This post was originally published in the Five Apps Blog on June 2011.

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.