Software

Five Word tips that could change your life

Searching for ways to increase your Word productivity may get in the way of your productivity. So here are a few tricks you don't need to go looking for. Efficient, simple to use, easy to remember.

Most of us don't have time to discover all the ins and outs of the software we use on a daily basis. We learn on the fly, we occasionally pick up a tip or shortcut, and we grudgingly plow through the Help system when we absolutely have to.

But sometimes, just a few little tricks can make a big difference. Turning off an annoying feature, learning a keyboard trick that bypasses three dialog boxes, or taking advantage of an obscure option can save you a few headaches and a lot of time. Will they really change your life? Well that might be a stretch. But they could. Try these tips on for size and let me know.

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

1: Make vertical text selections

Usually, we select text horizontally -- a word, a series of words, a paragraph -- from left to right or vice versa. But sometimes the selection has to be vertical. For instance, suppose you wanted to delete the leading characters in Figure A.

Figure A

To make a vertical selection, hold down [Alt] as you drag down through the text you want to highlight. Figure B shows the column of unwanted characters selected using this technique. Hit [Delete] and bam, they're gone.

Figure B

Although we selected text at the beginning of the lines in this example, you can make vertical selections anywhere on the page.

Note: Some users have reported that the Research pane appears when they try this selection technique. Here's the secret: Release the [Alt] key before you let up on the mouse button. Word should retain the selection. If you hold down [Alt] but release the mouse button, Word may think "[Alt]-click" and open the Research pane in response.

2: Undo automatic changes you don't want

By default, Word imposes lots of changes on the text you enter in a document. For example, it might convert a Web address to a hyperlink, replace straight apostrophes and quotation marks with their curly counterparts, or turn a pair of hyphens into an em dash. If that's a welcome convenience, you're in good shape. If you want to suppress those types of changes, you can disable them. See 10 annoying Word features (and how to turn them off) for details. But if you want to prevent those changes only from time to time, reach for the Undo command -- [Ctrl]Z. Undo isn't just for reversing something you've done; it also undoes some of the actions Word takes. Don't want that em dash? When Word inserts it, hit [Ctrl]Z and change it back to the hyphens you intended to enter.

3: Get rid of a persistent border

This forehead-smacking solution earned considerable gratitude from stymied TechRepublic readers when Susan Harkins first provided it. Word offers a sometimes-handy option that lets you insert a border automatically. Type three hyphens on a blank line and press [Enter]. If the option is enabled, Word will replace the hyphens with a horizontal line. You can get rid of it if you press [Ctrl]Z after Word inserts it (see above). But if you try to select the border and delete it, you're out of luck. You're not dealing with a line object here. Word has applied the Bottom Border format to the paragraph.

To remove that format in Word 2003, click in the paragraph and choose No Border from the Borders drop-down list on the Formatting menu. In Word 2007/2010, click in the paragraph and then click the Border button in the Paragraph group of the Home tab. Just select No Border from the drop-down list (Figure C).

Figure C

If you like the automatic border feature, here's a bonus tip: In addition to typing three hyphens to apply a bottom border (3/4-point), you can trigger different border styles. Typing:

  • Three tilde characters (~) will create a wavy line.
  • Three underscore characters (_) will create a 1.5-point line.
  • Three asterisks (*) will create a dotted line.
  • Three equal signs (=) will create a double line.
  • Three pound signs (#) will produce a "thin thick thin" line.

4: Move selected text up or down

This tip is probably most useful when you're working in a table, although you can use it to reorder paragraphs outside a table, too. Let's say you decide you want the third row of a table to be the top row. Just click within the third row, hold down [Alt][Shift] and press the up arrow key twice. Each time you press the arrow key, Word will move the row up one. You can select multiple contiguous rows to move them as a block, and you can use the down arrow key if you want to move text down instead of up.

Using this shortcut gets a little tricky if you're moving big pieces of text outside a table. It's easy to lose track of what's being relocated where, and you might find it easier to take a standard cut-and-paste approach in those situations. But when the text is small and manageable, the shortcut is great. For example, if you need to move an item up or down within a bulleted or numbered list, you can just click in the item's paragraph and use the [Alt][Shift] and arrow key combo to move the item to the desired spot.

5: Save changes to all open Word documents at one time

This simple technique comes in handy when you're working in multiple documents and want to make sure you've saved your changes to all of them. I actually use it most often when I've made a change to a template and want a quick way to save that change on the fly (before I've had a chance to forget I made a change I want to keep).

In Word 2003 and earlier, just press the [Shift] key and pull down the File menu. Word will display the Save All command on the menu, above the Save As command. Choose Save All and Word will prompt you to save each document (or template) that has any unsaved changes. This is more efficient than having to navigate to each document individually and click Save.

If you use Word 2007/2010, this won't work. But you can add the Save All command to your Quick Access Toolbar:

  1. Click the Office button (File in 2010) and click Word Options (Options in 2010).
  2. Click Customize in the left-hand column (Quick Access Toolbar in 2010).
  3. Select Commands Not In The Ribbon from the Choose Commands From drop-down list.
  4. Scroll down and select Save All.
  5. Click the Add button and then click OK.

Additional resources

Other tips?

This is a somewhat random collection of tips, but I use them often (and gratefully). If you have your own favorite timesavers, join the discussion and share them with fellow members.

