Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor

The Microsoft Help Files:

Five Important Tools in Microsoft Word

By Russ Gifford
© 2004,
Russ Gifford

Microsoft Word offers many additional tricks for writers to speed and facilitate our craft. In this series of articles, I'll present a few of these features, and perhaps take you beyond your normal usage of this premier writer's aid, including crafting manuscript submission templates and easy tools for collaboration and tracking changes. But before we get there, we have to start with the basics.

The following five tools are some of the most basic in Word, and you may already use them. But they offer much to the writer, so be sure to check out my "bonus points" section for each item. These notes offer further tips and tricks, and you might be surprised at the additional depth these simple tools offer! Knowing these tricks will enable you to improve your writing, your editing, and eventually, your bottom line! 

1. Auto Correct

Obviously, Spell Checker is a key feature of Word, and everyone knows how to use it, right? But a subsidiary of Spellchecker is Auto Correct, and it can speed your writing by correcting your “usual” misspellings without forcing you to run Spellchecker. More importantly, you can program it to overcome your standard mistakes, and others can be switched on by checking the appropriate rule boxes on the Auto Correct tab! These "built in" rules include automatically correcting any word that starts with two capital letters, capitalizing the first letter of a sentence, and automatically changing any accidental use of the caps lock key.

More importantly, though, if you have some standard misspellings that you frequently trip over, you can also add these words to the Auto Correct function, and you'll never have to correct them by hand again – or even see them. Auto Correct will fix them as you type!

Here's How:

Click the Tools Menu. Choose Auto Correct. Choose the Auto Correct tab (if not already selected.) Check any boxes for rules you want to automatically include. To add your commonly misspelled words, be certain the "Replace Text as you Type" rule is checked, and then type the misspelled word in the open record under "Replace." Add the correct spelling in the open record under "with."  Then click "Add." Be certain the box for "automatically use suggestions from spell checker" is checked. Repeat as many times as you need to get all your frequently misspelled words into the Auto Correct dictionary.

Bonus points:

Some writing requires the use of certain words that might be long, or technical in nature, but requires repeating them. With autocorrect, you can give these words a two or three letter code word, and then each time you enter it, Auto Correct change it to the full word! That's a real time saver!

Additional bonus points:  Fine tuning Word.

Many publishers often ask writers to make certain they are using "straight quotes," since these are often translated as an unrecognized letter online or via a Mac. Simply click the tab marked "auto formatting as you type" and uncheck the appropriate boxes! The same is true if you want to stop unwanted auto formatting changes, like lines beginning with numbers triggering an indentation and a numbered list. When you are finished, simply click "OK" and you're set!

2. Undo

Again, this is another common feature of Word that everyone knows – but be aware there are a few different ways to use it, with some powerful traits! It is found under the Edit menu, though most people I know use the toolbar button (a bent left arrow). This will undo a single action – though the shortcut "CTRL+Z" achieves the same thing, without pausing your typing. But many people do not realize that you use "Undo" to reverse multiple actions at once, or choose a specific previous action to undo!

Here's How:

On the toolbar, there is a "look in" arrow to the right of the Undo button. (A black triangle pointing down.) Click it to open, and then slide your mouse down the list. This list will highlight, and clicking the bar at the bottom of the list (which reads "undo x actions" depending how many you've highlighted) will undo the listed number of actions, at once! Right now, I could undo 216 actions – which would take me back to the title of this article!

This is a powerful feature that can save lots of time, since in editing an article, you can often backtrack to a place you chose the wrong path!  You can also use it to find a specific action you performed earlier, and undo that single item. Or, for example, you can wipe out a group of edits you made that you decided you really didn't like, while keeping all the more recent changes you did like!

Bonus Points:

The sister button "Redo" becomes a lifesaver as well, allowing you to put a change back when you realize you liked the previous change after all!

3. Fast Highlighting

In Word, we select the text we want to move or format or delete by "hightlighting" it. Better yet, in Word, as everyone knows, we can drag and drop this highlighted text by clicking on it and holding the mouse button while we move the mouse pointer to a new position. This feature allows us to rearrange paragraphs in an article quickly, and is a real boon to writers. But many people seem to have great difficulty highlighting just the right amount of text! Problems generally arise with a speedy zip through the entire article when you reach the edge of the page.

There are many easy "workarounds" for this common problem.

