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9 Lesser-Known Word Features

22 March 2019

From TheFormTool:

One thing that makes Word stand out is its simplicity. The ability to just open a tab and start writing like you would in a book is impressive. It needs no training. But this ease of use is often overlooked by the professional text-editing market. When it comes to more complex tasks (e.g. handling data, tables and equations), users tend to drift towards other programs. They don’t always realize how versatile MS Word is.

From 2007 to 2016, Microsoft made Word appreciably more productive and easier to use with every update. New features were constantly added. In some cases, features that people thought to be new were there before.

. . . .

1. Customization

Whatever industry you work in, you can set Word preferences to reflect the output you need. For example, you can add exceptions to the dictionary so they don’t show as typos every time you write them. You can alter the Quick Access Toolbar (QAT) so it displays the commands you feel are most handy. That way, you don’t have to dig around for the tools you need (e.g. quick print, email, draw table).

The good thing about customization is that you can turn it off and on. When you need to write a creative text, for instance, you can switch off auto-correct to allow a bit more artistic license. For formal writing, you can make it stricter again.

. . . .

3. Distraction-Free Reading and Editing

The working area of Microsoft Word is customizable. You can create a clean, uncluttered writing environment by collapsing the ribbon. If you want, you can make the whole screen a writing area by switching to “Web Layout”. The view becomes even cleaner in “Read Mode”, with an extra option to hide the reading toolbar if wanted.

. . . .

5. Writing Style and Readability

As well as technical mistakes in spelling and grammar, Word also highlights other possible errors in writing style. For instance, it can show you instances of the passive voice, which is undesirable in excess. It’ll help you avoid wordiness and jargon, too, among many other things. You can even choose whether to favor the Oxford comma.

MS Word also grades your text with a Flesch readability score. This will penalize you for overly long sentences or too many long words. Careful writers often aim for a Flesch rating of 60 or more, though this is not always realistic with technical texts.

. . . .

8. Multiple Clipboard Items

Office work involves a lot of copying, cutting and pasting, which are all standard Word features. However, the clipboard aspect of these features is less well-known. Many people return to the same spot over and over to copy text, and they often lose it when they highlight another section. The Word clipboard holds up to 24 selections for use in different parts of the document.

Link to the rest at TheFormTool

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50 Comments to “9 Lesser-Known Word Features”

  1. My current favorite feature in Word is the “read aloud” button under the review tab. While its pronunciation isn’t always correct, for editing it’s a lifesaver. I can hear a pause for every comma and find errors that my eyes would miss.

  2. I am not and probably will never be a MS Word fan. I was dragged into this dystopia kicking and screaming from Word Perfectopia. I still prefer it though it’s been 20 years; I still remember its ease of use.

    And that said, I just about set my hair on fire trying to get it to number my document starting at page 2 (my new novel). Once that was done, and I still don’t know exactly what I did to get it to work, because it’s completely counter-intuitive, I then spent four hours trying to match the table of contents to the document.

    There is a lot of buried code in some of the routines. Sometimes the dropdown menus don’t actually work. Absent that, I suppose it’s an adequate tool, but I’ll never be a fan.

  3. It gets harder and harder to use Word with every update. I stopped allowing updates several years ago. I was forced to buy a newer version (the oldest one I could find) for this computer, and I cuss at it almost daily – it doesn’t DO everything my old version did.

    Updates are emphatically turned off again.

    • I drove a couple people crazy by being able to send them Word 2000 docs and still being able to read their Word 2003+ docs. (OpenOffice for the win/translation.)

      MYMV and you have tools that work for you rather than tools you work for … 😉

  4. An unforeseen consequence of agile programming and continuous update is that documentation doesn’t keep up with the development of the product. Microsoft has opened a fire hose of development and innovation in Word and documentation has not kept up.

    Writing and revising documentation often takes as much time as developing and testing code. Asking a writer to document incomplete code is usually a mess, so the documentation always trails behind. In truth, documentation is critical to the quality assurance process. If a feature is not clearly enough documented for a user to take advantage of it, the feature is broken, no matter how perfectly it works.

    I admit, documentation was always a problem when I was developing products. As soon as we found a tech writer who could actually write clearly, and we brought them up to speed on a product, they’d quit to write their damn novel and we were back to square one.

  5. How twee. Now let’s have the list of undocumented features that nobody asked for and will earn their creator an all-expenses paid tour of the innermost circles of Hell. Like the one that turns only SOME of the italics in my novel to regular text, because its tiny brain can’t cope with a paragraph that has 50% or more italics? (it appears to confuse the style selector). Or the time I was editing on the bus and every bump was converted to a new format (invisible to the reader) but took me !$%$#%$#@ HOURS to untangle when I converted to HTML? I have an entire zoo of voodoo dolls for their helpful Word features!

