We can exercise a (tiny) bit of control over Microsoft programs!

Individual programs in the Microsoft Office suite (Word, Excel, Access, Outlook, PowerPoint and OneNote) have their own set of “Options” that can be used to help you to use the programs in the way that you want.

Here is a guide as to how these work by giving some examples of configuring some options in Word 2010. The 2007 and 2013 versions of Microsoft Office programs work in a similar way. If you are still using a version of Office that is older than 2007 then it would be a good idea to upgrade as older versions are inherently less secure and more likely to harbour viruses and other such nasties.

There are several ways to access the “Options” for Word. The easiest way is to select the “File” tab and then click on “Options” near the bottom of the menu. The screen that opens shows the options grouped down the lefthand side and the individual settings for the selected group of options are displayed to the right of the options menu.

Word Options

Figure 1 – Word Options

For instance, in the “General” group (see figure 1) there is an option that turns on or off the “Live Preview” throughout the use of Word. In some cases, as here, there is a small letter “i” in a circle that shows some more information about a particular option if you hover your mouse pointer over that letter “i”. “Live preview” is the feature that shows you what would happen if you actually chose the option you are currently hovering your mouse pointer over (eg the “styles” options on the “Home” tab). Some people find the “live preview” a bit confusing and intimidating, whereas others find it useful. So, here in “Options” is the ability to turn it on or off.

OK, don’t worry – I am most definitely not going to go through every item that can be changed in “Options”! Let’s just look at a few others that you might find useful in the hope that you might be encouraged to have the occasional look at “Options” to see if you can “tweak” Word to work more closely to your own wishes.

Click on the “Proofing” group (lefthand side of screen) to show the “AutoCorrect Options”. The dialog box that pops up is very useful in showing what text replacements are already configured. For instance, if you type “(c)” (without the quotes) then Word will automatically change this to the copyright symbol (a letter “c” in a circle). You can add your own replacement text in the empty boxes above the current replacement list (see figure 2).

For instance, I get niggled at having to try and remember how the word PowerPoint is capitalised to make it appear the way Microsoft would like. Therefore, I have created replacement text so that when I type “ppoint” (without the quotes), Word replaces it with “PowerPoint”. Likewise, my fingers seem to insist on typing “Microsoft” as “Microsfot”, so I have instructed “AutoCorrect” to replace the wrong spelling with the right one.

Click the “OK” button at the bottom of the dialog window if you wish to save any changes made.

Word AutoCorrect Options

Figure 2 – Word AutoCorrect Options

Also in the “proofing” group is the option to “check spelling as you type”. This is another option that seems to polarise users into those who like the program to help them out with their spelling and the others (like me) who are disproportionately indignant at the idea that a computer program could possibly have anything to teach them about spelling (especially an American program teaching us how to spell English!) Well, here is the option to turn realtime spell-checking on or off.

In the “Save” group is the option to change the “default file location”. If Word assumes that you open and save your documents from/to a different folder than your preferred one, then you can change it here. Whenever you have the option to either type in a location or “browse” to it (as here), then I would always recommend “browsing” to it as there is much less chance of making an error in specifying the location.

Also in this group is the option to change the type of file that is created by default when you save a document. There is just a chance that you may wish to save as a Word document (1997-2003) if you habitually share documents with someone using a very old version of Word (as versions earlier than 2007 can not normally read documents made in Word 2007 or later).

So, if you find that you consistently need to change a setting that Word assumes you want, it may be worth spending a few minutes scanning through “Options” to see if there is a way of changing that particular setting to the default that you would prefer.

When I’m training clients on the basics of Microsoft’s Word program, there is an aspect of how it works that I try quite hard to get across

It has been consistent over many years and versions, but, if you don’t get a clear grasp of what’s going on, life with Microsoft Word can be a tad messy and frustrating.

Word 2013 LogoLet’s suppose that you wish to change the font size of a document you are working on. In Word 2010 this is achieved by clicking on the “Home” tab and then clicking on the arrow to the right of the current point size in the “font” group. Then click on the new font size. OK, so you have done that and what happens? Nothing. Nix. Nada. New and newish users make the assumption that changing the font size will change the current document AS ALREADY CREATED. That’s not the way it works. Changing the font size as above (or changing other attributes of the document in a similar way) takes effect with new content that you create AFTER changing the attribute. Text that already exists in the document is not changed.

