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Book Review: Word Annoyances

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If you’ve ever said — even under your breath — “I hate Word,” you’ll like this book.

The book has answers for dozens of the little aggravations that Word visits upon you. It solves things you thought you just had to live with (though you knew you’d never forgive the programmers at Microsoft who made them this way).

The author writes in an engaging question- (“The Annoyance” by you) and-answer (“The Fix” by him) style that’s friendly and yet precise. I would have liked it to be a bit less wordy, but it’s okay because the directions are very clear and even, in many cases, contain version-specific instructions for Word 2000, 2003, XP and so on. He also sprinkles the text with occasional helpful tips in little text boxes.

Lots of documents you open frequently? The author shows you how to add a Work menu that will keep up to 9 documents readily available (p. 16). Hate it when Word won’t let you put a .jpg or .gif in a document? You can change an option in the Office Setup Wizard. Want to unclutter your menus? Learn how to customize which commands show up.

Boy, this one really annoys me – how about you? Sometimes when I close Word, it asks me if I want to save the changes to Normal.dot. Now, I happen to know that Normal.dot is the default template for new documents. But I don’t remember making changes to it! Why is this happening?

To kill this seemingly random prompt, choose Tools -> Options, click Save tab and uncheck “Prompt to save Normal template” box (pp. 9, 14). But it might still happen to you for other reasons – the only solution they say is to quit Word and restart Windows. Sigh.

That #$%^&@# Task Pane

This one I was paying my tech guru to fix for me – but he couldn’t find the “next step.” I gave up worrying about it but continued wasting time (and putting extra stress on my mouse hand) having to manually close the “new document” task pane that pops up — and stays up — on my screen, hogging valuable screen space. We’d both found the place to supposedly turn this off (Tools -> Options, click the View tab, uncheck the Startup Task Pane box in the Show area, click OK) but, as the author says, it just wouldn’t obey! So I’m going to give you this whole fix in case that stupid pane annoys you, too.

If the task pane doesn’t obey on your first effort, close Word and create a system restore point. Don’t be afraid—this isn’t as scary as it sounds. Choose Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools -> System Restore, click the “Create a restore point” option, click the Next button and follow the prompts.

Next, choose Start -> Run, type regedit and press Enter to open the Registry Editor.
Navigate to the following Registry key: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\11.0\Common\General (in some versions it may read “…\Office\10.0\…”). Then, right-click the DoNotDismissFileNewTaskPane key, choose Delete from the shortcut menu and click OK to confirm. Choose File -> Exit to close the Registry Editor. Restart Word and you’re done.

This works like a charm, and I’m thoroughly delighted.

Template magic

Here’s a really good tip if your work involves creating many documents of certain basic types, or if you work with others who have to create documents for you that use specific styles. Too bad I didn’t read this one before that last big project—I spent hours manually correcting all the headings and fonts in the other writers’ drafts because they didn’t know how to use styles!

To create a template for each type of document you need, choose File -> New and in that task pane on the right that we mentioned earlier, click either “On my computer” (Word 2003) or “General templates” (Word XP). Up comes the Templates dialog box. (In Word 2000, choose File -> New to get there.)

Highlight an existing template, click Template at the bottom, and click OK. Save the .dot file with a name you’ll remember. Then lay out and format the document (fonts, headings, etc.) as you want all final documents to appear. You can even enter text that you want to have in all documents based on this template.

You can create AutoText and AutoCorrect entries for boilerplate text (your company info, etc.) that doesn’t specifically belong in any template. Save the changes to the template and then close it. To create a new document based on the template, open the Templates or New dialog box, select the template and click OK.

To create a template from an existing document, choose File -> Save As, select Document Template in the “Save as type” drop-down list, specify the name and click the Save button. Templates and documents look pretty much the same except for the file extension.

File gigantic?

Ever had your file be too big to send by email—even after you’ve deleted everything but a paragraph? That’s enough to make you crazy. The author goes into a long-drawn-out explanation of why this happens—get the book if you want to read it. Otherwise, just turn off the culprit (fast saving). Choose Tools -> Options, click the Save tab and uncheck the “Allow fast saves” box.

Got a bunch of documents open and want to save them all? Shift-click the File menu and click Save All. Then, to close them shift-click File and click Close All. Easier yet (as you may already have discovered from having to shut down because Word just hangs there), just close Word and it saves and closes all your documents for you.

