve recurring formatting problems. You can't rely on users to wade through styles on their own. They just won't.

3: Don't alter the template

Chances are, you've distributed a few templates to your users. There may be several floating around your organization. As needs change, templates need revising -- and users might think they're up to the task. They might be; they might not. Ask users to call you when they need changes, and keep your fingers crossed. You have copies for those users who strike out on their own, right?

4: Rely on [Ctrl]+Z

Probably the most important thing you can teach users is how to undo actions using [Ctrl]+Z. It's Word's only real panacea. You might be surprised to learn how many of your users are unaware of it. Knowing they can quickly undo a change encourages them to experiment and apply new features.

5: Keep it simple

Some organizations have conventions to guide users on formats, styles, and so on. If your organization doesn't, don't just turn users loose! Advise them to keep formatting and special options to a minimum. The document needs to do its job and no more. Just because there are no formal limitations isn't an excuse for needless formatting.

6: Use line and page breaks sparingly

Nothing can foul a document faster than hard line and page breaks. They're also difficult to troubleshoot. Train users to let Word handle line wrapping and page breaks. Show them how to use styles, how to add space before and after a paragraph, and how to attach a page break to a paragraph. These options are preferable to hard line and page breaks.

7: Know the difference between character and paragraph formatting

Word's formatting layers often confuse users. They need to understand the difference between character and paragraph formats. Explaining the differences will clear up a lot of their confusion and help them make better choices.

8: Take advantage of keyboard shortcuts

Word has dozens of keyboard shortcuts that some users will love and others will ignore. It's up to you to supply a list. They can decide whether they want to use it.

9: Don't expect Word to do everything

Word can't do everything. But without the right expectations, users will waste time trying to accomplish tasks that are better suited for other products. For instance, suggest Publisher for flyers, brochures, and other desktop publishing documents. In addition, LaTeX is definitely better than Word at logical markup. Let users know there are alternatives to Word by introducing them to other text-based applications.

10: Know how to turn off auto-formatting

By default, Word assumes a lot of formatting tasks. Most of the time, this arrangement helps users. Occasionally, it gets in the way. For instance, a user might want to manually number a list or begin a new line with the - character (without indenting the line). Word makes dozens of these assumptions and users need to know they can run interference by disabling specific AutoFormat and AutoCorrect options. Also, remind them that they'll need to turn these options back when they complete their special task.

More help for your Word users

Other tips?

What issues do your Word users commonly encounter -- and how do you prevent or resolve the problems? Are your users pretty self-reliant or do they come to you for a lot of troubleshooting and guidance?


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.


Ms. Harkins: Your list here is very good, but the issues with Word cannot be overcome in the real world. 1) Styles and formatting will always be a disaster in Word. Maybe some (never most) of a company's docs will be somewhat well styled and formatted somewhat consistently. That's hard enough, given how utterly non-intuitive are styles and formatting, and how very difficult it is for anyone (other than a compulsive near-genius like myself) to modify a style correctly. But when a company's document is emailed to another party who then revises and returns it, styles and formatting are fouled up 95+% of the time. For us in the legal profession, who are drafting and revising and emailing long docs all the time, styles and Word formatting are a curse and a big waste of time. The ONLY reason we use Word is that it's a monopoly - all clients (and therefore all law firms) have it and cannot open anything else. And for this issue alone, Word is today, in 2011, a far worse application than was WordPerfect in 1994. 2) You mention line and page breaks. But they are nothing to the total mess that is Section Breaks. Just try to remove one without screwing up all the footers and headers of the PRECEDING section. After 9 years with Word, I still have to fix this manually every time. 3) Please add Ctrl + Q to your list. 4) If you or other commentators here know a really good YouTube series of training videos on all these issues, please advise so I may assign them. 5) ADDED IN AN EDIT: Please also add Paste Unformatted to your list, which is the safer way to copy and paste text from another document so that the other document's styles and formatting are not pasted in by mistake. This is so important and useful that I have assigned it to a keystroke combo. As far as I know, no one else in my firm is aware this even exists. If you ever see a pic of Bill Gates with a black eye, you'll know I finally had a chance to express my appreciation.