Two easy ways to customize the ribbon interface

If the ribbon doesn't provide easy access to the options you use the most, put them on the QAT or add a new group to the ribbon.

Most of us are acclimated to the ribbon (finally) but if the ribbon's still not working for you, you're not stuck. You can add options to the Quick Access Toolbar (QAT) or customize the ribbon (in 2010) for convenience or efficiency (or both).

For instance, one of the options Word users miss the most is the Styles control - that dropdown on Word 2003's toolbar that lets you apply styles with just a click or two. On the other hand, 2010's Styles gallery isn't quite as user-friendly. With that in mind, I'll show you two ways to add the Styles dropdown to the ribbon interface. We'll be working in Word, but you can use these same techniques in other Office applications.

Customize the QAT

The QAT resides in the top-left corner of the screen (or just below the ribbon). Add options that are hard to find, that you use often, or that aren't on the ribbon at all, such as the 2003 Style control. To add the 2003-version Style control to the QAT, do the following:

  1. Choose More Commands from the QAT's dropdown list.
  2. In the resulting dialog, select Commands Not In The Ribbon from the Choose Commands From dropdown.
  3. Find and select Style in the resulting list.
  4. Click Add (between the two lists).
  5. Click OK to return to Word, where you'll find the Style control on the QAT.

Create a custom tab

Another alternative is to create a custom group (or tab) if you're using Office 2010 (you can't easily customize the 2007 ribbon). It makes sense to add the Style dropdown to the Font tab by adding a new group, rather than creating a new tab. You can accomplish that task as follows:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options. In the left pane, select Customize Ribbon. Or, use the QAT's dropdown, choose More Commands and then select Customize Ribbon.
  2. In the resulting dialog box, select Font under the Home tab in the Main Tabs list.
  3. Click New Group (at the bottom of the list). You can rename the new group if you like by right-clicking it, but we won't do that now.
  4. To add Style to the new group, choose Not In The Ribbon from the Choose Commands From dropdown.
  5. Find and select Style in the resulting list.
  6. With the new group in the Main Tabs list (still) selected, click Add. Doing so will add Style to that group's list.
  7. Click OK to return to Word, where you'll find the Style control in a new group on the Font tab.

In step 3, we added a new group to an existing tab. You could just as easily create a custom tab and add options using the same method described above. In addition, we didn't give the new group a name - that's something you might want to do. Simply right-click New Group in the Main Tabs list, choose Rename, and enter a meaningful name.

Adding a custom group (or tab) will impact the ribbon a bit, so be prepared. You might not like the result. You can also use the arrows to the right of the Main Tabs list to move the new group within the tab or to move the new tab on the ribbon.

You can use both methods to group your favorite options or to gain quick access to 2003 options that are no longer available via the interface. Deciding between the QAT and a new tab will be more difficult than making either happen!


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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