Home document security

Ever notice in Windows Explorer that someone else originated one of your documents? Maybe you asked your friend to help you draft something. If you want to be sure the other person’s name doesn’t appear when you move your cursor over that document in Explorer, remove the personal data (metadata) from the document.

Choose File -> Properties and manually delete what you want. In Word 2003/XP, choose Tools -> Options, click the Security tab and check the “Remove personal information from file properties on save” box. Then, save the document to preserve your changes.

HTML malfunctions

Writing HTML pages in Word? First piece of advice, don’t—if you can help it. Word’s HTML code is so wordy and clunky that your page will take longer to load and, heaven help you if you want to make changes outside Word. You’ll be trying to change a font and end up with some of the strangest behaviors.

If you must use Word for HTML, save as “Web Page, Filtered” for pages you want to put on your web site. That cuts out a small amount of the messy code, but not much.

Potpourri of pleasantries

Want to stop those ridiculous “Shall we report this error to Microsoft” prompts? Who crammed all that useless code in there anyway? Just turn it off. You’ll find out how on p. 30.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I’m pasting from the web the formatting is way off, even if I should accidentally remember to use Paste Special. The author tells us how to fix this – sort of. Choosing Edit -> Paste Special and selecting the “Unformatted text” option should give you plain text. If not, paste the text into Notepad first, then copy it and paste it into Word.

Ever get something someone copied from an email and it’s full of spaces or >> signs at the beginning of each paragraph with a first-line indent? I knew this, but it’s a good tip to share with you in case you don’t.

Use Find and Replace. In a later fix he tells you all the symbols to indicate formatting in this dialog box. Replace ^p (paragraph mark) and four spaces with ^p and a distinctive string – for example, ^pfirstlineindent. Then replace firstlineindent with nothing but the paragraph formatting that you need: delete the contents of the “Replace with” box, choose Paragraph in the Format drop-down list, specify the indentation level, click OK and click Replace All. (Alternatively, once you’ve deleted the whitespace, you can use a style to apply a first-line indent to all of the paragraphs.

Learn how to reformat WordPerfect documents on pp. 32, 78.

Here’s a big question for most of us I bet: How do I correct automatic numbering in numbered lists? You know you’re not going to be happy with the answer when a guy starts his response with “Bad news” and it’s four pages long (pp. 80 to 84).

Do you ever get aggravated that when you’re selecting text with the mouse, it keeps grabbing more than you want? The author says this is Word’s smart-selection feature.

Choose Tools -> Options, click the Edit tab and see whether “When selecting, automatically select entire word” and “Use smart paragraph selection” boxes are checked. If so, try unchecking them and see if you prefer the resulting selection behavior.

Do you have to count your words sometimes? I like this one: Instead of using Tools -> Word Count each time, do this: Display the Word Count toolbar; go to View -> Toolbars or right-click any displayed toolbar and click the Word Count item. To force a recount, press Alt + C or click the Recount button.

Sometimes have to type web or email addresses and don’t want the auto-hyperlink? Read all about it on p. 94.

I’ve never been good at using Compare and Merge Documents—like when someone else has made changes and you want to see where they are. Here’s a cool tip for comparing multiple versions:

Open the original version and choose Tools -> Compare and Merge Documents. In the Compare and Merge Documents dialog box, select the first of the other versions of the document, click the drop-down arrow on the Merge button, and choose “Merge into Current Document.” Word merges the documents and marks the changes with revision marks. If the results look okay, repeat the procedure with the next version, etc.

Hate how Word’s columns act when you need to change the width of one of them? Try clicking Shift as you drag it. This makes Word keep the columns to the right the same, but it does mean that your table’s overall width will change.

How do I convert a long list of names or other data that are separated with regular old spaces instead of tabs? He says it’s easy.

Choose Edit -> Replace and replace ^w (whitespace) with ^t (a tab). Select the list, choose Table -> Convert -> Text to Table, make sure the Tabs option is selected and that the “Number of columns” box shows the right number of columns, and click the OK button to perform the conversion.

All told, I’d say get this book if you experience periodic aggravations with Word. Don’t try to go through the whole thing. The index is pretty good, so just keep it next to your computer.

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  • http://philobiblion.blogspot.com Natalie Bennett

    This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States. Nice work!

  • Alex Dorn

    So what is Barbara’s commission if a lot of papers pick it up?

  • http://www.reallygoodfreelancewriter.com Barbara Payne

    Good question!