Also, if you change an attribute (such as font or font size) and then try to insert some new text within the document that you have already created, then you might easily find that the font has reverted to the original. This is because you have to insert the new text after a space in the existing document. Text prior to the space is in the original format and new text added there will be in the original format.

The above – confusing – paragraph illustrates exactly why I always encourage users to adopt a different strategy.

Last Typewriter Made In Britain

Click on the image to see the last UK typewriter (Nov 2012)

Just type your document first and don’t bother about how it looks. Get all of the text written down first and don’t even look at how it is formatted. Then go back over it and change the existing format (eg fonts and font sizes) by selecting the parts of the text that you want to change and then clicking on the attribute you want the selected text to change to. To my mind, this is far less confusing as far as getting Word to behave is concerned.

Selecting the text is done in exactly the same way as selecting any text on a PC – left-click, keep the button down, and drag the cursor over the text to be selected. There are also shortcuts in Word for selecting specific chunks of text:

  • Control + A = select all the text in the document
  • Shift + Right Arrow = add to the selection by selecting one character to the right
  • Shift + Left Arrow = add to the selection by selecting one character to the left
  • Control + Shift + Right Arrow = add to the selection by selecting one character to the right
  • Control + Shift + Left Arrow = add to the selection by selecting one character to the left
  • Shift + Arrow Down = Add to the selection by moving one line down
  • Shift + Arrow Up = Add to the selection by moving one line up

There are gerzillions of such keyboard shortcuts listed at Shortcutworld (but it’s not exactly exciting reading!)

As far as I am concerned, this second strategy also works much better with my creative process (such as it is). I work much better with word processing if I divide the task into:

  • Getting what I want written down (probably even including re-drafting, initial proof-reading etc).
  • Making sure that I’ve got a saved version of the work up to that point.
  • Formatting it the way I want it.

For some reason, a lot of people seem to create documents the other way – breaking off every few seconds during the writing process to mess about with the format. You are, of course, free to do it any way you want but at least doing it my way massively reduces the anguished cries of “why’s it gone back to the old format” and “I’ve changed that 10 times and it’s still wrong!” Not only that, but constantly switching your attention between getting your ideas down and getting Word to format it correctly, is an exercise in mental agility that is just not necessary.

This blog was written with specific instructions for PC users, but I hope my (growing) band of Mac User readers will be able to apply the principles to their advantage.

Who needs Word? For many situations, opening up Microsoft Word and creating a document can be like wielding a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. Word seems to get more and more complicated with every iteration of Microsoft Office. I’ve delivered a lot of computer training over the years to people who just feel overwhelmed by the quantity and complexity of the choices they have to make when using it.

Apart from the time it takes to open the program, we often just need don’t need any of the fancy formatting, fonts or other complications that Word introduces. And it may be that we’ll only need the information for a short time, so we may not even want to bother thinking of a name, saving the file, etcetera.

There are three applets in Windows 7 that can help us record text more simply than by launching Word:

a small window showing Windows NotepadNotepad is like a word processor (such as Word), but it doesn’t have any formatting capabilities. The resulting data file is known as a “text file” (with a file extension of “.txt”). Simple word processors that deal with pure text files are usually known as “text editors”. The fact that the data file is nothing but pure text has the great advantage that it can be read by any other text editor. There will be no compatibility problems when reading text files created or edited by different text editors as the files they read and create have nothing but text in them (so there are no complicating factors of invisible commands embedded in the text or anything like that). Also, Notepad is very quick to open and close. One thing to remember, though, is that by default the text will appear on one great line of text that scrolls sideways as you add to it. This can be changed by clicking on the “Format” command and then clicking on “Word Wrap”. This wraps the text onto the next line automatically as you would expect.

Wordpad is also like a simplified word processor, but it does have some formatting capability, such as fonts, inserting objects (eg pictures), and text justification (aligning text left, right, or centre). If you find Word irritatingly complicated and sometimes think you can’t see the wood for the trees when using it, then do give Wordpad a try.

2 Windows Sticky NotesSticky Notes is a computer representation of the physical bits of paper that some people feel compelled to spread around their desk, computer, and anywhere else with a smooth surface. Using Sticky Notes, the notes appear on the computer desktop. If they disappear behind another program that is currently to the fore on the computer’s desktop they can be brought to the “top” by clicking on the Sticky Notes icon in the task bar at the bottom of the screen. The one thing I don’t like about Sticky Notes is that the text comes out in one of these “pretend handwriting” fonts that I find hard to read. There isn’t any simple way of changing the font, but what I do is to start off a note by pasting a piece of text from elsewhere into a new sticky note. The font of the pasted text is retained on that sticky note until it is deleted, so I keep re-using the same sticky note. You don’t save the individual notes, but Windows will retain the current batch of sticky notes and re-present them if the computer is re-booted and the applet started again. You can also copy the text of a sticky note to paste elsewhere if you decide that it’s worth saving as an individual file.

