How to be slightly better at using Microsoft Word

In Posts on May 5, 2011 at 6:23 pm

I just got done writing three long final papers. Because I had to work quickly, I found myself appreciating some tricks I’ve learned over the years in Microsoft Word. I figured I’d share them:

  • Basic find-replace. Most people will probably know this one. Ctrl+F (holding the “Control” button, and pressing “F”) is the hotkey to do a search for a string of letters anywhere in the document. Ctrl+H is the find-replace hotkey: use it to search for something, and replace it with something else. If you’ve been calling something “organizations” but you meant to call them “institutions,” do a find-replace for “organization” and replace it with “institution.” Don’t search for “organizations,” because you’ll miss anywhere in the document where you wrote “organization” without the plural.
  • Find-replace using bits of words. If you’re looking for a particular phrase you remember writing—say, “the first interdisciplinary approach”—you have some options for how to find it. “the” and “first” are probably all over the document, and “the first” probably is as well; and “interdisciplinary,” “approach,” and “interdisciplinary approach” may appear several times if you’re writing about a few of them. You could search for “the first interdisciplinary approach,” but that takes a long time to type. I recommend doing your search using bits of two-word phrases: letters off the end of one word and the beginning of another. Search for “rst interd”: there probably won’t be any phrases that contain that exact string of letters (and a space) where the words involved aren’t “first interdisciplinary.” As another example, if you think you might have spelled someone’s name inconsistently, search for the few letters you’re sure of. If you use this trick over many decades, you can probably earn back the time you just spent learning it.
  • Text markers and find-replace. If you need to fix something elsewhere in a document, but intend to come back to the section you’re on, leave a text marker where you are. If you leave, for example, {}{} anywhere you intend to come back to, you can later do a Ctrl+F search through the document for all the markers you’ve left. Choose something unlikely for your markers: {}{} almost never crops up in formal academic writing, except maybe as a drawing of two tiny kegs.
  • Scrubbing formatting using Notepad. If you paste in material from other sources, Word will often keep the original formatting, which can take forever to remove. (This is worst for pasting in web addresses from a browser: Word will helpfully convert them to default font and font size, color them blue, underline them, and add a hyperlink.) If you have a Windows machine, you can “scrub” all this formatting by first pasting into Notepad (located in “Programs > Accessories”), then cutting from Notepad and pasting into Word. Careful—it’ll also scrub italics and other kinds of formatting. There may be a similar program in Apple, but I’m not sure because I’m not a hipster.
  • Important hotkeys. Most people probably know most of these, but: Ctrl+F is “find”; Ctrl+H is “find/replace”; Ctrl+Z is “undo”; Ctrl+Y is “redo”; Ctrl+X is “cut”; Ctrl+C is “copy”; Ctrl+V is “paste”; Ctrl+I is “italics”; Ctrl+B is “bold”; Ctrl+U is “underline”; Ctrl+S is “save” (you should probably get in the habit of saving every minute or so—every time you complete a thought. It’ll eventually be automatic); Ctrl+N creates a new document; Ctrl+O is “open.” Holding down Shift and using the arrow keys will let you select blocks of text. Holding Ctrl+Shift will let you select one word of text at a time. Using a mouse to do any of these things is usually a lot slower.

Well, hope that’s helpful. If you know any other stuff like this, I’d be glad to hear it.

Disclaimer: This knowledge will probably not help you find a mate.

  1. While I can’t speak for other versions (because I don’t have them), Word 2003 offers options after you paste (a clipboard appears at the end, offering a drop-down on click) of “Keep Source Formatting”, “Match Destination Formatting”, and “Keep Text Only.” You can also use Paste Special to get essentially the same options. Unfortunately, these options save you from being a Notepad using hipster.

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