When you’re under the pump with looming deadlines, the last thing you want or need is to be battling it out with your software. It’s time to take back control!
Several years ago, I received a call from a client – let’s call him Joe. Joe was seeking help with the formatting of several Word documents. It was a routine telephone conversation but when I opened the Word document Joe subsequently emailed me, here’s what I found:
Word makes me want to pull my hair out … Why don’t you go format yourself … Word is the stupidest program on the planet …
Clearly, Joe was feeling a little frustrated – Microsoft Word is not always the most compliant program to work with. I should know. I’ve worked with Word for many years and, at times, still find myself stumped by its peculiarities.
Having said that, there are simple yet effective ways of removing some of the frustration you may feel when formatting your documents, especially lengthy reports and proposals.
Here are four Word features which are particularly useful. (Note all of the below is for Word 2013 but the process is essentially the same for Word 2007 / 2010.)
Styles hold a set of instructions that tell Word how to format text and headings, and enable formatting to be applied with the click of a button. The ‘instructions’ include settings for elements such as font size and colour, line and paragraph spacing, etc.
Now, you can use Microsoft’s default Styles or, better still, adapt these to suit your own needs.
Using Styles means that, instead of highlighting every main heading and formatting it to be:
- Verdana font
- 18pt size
… you can simply modify the existing Heading 1 style to be all of the above. As a bonus, if you decide you’d rather that main heading was teal in colour instead of blue, you just have to update the Style and all instances of text formatted with Heading 1 in the document will automatically update. You can imagine the time saving this creates when working with a 50 page report.
To apply a style:
- Ensure the word / phrase / paragraph is selected;
- Click the dropdown arrow of the Quick Styles Gallery (Home tab > Styles group), and select the relevant style.
To modify a style:
- Right click the style within the Quick Styles Gallery, and select Modify;
- Use the Format button at the bottom left-hand corner of the dialogue box to access and make changes to any aspect of the style.
2. Table of Contents
It always amazes me how many people are not familiar with this super-useful Word feature.
Word uses heading styles (Headings 1-9) to automatically generate a table of contents. If you ensure you’re applying those heading styles throughout your document, then you’ll never have to painstakingly create a table of contents ever again. Or edit that table of contents after deleting or adding text.
If you’ve been diligent with your headings then inserting (and updating) a table of contents takes only a few quick steps.
To insert a table of contents:
- Place the cursor where the table is to be inserted;
- Click the Table of Contents button (References tab > Table of Contents group);
- For an automatic table of contents, with three heading levels, select Automatic Table 1 or Automatic Table 2; OR
- To display more or fewer headings / levels within the table of contents, select Custom Table of Contents. Increase or reduce the number of heading levels via Show levels, and make any other customisations as required.
To update a table of contents to reflect any changes you’ve made within your document:
- Right click the table of contents;
- Select Update Field;
- Select Update page numbers only or Update entire table depending on whether extra headings have been added to your document.
3. Keep text only
Often when working on lengthy documents, you may find yourself copying and pasting text from other documents such as reports, etc. This is a great time saver, but you do need to ensure that you’re not also bringing across unwanted formatting with the copied text.
- Paste the text at the appropriate point within your document;
- A clipboard icon with Paste Options will appear;
- Click the clipboard icon and select Keep Text Only.
As the name suggests, only the text will be pasted. This means any direct formatting originally applied to the text (e.g. bold font) will be lost, and you’ll need to reapply this as the next step. But it also means you’ll avoid introducing any unwanted styles or formatting.
Note that Keep Text Only is not the default setting for pasting text within Word. If you’d like to change this setting, follow the instructions here.
4. Section breaks
If there’s anything that’s going to push you over the edge with Word, I believe section breaks could be it!!
A section break controls the formatting of the pages before it. This includes formatting such as headers / footers, page orientations (i.e. portrait versus landscape), etc.
If you accidentally delete a section break, the pages before it will take on the formatting of the next section (i.e. because those pages now sit within the next section).
To avoid this, try working with formatting marks displayed as this is the easiest way to identify where section breaks occur within your document. To show formatting marks, click the Show/Hide button (Home tab > Paragraph group).
So there you have it, four effective ways to manage your anger when it comes to working with Microsoft Word.
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This article also appeared at Flying Solo.