Microsoft Word Tricks and Hacks for All Writers

April 2020: the month that Microsoft is rebranding its Office 365 package to Microsoft 365. Yet this rebrand is more than just a new logo and slogan to synchronise their products and move forward as a brand. Microsoft Office enthusiasts will be pleased to know some crucial changes are happening right now that help writers. Some tools have been around for years and you probably hadn’t even heard of them.

Microsoft Office for Home Users Overview

I’m not going to go into too much detail here, but I want to give a quick heads up about some of the changes that benefit home users.

  • The main change to Word and Outlook (and I will talk about this in greater detail later in the article) is an overhaul of the Editor
  • PowerPoint has a few improvements to help webinars and presentations for students and small business
  • Excel’s improvements include new money management tools

For a full list, look at Microsoft’s article Introducing New 365 Personal and Family Subscriptions.

Tip 1: Utilise the Editor

If you’re not aware of the Editor, now is the perfect time to get familiar with it because it’s going to make you rethink how you write. Once you get into the habit, it’s hard to get out of it again. I found Editor about 2 years ago; no idea how long it had been going before that. When you press F7 to bring up the Editor, it shows basic errors such as grammar, spelling, and conciseness. The new Editor has a number of other features such as formality, vocabulary, and punctuation conventions. Once corrected or told to ignore, a pop up box provides some stats that may or may not be useful depending on what you want to do with the writing. It’s useful for me because it provides a word count, average words per sentence, a Fleisch Reading Test and reading grade, and percentage of passive sentences.

Pay attention to the Editor suggestions and the stats. Not all flagged words/terms will apply to you at all times, but you will soon come to understand the processes behind sentence structure.

Tip 2: Use the Comments Feature

Mostly used for fast and effective communication between document collaborators to highlight problems, you can use the comments for your own reference. Not happy with a piece of writing? Think something else might need more detail? Unsure about whether this paragraph advances the story enough? Rather than filling the Word document with notes and breaking up the reading experience when you come to edit, the “comments” feature found under the Review subheader helps you keep on top of all that. Don’t forget to highlight a tract first though. You can highlight virtually anything – a letter, sentence, paragraph or multiple paragraphs though I recommend keeping comments specific to what you want to draw later attention to. This is much easier scrolling too because you can scan the comments column instead of trawling through a 90k word document.

Tip 3: Track Changes for “Those Days”

For the days when nothing seems to go right, this is the perfect time to learn how to use Track Changes, found under the Review subheader. Track changes does exactly what it sounds like: rather than deleting all the changes you make to a document, it keeps them, but strikes them through so you may easily revert later. Any new text you add is placed into the document in a new colour. You can choose which colour the text is, ideal if you have certain types of dyslexia or can focus better on some tones than you can on others.

If you don’t like a change, all you have to do is highlight it, right click, and and click “reject change”. You can also do this in the top ribbon. You can also flick between your edits with the drop down menus shown in the image above. The first has simple markup (which highlights paragraphs with alterations), show all markup which you see above, no markup which shows your changes and hides the original content, and show original which is the opposite – original document with no changes applied.

Tips 4&5: Focus Mode and Immersive Reader

I confess to only finding out about this at the time of writing though I have used similar formats on other word processors in the past. The idea is not new to me. Focus Mode makes the document full screen and gets rid of all the tools and functions, everything except the rulers if you have them turned on. The idea is to help you focus on nothing but the writing.

The same is true of the Immersive Reader. Word already has a Read Mode which is a reading version of Focus Mode but this is all it does – let’s you read content. Billed as a learning tool, Focus Mode has a few bells and whistle. It can help you focus on reading through your writing, taking the format of a textbook. But the really cool stuff here is the Read Aloud function which reads out the content. It’s basic compared to something like Dragon, but at least you don’t have to buy a custom package. Hearing words read aloud is a useful editing tactic when your eyes no longer spot your errors.

Any more? Please add them in the comments!

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