Word Tips and TricksHow to make the most of Microsoft Word--or dump it and never look back.
In addition to writing PC World's Home Office column, Steve Bass is the author of "PC Annoyances." Sign up to have Steve Bass's Home Office Newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Steve is hoping for an OS/2 version of Wordstar, and maybe even Volkswriter. Comments or questions? Send him e-mail.
Ten years ago, I switched from Wordstar to Microsoft Word. It was a traumatic experience. And, strangely enough, I'm still traumatized whenever I launch Word. Don't laugh: I still feel like a novice; and I often get in over my head. That's why I get excited when I bump into useful tips and shortcuts, things that really boost my productivity with Word.
This week: columns, articles, and tricks for Office, with an emphasis on Word. Plus, some great alternatives for those of you who hate the Microsoft suite.
Woody's Wonderful World of Word
I recently put the finishing touches on the revised and updated version of my book, PC Annoyances. So I spent some intimate moments mesmerized with Word and some of its difficult-to-use features. That's why I was delighted to see "Take Command: Make Office Work Your Way," one of our occasional Office Tips columns from Word wizard Woody Leonhard.
I've got two favorite tips. (You can find them by using your browser to search the printer-friendly version that's linked above.) The first is "Give Word New Style," where Woody explains how to customize Word's styles. The second is "Reorder the My Places Bar," which deals with an annoying problem with Office's Places Bar. Woody talks about the feature's bugginess, something I know about firsthand.
The Registry fix Woody describes in the tip is good; but if you're having trouble with the Office Places Bar and want a faster, far easier way to customize it, go to Woody's site and download the WOPR Places Bar Customizer. Granted, it's $15; but it makes navigating and changing the folders in the Places Bar quicker, and it lets you change the items' icons. Flavors include Office 2000 through 2003.
BTW, the rest of the article has some good tips, too.
Woody also makes his presence known in "Time-Saving Tips From the Pros," which is loaded with good tips from five of our experts. One I use, "Show Paragraph Marks and Tabs in Word," talks about how to manipulate what the Show Paragraph Marks feature displays when it's turned on.
Dig This: A few weeks back I mentioned the Hex Clock. Apparently there are other weird clocks out there: David Acker told me about the LED Binary Clock; Warshall suggests I build my own; and Ira reminded me that not all cool clocks need to be purchased.
Bass's Word Tips
They're actually annoyances, two things that have irritated me for the last year, and both are (finally) fixed.
The first deals with Word's Format Painter. I love using the feature to copy a paragraph style or a character format to another chunk of text. (If you're searching for Format Painter, it should be in your Standard toolbar, the one with New Document and Open; the icon looks like a small paintbrush.)
Here's how it works, ordinarily: Click a paragraph or word that's formatted the way you want, then click the Format Painter icon. Then click the word, words, or paragraph you want to copy the formatting to.
But it drives me bonkers that I can copy the format to only one portion of text before I have to repeat the process. I wasn't sure if Format Painter was dumb--or if I was missing something.
With some experimenting, I figured out that Word's developers just didn't make all the uses of this glorious feature obvious. You can indeed copy the formatting multiple times: First, select the portion of text with the formatting to be copied; then double-click the Format Painter icon. Now you can click and copy the formatting onto multiple areas. Click the Format Painter icon again when you're done.
The second annoyance deals with another part of Word I fiddle with every now and again: the toolbar. Rearranging the buttons on the toolbar is a hassle. I have to right-click a blank spot on the toolbar, click Customize, and then rearrange stuff.
What I accidentally discovered is you don't need to hassle with Word's traditional of modifying the toolbar if you just want to move some items around. You can do it on the fly. Delete a button by holding the Alt key while dragging the button off the toolbar. Moving is just as easy--hold down Alt and drag the icon to a new spot. You're getting the idea, right? Hold down both Alt and Ctrl to copy a button to a new location.
Dig This: If you ever thought of using a Mac, check out this handy instruction sheet (which says loads about Mac users).
Consider the Alternatives
Every time I write about Word, I get e-mail from WordPerfect fans: "Hey Bass, WordPerfect is better than Word." So okay, yes, that's probably true. WordPerfect may just be better than Word. At this point, though, I'd be crazy to switch. (But if you hear of a version of Wordstar for XP, let me know.)
You might want to investigate switching to WP--especially if you're using an old version of Word. And you'll really want to consider WP if you don't already have a word processor. Take a look at Harry McCracken's revealing review, "WordPerfect, Microsoft Office Style." You'll learn how in some ways it emulates Word yet goes beyond, with Reveal Codes and a built-in PDF generator. (For marketing hype, go to Corel's site.)
If you're interested in buying the full version, check our Product Finder for current pricing. Prices range from $186 to $317, with around $200 being most common.
You'll also want to take a look at Michael Desmond's "Alternate Universe," subtitled "Not all office suites are from Microsoft." You'll pick up a tad more info on Corel's Standard Edition of WordPerfect Office 12, as well as profiles of five other word processors. Michael's story mentions OpenOffice.org, a free Office alternative that readers have been trying to get me to use--without much success. (You can try it by downloading a copy from OpenOffice.org's site.)
For more on OpenOffice.org and other freebies, read Dennis O'Reilly's "Open Source Software Goes to Work."