    • Alternatives exist.
      Besides Word Perfect Office, there is Softmaker Office:


      It round-trips through MS Office seamlessly. It lets you choose between ribbon and classic menu guis. It also directly creates epubs. And there is a full version for Android.

      There is also a variety of LibreOffice/OpenOffice forks out there for free.

      No need to suffer the vagaries of Word if you don’t want to.

      • I live in OpenOffice. I write my fiction in Scrivener. But for that one step in Amazon’s print book creation…have to use Word. May the fleas of a thousand camels infest its armpits…

        • Why?
          As long as the files are in proper Word format it shouldn’t matter where they come from. And by now “proper word format” doesn’t come just from word.

        • I just recently went from Word to LibreOffice for my print books. So much easier once you get a handle on page styles (something Word doesn’t have). On the other hand, for writing, I am using LibreOffice, but I miss Word 2007. I just hated Word 2016/19 so much that I couldn’t bring myself to continue with MS Office. I had an Office 365 subscription for 3 years and didn’t even manage to use Word 2016 for one full book. I finally just gave up.

          • FWIW, Softmaker has the old Word gui as an option.

            Page styles?
            Thanks for the tip. I’ll check it out.

            • Took me a bit to really wrap my head around them (it was one reason I never went to InDesign, having to set up master pages and the like) but once I did, I realized how powerful they were. Good luck with them. Very useful, IMO.

              I also really prefer LibreOffice’s control for hyphenation. Putting a lot of time into a paperback doesn’t have a lot of ROI for me, so having the ability to simplify the process and still get a nice looking book is important to me. 🙂

            • Oh, and the gui wasn’t really the problem with the 2016/19 versions of Word for me. It was the font rendering. It was a disaster on my computer and from my research into the issue, my only real option was to get a new computer that worked better with Office. And Excel 2016 corrupted one of my Excel 2007 spreadsheets within a week and every other time I turned around.

              Of course, LibreOffice has its bugs too but at least I don’t have to pay for them.

          • So why did you stop using Word 2007? I know its unsupported and all that but it still works fine for me.

            I did try Libre Office & Open Office but they did funny things to both the styles of my Word documents and to my Excel spreadsheets. What I really miss though is editing in Lotus 1-2-3, it was always better than Excel or any other spreadsheet software I’ve used since I was first forced to use Excel.

            I do find the complaints about TOC and page numbering a bit puzzling, that’s one area I’ve never had any problems. Style management though is another matter …

            • I have a license that I got through my job and I’ve since left that job (2012). As soon as this laptop goes (it’s getting pretty old now), I won’t have a license for the software. It was part of a 5-pack license and it stayed at the job. 🙂

              That’s why I had subscribed to Office 365. But I hated Word 2016 so kept using Word/Office 2007. I’ve been looking at my options for when I replace this laptop and decided to go ahead and make the move once I did a few paperbacks with LibreOffice Writer.

              I really like Word’s style sets. That’s been the hardest thing to get used to in LibreOffice to be honest because there isn’t a simple alternative in Writer for style sets, but Writer has page styles and that’s a decent trade off. (The first hardest thing was actually the background gray, but the nice thing about LibreOffice is that it’s pretty customizable if you dig into the settings, and I was able to change the background color of the application to match the color of Word 2007 and that was great. Seems silly, I know, but it made a world of difference for me.)

              I’m not 100% happy, to be sure, but it beats word 2016/19 for me, and has some nice features that Word 2007 doesn’t have, so it’s a trade off of some things I like better in one and some that are more useful in the other.

        • You can avoid using Word. Skip the docx step and go directly to pdf for upload to KDP. I’m constrained to use Word for other reasons and I happen to like Word, but I always upload pdfs, not docxs. I work on the design until I like the pdf, then upload it. That seems to be pretty standard in the industry.

          LibreOffice has a decent pdf generation engine, or it was good the last time I used it, which wasn’t that long ago. Good pdf generation libraries are easily accessible to developers. I expect Scrivener has a good engine also, although I haven’t yet found a reason to use Scrivener so I have never exercised it.

          I recommend Sumatra for viewing pdfs– fast, compact, generic engineering, which means that a pdf that looks right in Sumatra is likely to look right everywhere. You don’t want a pdf viewer that subtly corrects mistakes because they might not be corrected in the final display.

          • When I saved my .docx novel as a .pdf, it stripped all my painfully established headers and footers. I tried several times with no joy. Reverted to the .docx file to upload the text file to Amazon and it took it without a whimper.

            I still don’t know exactly what I did wrong. Or right, for that matter.