Searching from the Start MenuAs with all programs running under Windows 7, there are several ways to launch these applets. The easiest way is to click on the “Start” button, type in the first few characters of the applet name, and then click on the applet name when it appears in the menu above the search box – eg for Sticky Notes, just type “st” (without the quotes) and then click on “Sticky Notes” above.

When we think of creating and saving text, most of my computer clients will automatically use Word. Over the years, I have found that I use it less and less. I think this is partly because emails have replaced letter-writing and partly because there often better ways to store text information in our computer systems. All of the applets mentioned here are easy to use and get to grips with. Go on, give them a try.

If you have an older version of Microsoft Office (Office 2003, Office XP, Office 2000), or just an individual component of one of those packages (eg Word or Excel), then you may have difficulty reading documents created by newer versions (Office 2007 and Office 2010). To put the boot on the other foot, you may have emailed a document of the newer type as an attachment, only to have the recipient tell you that they can not read it.

That is because the structure of the documents changed with the 2007 version.

File Extensions

Depending on how your installation of Windows is set up, you may or may not see the “file extension” of each file when you view a list of files in Windows Explorer. The file extension is the part of the file name that comes after the full stop. The file extension tells Windows what type of file it is and Windows maintains a list of which program is used with each file type (in Windows jargon, each file type is “associated” with a specific program).

In Office 2003 and before, Word files had a file extension of .doc (eg “Letter to Father Christmas.doc”). Excel spreadsheets were .xls files (eg “Scalextric Costs.xls”) and PowerPoint files were .ppt files (eg “Pitch to Father Christmas For A Scalextric Set.ppt”).

From Office 2007, Word files have become .docx, Excel files are .xlsx, and PowerPoint files are .pptx. These file types are not compatible with earlier versions of the programs.

Compatibility

If you have one of the newer versions of Office then you have no problem in opening, viewing and editing files created in an earlier version. However, if you have an earlier version you can not open files created in a later version.

Solutions

Save As

If you have a later version, and are preparing a document for opening on an earlier version, then the simplest solution is to create a version of the document that is in the format of the earlier version. To do this, open or create the document and then use the “save as” command instead of the normal “save” command.

Normally, the different ways of saving a file are as follows:

  • Use the shortcut key combination of Ctrl s (hitting the “s” key while simultaneously holding the Control key down).
  • Click on the little blue icon of the floppy disc that is probably visible on the top line of the screen.
  • Click on the “Office” button and then click on the “save” command.
Office Button

Office Button

Each of these methods will save the file in the newer format. What you need to do instead is to click on the “Office” button, then take the “save as” option, and then take the “..97-2003 document” sub-option (as illustrated). The recipient of your file will then be able to use it as if it had been created in the earlier version of the program.

file save-as dialogue box

 

Document Viewers

You can actually view and print documents prepared in Microsoft Office even if you do not have Office installed. This is achieved by downloading and installing free viewers made available by Microsoft. Click on the following links for the appropriate viewer (see note at the bottom of this post) :

Word Viewer
Excel Viewer
Powerpoint Viewer

Compatibility Viewer

The above viewers are just that – you can view or print documents but you can’t edit them. A better solution for users who have earlier versions of Office is to download the free “compatibility pack” from Microsoft. This is available at http://support.microsoft.com/kb/923505.

You do have to carefully follow the instructions that are appropriate for your version of Windows.

The Compatibility Pack is for Office 2000, Office XP, and Office 2003. If you still have Office 97, or a component of it, then you need to either use the viewer or ask the author of the document to provide a compatible version of it using the “save as” option as described above.


Note:

I’m having to give up my previous practice of always quoting hyperlinks in full as some of them are just too long. If you are viewing this as a post on the blog then, depending on your internet browser, you can probably see the full version of the link if you hover your mouse over the link and then look towards the bottom of the browser window. If you are viewing the newsletter version, then hovering your mouse over the link should show you the full address of the link.

© 2011-2017 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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