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Word is one of Microsoft’s oldest tools and remains one of the most useful. Over the years, the software has continued to evolve and you can now use it to add intricate tables and diagrams, create CVs, flyers or newsletters and much more.
Faced with a blank page, however, it’s easy to find yourself with a bad case of writer’s block, particularly when you can’t find the tool you’re looking for, or you’re not sure how to make your document look the way you want it to. But we can help with that.
Keep scrolling as we explain how to power through your everyday tasks. Our list starts with some back-to-basics stuff, but we’ll also be digging into some of Word’s most useful advanced features – time-saving tools to make your creations look more professional.
How to master Microsoft Word
1. Find your way around using the Ribbon
The grey toolbar running across the top of Word is called the Ribbon. If it isn’t showing up, look for an up arrow in a box in the top right-hand corner. Click this, then select Show Tabs and Commands.
The Ribbon appears in many Microsoft programs now. You’ll see that the Home tab is displayed by default, but you can click the other tabs (Insert, Design, Layout and so on) to find tools relevant to these categories.
A small diagonal arrow below the icons in a section of the Ribbon usually leads to a fuller selection of tools for that section. For example, clicking the diagonal arrow in the Paragraph section will lead you to a dialog box of further tools for fine-tuning paragraph settings, indentations and so on. You can see a screenshot of this above.
2. Use templates to save yourself some time
Microsoft provides templates for a variety of document types, from CVs to newsletters. Starting out with a template means most of the heavy lifting – formatting, layout, etc – is already done for you.
To get started with a template, launch Word and click New. Underneath the Blank document option, you’ll see thumbnail previews of some of the templates you can choose from. The templates shown above represent just a small fraction of the full selection available online.
If you’re after something specific, click where it says Search for online templates and type a keyword – CV, for example – then press Enter on your keyboard.
3. Import, format and edit images
You can add images to your documents by clicking the Insert tab on the Ribbon, then clicking Pictures > This Device. Browse for the image you want, then click Insert to add it to your document. Note that you can also select Stock Images or Online Pictures from the Insert > Pictures dropdown.
In most cases, you’ll need to do a little work to get images looking their best. Word defaults to positioning your images so they’re in line with your text, but this doesn’t always look great. Right-click the image and select Wrap Text for other options – Square is often quite a good choice as it lets you drag the picture where you want it and flows text around it.
Click your image then the Picture Format tab on the Ribbon for further image-editing options. You can choose a border, shadow or effect from Picture Styles, for example, or click Crop to remove unwanted areas of the image.
4. Create tables in Excel and move them over to Word
If you’re creating a document that organises information into a table, you’re better off using Excel, as Microsoft’s spreadsheet program is designed around documents with rows and columns. But there might be times when you need to include data in a Word document alongside text and images.
Create your table in Excel, then click and drag to select the cells you want, then press Ctrl+C on your keyboard to copy them. Open your Word document, click where you want the table to go and press Ctrl+V to paste it.
To copy the table grid as well as the data, you need to add borders to your cells in Excel before you copy them. Select the cells, right-click and select Format Cells. In the box that opens (shown above), click the Border tab, then click Outline and Inside > OK.
Alternatively, you can click Insert > Tables in Word and select Excel Spreadsheet to import an entire spreadsheet into a document. You can also create an empty table from within Word. Click Insert > Tables, then drag your mouse over the grid in the dropdown menu to create a blank table with the rows and columns you require.
If you use Excel on a regular basis, check our Microsoft Excel tips and tricks guide.
5. Convert documents and make them easier to share
By default, Word saves documents in its own .docx file format, but there might be times when you want to convert your document to an alternative format.
For example, you might want to make a PDF of a document to share online. Word provides an easy way to do this from within the program. Open your document, then click File > Save As. In the options here you’ll see that Word Document (*.docx) is selected as the default format. Click this to reveal a dropdown menu of other formats to choose from, including PDF (*.pdf), as well as formats that will be compatible with older versions of Word, including Word 97-2003 Document (*.doc) and Rich Text Format (*.rtf).
Note that you can also convert a document to a template by following these steps and selecting Word Template (*.dotx) as the file type – this is a quick and easy way to create, say, a letterhead template with your address at the top. Create new documents based on your own templates by clicking File > New > Personal.
6. Prepare your documents before you print (and save on ink)
Printer ink is expensive, so before you print your document, you’ll want to make sure it’s going to look right. But if you’re looking for the Print Preview option found in older versions of Word, you won’t find it. That’s because previewing now happens within the Print screen itself – click File > Print to see a preview of your printed document.
Here, you can select how many copies you want to print, and under Settings you’ll be able to choose further options, such as specifying which pages to print (click Print All Pages and make your choice). If you want to save paper, click Print One Sided and select Print on Both Sides (if your printer supports double-sided printing).
You can also change the page orientation (choose between Portrait Orientation and Landscape Orientation), use a different paper type (click A4 and select the type you want) or customise your document’s margins (click Normal Margins and choose an alternative). To fine-tune any of your print settings, click Page Setup at the bottom for a dialogue box of more granular options.
Fancy saving some money on your ink cartridges? Check our guide on the best cheap ink cartridges and where to buy them
7. Restore a lost or corrupt document
We’ve all been there. You spend ages working on a document and then something happens – a computer crash – and your work is gone. Thankfully, there are ways to restore a file.
Word autosaves documents as you work. If you’ve suffered a crash or power outage while working on a document, restart your computer and open the document. Word should present you with the Document Recovery panel. Look for the version of the file you were working on with [AutoRecovered] next to it. This should be the most recent autosaved version. Click the down arrow next to this, then Save As and save it with a new name.
If you accidentally delete a file, check the Recycle Bin – you can restore it if you haven’t emptied the bin in the meantime.
Or, if you’ve made changes and want to go back to a previous version, you could try restoring it from a backup. Users of Windows 10’s File History backup tool can go to Start > Settings > Update & Security > Backup > More options, scroll down and click Restore files from a current backup. Use the blue arrows at the bottom of the screen to browse for a date when your file was in a good state. Double-clicking the file will show you a preview – if it’s the version you want, click the green arrow to restore it.
Free alternatives to Microsoft Word
If you’d rather not pay, there’s a free online version of Word you can use – log in with a Microsoft account at onedrive.live.com, click the nine-dot button in the top left-hand corner of the screen, then click the Word icon. This is a cutdown version of the full program, however, and lacks many of its features.
There’s also a very basic word-processing tool called WordPad built into Windows (click Start > Windows Accessories > WordPad), while new Macs come with a free copy of Apple’s own word processing tool, Pages.
Google Docs is another great online option – log in with a Google account at docs.google.com, then select a template or blank document to get started.
If you prefer to download and install software rather than use online tools, the best free option is LibreOffice (libreoffice.org), which includes Writer – a word processing tool that should feel very familiar to most Word users.
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Additional reporting by Tom Morgan.