            • There are several things that could have happened, either in the way you formatted your docx or the pdf generation engine you happened to use. At a certain point, all document transformations involve a developer guessing what the document creator intended. The developer guesses wrong and the result gets weird. No matter how precisely a system is specified, there are always edges and corners where it gets fuzzy.

              That’s why you can never absolutely rely on any conversion. Therefore, the fewer conversions, the less likely a wrong guess. I like creating and checking my own pdfs because most printing systems now take pdf’s as input. However, when a process delivers results that satisfy you, by all means stick with it.

  6. While I was WIR at a writer’s centre I had a film script to finish. Tried uploading various screenwriter programs wth no success even if I paid for them. Finally found a way to format script in Word. Took me all day to work through the steps some angel had left online.I was so tired I couldn’t even try it out with my work. Next morning opened my script with great trepidation but voila, was able to finish, edit and send to producer with no hassles.Can’t recall the steps which I’ve kept, but most of what I did was under “development” a feature I didn’t even know I had.

  7. I used to be a Word power user so I knew most of the Windows features inside out. Where I worked, before I retired, MS Office was the standard suite. At home, I was on a Mac and still am.

    When I had bought my first Mac I didn’t want to spend the money or needed MS Office for home use so I used Clarisworks. At the time, it was inexpensive and had all the features I needed since it contained a word processor, spreadsheet, and a database. I moved to iWork’s when Apple killed Clarisworks. I liked Pages a lot, the search function was the best I’ve seen. It was extremely helpful during the editing process. I was not happy when Apple, back in 2013, dumbed down Pages to make the Mac and IPad versions compatible.

    Since then I work mainly in Scrivener since it suits the way I work best, and it does what I tell it to do. Word sometimes tries to be helpful to the point it drives you crazy.

    The only time I use Word is when I have compiled the novel into a Word doc to send to my editor. At that stage it stays in Word. I don’t want to convert back and forth, conversions can sometimes create problems.

    I’ve tried OpenOffice and LibreOffice, but the deal breaker for me is their Track Changes feature. In Libreoffice, the strikethroughs remain visible in the document, and there is no way to hide them. In Word, you can configure in Track Changes so the deletions are not displayed on the screen or in print.

  8. I used to curse Word and hate having to use it and hated that my clients had to use it. Then I figured out how to let the program do its job (as opposed to battling step by step to shape it to my will). Customizing Word is easy as can be, and users can drill it down to the point where it’s (if they want) just a fancy typewriter offering zero distractions. I also create custom templates that make styling a doc as simple as inputting text. I have a template for composition and another for ebooks (I don’t use it, but give it to self-publishers who need one). I even have one to create markup docs for proofreading. Once a template is made, it’s pretty much set it and forget it.

    For line editing and proofreading, it’s a superb tool. The Find/Replace function alone can save writers and proofreaders tens of hours of work. (Did you know you can use the Find function to root out homonyms?)

    The biggest problem with Word is that it is way too much program for 90% of creative writers and self-publishers. It’s so cluttered with features it can be difficult to pick and choose which features work best. That’s where customization comes in.

    FYI, the secret to proper right/left page numbering and getting the numbers to start (and end) where and how you want them, is to use section breaks, not page breaks.

    • “The biggest problem with Word is that it is way too much program for 90% of creative writers and self-publishers.”


      I haven’t done the research, but from the comments here, and similar places, the time is right for a new handbook on Word (and word processing in general) for writers.

      Word processing has leaped ahead in the last few decades and it becomes more powerful with every automatic software upgrade, faster processor, increase in available memory and storage, and jump in network bandwidth. So often, when I read of people’s problems with Word, I think of some poor guy trying to cut a two-by-four with a Skillsaw that isn’t plugged in.

      And I sympathize. They’re writers. They don’t have time or inclination to become word processing experts, so they learn just enough to get the job at hand done and then get back to their serious business of writing. Two months later, when they tackle a similar problem, their half-learned and half-remembered solution lets them down. Who wouldn’t be mad?

      And Microsoft has not made it easy. I’ve burned hours puzzling over help forums. I’ve resorted to reading the xml in docxs and studying Word OLE documentation. I used to know developers on the Word dev team and watched them stumble while using Word. In the end, I’ve always concluded that Word is a good product, well-designed with surprising power and flexibility, but writers need to write, not become junior engineers.

      However, the writers who plug in their Skillsaw, instead of going back to a handsaw, will make more sawdust.

      • I just downloaded a copy of Jaye’s book Word For the Wise. It’s very good. If you are having trouble with Word, read it.

      • This. If Word had stopped “improving” and adding features in ’07, and let a Simple Word for those of us who don’t need bells and whistles, I’d be very happy. As it is, re-learning where everything is hiding and how to undo the helpful [SNORT!] new features is a pain in the tuckes. And I don’t like leasing the software, either, but academic journals want Word, so I slog through Word.

