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Monday, April 17, 2006

Making Word Work For You

While Word has many time-saving features, wouldn't it just be better if you had control of Word instead of Word having control of you? I'll present here my preferred setup for Word that helps me get the most out of it.

1. General Word Options

First off, the Drawing Canvas is designed to make your life simpler by grouping drawing objects into one great whole. Well, IMHO, it's just a great big pain. Another important option to turn off on the General tab is the option which allows Word to start in Reading Layout. Reading Layout is great, but I rarely open a Word document just to read it - I more often actually want to work on a Word document. Another note: there's a bug in Word where if you open a document with Tracked Changes on with a table of contents in it in Reading Layout, all of your TOC page numbers will be the same number (just update the TOC field to fix them again). So, best to turn these off:

  1. Tools > Options > General tab
  2. Uncheck "Automatically create drawing canvas when inserting autoshapes"
  3. Uncheck "Allow starting in Reading Layout"

2. Editing Options

Let's talk about formatting. Word 2002/2003 has an awesome new feature that will keep track of your formatting and make suggestions (ever seen those blue wavy lines?) on how to make your document less like how you create them, and more like how Word wishes you'd create them. Here's (a simplified version) of what I mean: when you apply formatting to words, you're actually applying layers of formatting. That's why it sometimes looks funny and inconsistent (fixing this will be the topic of another post). However, Word might really appreciate you more if you'd tell it to ignore those differences. Here's how:
  1. Tools > Options > Edit tab
  2. Uncheck Keep track of formatting (this will make "Mark formatting inconsistencies" unavailable also)
3. Saving Options

Unless you're working with foreign languages a lot, especially those that require funky additional fonts (e.g. bidrectional languages like Hebrew), then you'll want to tell Word exclude saving linguistic data with your documents. The Less Word puts in the document, the fewer reasons a document could break:
  1. Tools > Options > Save tab
  2. Uncheck "Embed TrueType fonts"
  3. Uncheck "Embed linguistic data"
  4. Uncheck "Embed smart tags" (this doesn't have to do with foreign languages, but while you're here, remove this bloating burden)
There are a few automatic features that I think are useful. For example, the AutoRecover feature is quite useful (not 100% reliable, but useful). I decrease the time between AutoRecover saves so I lessen the chance of losing work:
  1. Tools > Options > Save tab
  2. Change "Save AutoRecover info every:" time to 1 minute
Keep in mind though, this does not SAVE your documents, it allows you to RECOVER work lost BETWEEN saves AFTER the time SINCE your LAST SAVE and AFTER the AutoRecover time threshold has PASSED (so, if you save your document and start working in it with this setting set at 1 minute, then after 1 minute a ###.asd file will be created - if you don't save and Word CRASHES (not just closes), then you can recover your work. Whew!

Another useful feature (while we're in that dialog box) is "Make Local Copy of files stored on network or removable drives." Checking this will help prevent losing data due to network/device failures. But, keep in mind that you'll have to move/copy/save your document back out to the network location when you're done. BTW, if you're having read-only issues or lots of left-over temp files on your network drives, you just need to give everyone ("Users") the Modify permission for those folders. Then Word can clean up after itself appropriately.

While this section is about useful features, while we're here (in the Options dialog, Save tab), make sure that "Allow fast saves" is unchecked. This just isn't a good idea. I won't provide any real technical detail here, but just know that it will help with file bloating.

The "Always create backup copy" feature is also useful if you're paranoid about losing your work (which you should be). This feature will save a copy of your document as ".bak" in the same working directory as the original document. Might save your bacon one day. It's in the same tab as the other save-related features mentioned here.

4. Automagic Formatting

In the entirely non-fictional experience in the introduction ;), there was a magic line that you can't get rid of. This is a border line (incidentally, you have to put your cursor by it, and go to Format > Borders and Shading to remove it). Now, there are actually many things can trigger the automatic border feature (3 of the following characters for example: ~, -, _, =). Here's how to turn them off:
  1. Tools > Autocorrect Options... > AutoFormat As You Type tab
  2. Uncheck Border Lines
Word also has the (very irritating) ability to try to guess what you're trying to do and do it for you. An example is automatic bulleted and numbered lists. Sometimes, they work just fine. But other times, they're just a pain. Here's how you turn them off:
  1. Tools > Autocorrect Options... > AutoFormat As You Type tab
  2. Uncheck Automatic bulleted lists
  3. Uncheck Automatic numbered lists

Another automatic formatting feature that often goes unloved is the "Capitalize first letter of table cells" feature. Here's how to turn that off too:
  1. Tools > Autocorrect Options... > AutoCorrect tab
  2. Uncheck "Capitalize first letter of table cells"
For the average user (non-collaborative business types), Smart Tags are also neato, but worthless. I usually turn them off as well (no figure here, sorry):
  1. Tools > Autocorrect Options... > Smart Tags tab
  2. Uncheck "Label text with smart tags"
4. User Interface Enhancements

I think that 8 out of ten people dislike personalized menus (and I'm not sure you can trust the other two). I also like to see all of my toolbars (on two rows, like the good ol' days). Here's where you find those settings:
  1. Tools > Customize > Options tab
  2. Check "Always show full menus"
  3. Check "Show Standard and Formatting toolbars on two rows"
If you really want to be considered a power user (and who doesn't), then you might consider tweaking the UI even more. You can make a toolbar that has your often-used but not-so-accessible features on them.

When you're in the customize box, you can drag new buttons on, old buttons off and rearrange buttons on any of the toolbars that are up - including new ones. You can also edit the options in the menus in the same way - grab a command from the Commands tab in the Customize dialog box (such as "New...") and drag it over a menu on the main menu bar at the top of the screen (such as "File"). After a brief pause, you'll see the menu open and you can place this new item anywhere in the menu.

One step further, you can even customize your best friend in Microsoft Word: the context menu (or "Right-click" menu) There's a more detailed article on how to customize this toolbar here. Here's how:
  1. Go to Tools > Customize > Toolbars tab
  2. Check Shortcut Menus to activate the Shortcut Menu toolbar. This holds every context menu item available in Word.
  3. Switch to the Commands Tab and find the command you want to add to the shortcut menu.
  4. Drag this command on the appropriate menu.
  5. Close the Shortcut Menu toolbar and close the Customize box and try out your new spiffy context menu!
For example, if you want Paste Special... as a context menu item, find it in the command list (under Edit or All Commands), drag it over the Text menu in the Shortcut Menu toolbar (but don't let go of the button) . Once the menu appears, keep dragging the new item down to the Text shortcut in that big list that appears. A familiar context menu should then appear where you can drag and (finally) drop the menu item into the menu. When you close out the toolbar and dialogs, you can right-click in your document and have Paste Special as an option. I bet you didn't see that one coming, did you?


Word has some powerful features and can make the most novice user look like a document creation expert. It can also frustrate the most experienced user (including myself). If I have to give the Microsoft Word designers the most credit for any one thing, it would be the customizeability of Word the application. But, Word's features still need some help :)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This definitely helped me turn off the junk. Now I can go get some work done. Thanks Dave... I guess ;) !