About

Jody Gilbert has been writing and editing technical articles for the past 25 years. She was part of the team that launched TechRepublic and is now senior editor for Tech Pro Research.

23 comments
bkaplanr
bkaplanr

Could you also tell us how to keep margin markers (or whatever those little things are called that can be pulled to set a margin area within a document) from floating, from document to document (in other words, to keep them constant). It really drives me nuts when I leave a doc., come back to it later and have to *reset* the bloody things continually!

bkaplanr
bkaplanr

Most of these I'll never use, but the first (with variations) I certainly will. My question is, what on earth do I do when I accidentally press some key (whatever it was!) and find my doc. formatted with paragraph signs and an artificially wide margin [2 inches wide] that I never wanted, or similar bizarre changes??! The same thing? Just 'Undo'?

dhays
dhays

The email says 25 must read Word tips, you get here and you offer 5, where are the other 20? [TechRepublic] Inside the world's fastest supercomputer 6/24/2011 08:49 AM "25 must-read Word tips Five Word tips that could change your life Five tips for making sense out of the Word 2007/2010 style tools Five tips for using Word's Track Changes feature more efficiently Five tips for working beyond Word's page-numbering basics Five tips for working with headers and footers in Word 2010"

Ron_007
Ron_007

I'm a touch typist. I have the old menu commands I use regularly memorized at the "muscle memory" level, they just happen without conscious thought. So I (STILL) find that the ribbon has the same effect as forcing me to type wearing boxing gloves. EUCH! I recently learned how to make using the ALT key to access ribbon commands work better for me. In the menu version I used to hold the ALT key all the way through the shortcut letters. That doesn't work well in the ribbon. It is a habit I have to break. In the Ribbon, there are 2 things. First is that some, not all, of the old shortcut paths are are still active. It is trial and error. Second, if you hold the ALT key down, it takes roughly 2 seconds to display the next level of shortcut keys. Very distracting. BUT, I have found that if you press and immediately release the ALT key, the shortcut keys are displayed immediately, so you can buzz through the paths you already know quickly.

Ron_007
Ron_007

If the ribbon is taking up too much of your screen space, use to toggle minimize the ribbon. When it is minimized all you see the tab names, sorta like the old menu.

IndianaTux
IndianaTux

This is why I subscribe to TechRepublic newsletters. Very, very useful and appreciated. Thanks for these tips!

Tink!
Tink!

There was no response from the page when I clicked "Post". Finally refreshed and saw 3 repeats! UGH!!

Tink!
Tink!

:) 1 or 2 of these were instinctive, at least for me anyway. But still, a good list!

Tink!
Tink!

:) 1 or 2 of these were instinctive, at least for me anyway. But still, a good list!

Tink!
Tink!

:) 1 or 2 of these were instinctive, at least for me anyway. But still, a good list!

DFagerstrom
DFagerstrom

In Word 5.0 for DOS, CTL-Shift plus mouse drag works--just tried it. When the Microsoft Windows Word versions came along, CTL-Shift-F8 provided same. Works in Word 2007

Robiisan
Robiisan

...I will use it often. To bad there isn't a similar command in Excel (I looked). Tip one about vertical selection is now in my personal repertoire, too. Thank you for an excellent article! Please make this available as a download? Thanks!!!

devandewey
devandewey

These are awesome tips, but the article really needs to updated to reflect the UI for Office 2010.

Muntz
Muntz

You need to type the 3 characters listed, then hit the enter key before the border automatically appears (at least in Word 2007). Also, typing three dash/hyphen/minus characters (-) will create a line thinner than the underscore version creates.

pgit
pgit

I had a major "DUH!" moment with the ctrl+Z undoing automatic formatting. I've wasted so much time dinking around trying to fix those changes it ain't funny. I will say in my testing this just now it looks like it might be a good idea to have a few lines in the document beyond the point where the auto-formatting has occurred. When a line was auto-generated that was on the last line of the document, after a ctrl+Z to eliminate the formatting, the next line entered would redo the line. (restore the line, as if a "redo" were issued) Might just be me. Lord knows it has been before... :)

craigkra
craigkra

Thanks for the vertical selection tip - real productivity gains!!

Robiisan
Robiisan

On the Home tab, in the paragraph group, you are clicking on the "show/hide hidden formatting" button (or some keyboard "shortcut" to achieve the same thing) I think. If not, at least that button will reverse the paragraph signs. Of course, if you print, those signs will not show up. As for the wide margin, I don't know. My 2007 doesn't do that when I show formatting, and I'm installing 2010 tomorrow. Good luck!

pgit
pgit

Hey, don't worry, it'll boost your usage stats here in the forums. Seriously though, I see that same hesitation often. I've learned to just walk away (well, go to another tab) and wait it out. The odd thing is the occasions that it doesn't post, I find a log in (to tech republic) screen waiting for me. I therefor assume the delay is in authentication. I notice it seems to fail more frequently since the forum software was changed a couple months ago.

Ron_007
Ron_007

Rather than mousing, I prefer the "old school" keyboard approach: to start "block select" then use cursor arrow keys to select the block

a.portman
a.portman

I am forever having to change lists that the originator typed in the numbers rather than allow Word to number. This will be a big time saver.

pgit
pgit

I'm sending the link to this article to a lot of the office 'power users' I know. It'll be interesting to see how much of this any of them know. I still can't get over that vertical selection... I've dreamed about that many times, staring at some document that needs cleaning up.

Editor's Picks