The 1-2-3 click:

In Word, a click on a word highlights that single word. A second click on the same word highlights the line, and a third click will highlight the entire paragraph! With this, dragging and dropping a paragraph is a snap! (or should I say a click?)

The Shift Method:

Another easy way is to select exactly the right amount of text: single click your mouse at the start of the text you want to highlight, placing your insertion point there. Then use the scroll bar, (or the page down feature, or the cursor arrows,) to reach the end of the piece of text you want highlighted. If you hold down your SHIFT key as you single click the mouse at the end of the text in question, the entire text between the two points will be highlighted.

Additional Bonus Points:

You likely already know you can select an entire line by moving your mouse into the margin, and clicking in front of the line you want to highlight. If you hold the mouse button down, and drag the mouse down, you'll continue to highlight additional lines.


4. Find and Replace

This is another simple feature that everyone knows, but realize it can do more than you might think!

Word allows you to search for non-printing characters as well as letters and words! Found you put in a tabs when you shouldn't have? Looking to get rid of fields, or page breaks, or other non-standard items? Find and Replace has you covered!

Here's How:

Under the Edit menu, click Replace. When the new window opens, click the "More" button if it is showing. This opens more options, and one of them is a "Special" button. Opening this gives us all the non-printing characters we can use. Then decide what you'd like to replace them with – which again, could be another "special" feature, a space – or even nothing! (The special button also offers options to find a range of letters or numbers, and many other special search qualities as well. Check it out!)


If you are looking to replace a Word or a Character, it is always good to "test drive" the change with a "find next" rather than the "replace" or the "replace all" button. Also remember that unless you use leading or trailing blank spaces, it will find your text anywhere, including inside another word!

Still, this is a wonderful feature for any author that has over used a noun or verb, or more importantly, someone who has changed the name of a character when they were pages into a story. Find and Replace will find every previous use of the name, and replace it with the new name. Very fast, and greatly appreciated!

Special Bonus Points:

Ever find you spelled your character's name a variety of ways in your story? Find and Replace can fix that in a flash! Clicking on the Use Wildcards option allow you to spell the name with placeholders in certain spaces, in case you sometimes used an 'o' and sometimes an 'e' for example. The question mark and the asterisk are the two common wildcards.  Thus, using Anders?n in Find or Replace would bring back Anderson or Andersen. (It would also find Andersin, or any other word that matched all the other letters.) This is very handy, but what if you changed the name drastically halfway through the draft story, perhaps from "Anderson" to Andropolous? Worst yet, you frequently spelled  the new name a number of different ways? "And*" would find every word that began with "And" in your story (but it would not find "and" since it is looking for an uppercase A, unless your "match case" box has been cleared.)


5. The Thesaurus

This is the last of the basic features in Word for this article, and I'll only mention it briefly, since I suspect many people here are well versed in its use. The program allows users to find substitute words, which can be a godsend for some of us! (Nothing worse than coming to a screeching halt because you can't think of the right word!)

Here's How:

The process is very simple: place your insertion point in the word in question, and do a Shift+F7 (that's the function key F7, not the F key and the 7 key!) The Thesaurus window will open, and you can chose your replacement word – and that's all there is to it!

I used the shortcut keys since opening the Thesaurus is a three step process otherwise:  Click on the Tools Menu, go to Language, then on the additional menu, and choose Thesaurus. Then make your word choices. (Again, make certain your insertion point is in the word you want to replace – or have it highlighted. Otherwise, you won't get the right option!)

Additional Method:

You can find additional replacement words even faster if you 'right-click' on the word you want to change. This will give you a menu list, and one option near the bottom  is synonyms. When you place your mouse on it, it will give a list of similar words. To replace your current word, simply click on the new one you'd rather use. If you don't like the choices, the bottom choice on the synonym  menu will offer to open the Thesaurus as well.

Bonus Points:

Since some words can be nouns or verbs, the choices may not always match. If that happens to you, in the Thesaurus choose one of the words that more closely matches your meaning in the left hand box, and click the "look up" button instead of "replace." You'll then get a list of new options based on this choice.

These five tools are all very simple, but they offer writers a fast option to overcome potential time wasters. These quick fixes allow the writer to stay in the flow of the article, which is very important, since any distraction that takes your mind out of the process can result in a big delay – or perhaps even threaten the completion of a particularly tough article!

Now that we've covered the basics, my next article will draw attention to some of the wonderful higher end features of Word, including how to make your own submission template, complete with special formatting, headers and page numbers.