        • It’s the way of the world. The river just flows on. You can’t stop those pesky developers from developing. Most are sharp, but they hate explaining what they have done because it takes away from their time for creating new stuff. Not unlike writers.

          • I think the problem is marketing, not developing. I want the developers go wild. It’s then up to marketing to package the products.

          • Thing is, Word is too important to let it stagnate as nothing but a word processor when it is also one of the primary front-ends to SharePoint and a key component of the MS Office Automation empire. (Too much money at stake to let Google muscle in.)

            A more reasonable request might be to suggest MS bring back MS Write, as configured for the Atari ST market way back when, or a new MS WORKS. But with Office Home and Student filling that price point they have little incentive. (Again, money.)

            Maybe the solution is a bunch of power user authors cooking up an author-centric configuration by tweaking the menus and bars to expose preferred features and hide less favored ones. Word *is* extremely configurable. And the custom configurations can be saved for reuse.

            It just takes time to run the drill. Took me over an hour the last time I did it and that was two, three releases back.

            • A simple author-centric configuration and approach to Word is basically what Jaye Manus does in her book Word For The Wise. I looked at it for the first time today and I was very impressed.

              I have quite a bit of experience with “junior versions” of big products. They are a money-losing pain on the development side. The only practical way to do it is to make a crippled version of the full product that runs the same code as the full product. Maintaining a separate code base for a junior product doubles your maintenance costs without much revenue in return. Don’t want to do that. I would guess that Msft’s student and community versions were instituted to save the cost of maintaining Write and Msft Works.

              From a development and support cost standpoint, I would argue for charging a premium for a strapped down, junior version of a product in order to match the revenue return on the development and support dollar on the full version. That probably sounds counter-intuitive, but those junior versions run up costs and don’t contribute much to revenue.

              If I owned the Microsoft Word product, I might ask marketing to promote OfficeLibre Write to authors to get a junior Word product out of my hair. The money is in corporate licenses with premium support, not individuals who want to pay once and whine forever.

              That’s just the view from the development knothole. From the perspective of the entire Office product, you want the entire world sucked in tight to an Office world. Give the product away to individuals in order to keep a tight hold on the corporate and government licenses, just don’t let the little guys expect support for their free ride.

              That’s the hard ball version of product development. I knew how to play, but I didn’t like the game. All this may have changed since I left the biz, but I don’t see any signs that it has.

              • I should add that the only cost of giving away an unsupported copy of Office is the possibility that you could have sold it. Unlike physical goods, software has almost no incremental cost. Ford can’t give away free cars because the cost of manufacturing a Lincoln is substantial. Selling a copy of Microsoft Office costs Microsoft almost nothing if they don’t have to support it.

                • The strategy of keeping a free version alongside the paid version is exactly what SoftMaker does. They also have a subscription version so they’re hitting it from all sides.
                  Which they have to, going against Word and LibreOffice.

                • @Felix. Smart. But a tough product challenge.

                • Word used to have a feature where you could create your own command bar at the top of the screen. When I did that, I included the things I used, and nothing more. I made a simple control bar, because what I did was pretty simple. Just straight narrative. It worked great. It was a full featured version of Word, but all I saw was what I used.

                  That was a stand alone version. I have Office 365 now, and haven’t tried to make a command bar. Not sure if the feature survived.

                • Terrence: You still can. You can hide the ribbon and just use the button bar. It’s what I do.

                  What I used to do way back when, was use a third party utility that let you add button bars to any windows app. The buttons simply invoked keyboard combos and you could label them with any icon or text string. I preferred the text. Worked great for hidden commands used occasionally.

                  Hmm, maybe I should see if a modern equivalent exists…

                • I hide the ribbon and use the button bar also. If you click the down arrow on the button bar, select “More commands…”, then choose “All commands” you get a list of commands that looks to me like the entire Word OLE API. There’s so much there, it’s a pain to find what you want.

                  It’s an old lazy product manager’s trick to troll for successful add-ons, and then incorporate them into the product instead of thinking up new features on their own.

                  One caution: I used to trick out applications extensively for my personal use, but I have cut back on it because I found myself unable to use the vanilla product when helping others. Now, I try to strike a medium.

  9. Thanks for the secret, Jaye. The section breaks were already established when I wanted to start setting my hair on fire.

    At one point, I had gotten the page numbering right (centered in the footer, no page number on the first page) and then discovered that getting the footer correct had removed all the headers. At one point when I put the header back in, the footers vanished. I still don’t know exactly what I did to get both to play nice.

  10. What is this Word monstrosity that you speak of?

    Plain text with Markdown formatting has become my tool of choice, final edit in Google Docs, done.

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