Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Helpful Shortcuts

A lot of people have gone negative on Microsoft Word. I would like to put in a good word for it. Unfortunately....

OK, seriously, though, I do work with Microsoft Word every day. I have done so for years, and I have learned a lot of tricks that make it quite handy. These tricks aren't so helpful once you get past the 2003 version of the program, however. Sometimes it doesn't pay to keep up with the upgrades.

Among the things that have made my job bearable are the keyboard shortcuts that can be customized to each user's "Normal Template." Here are some of mine.

PASTE WITHOUT FORMATTING. I couldn't begin to estimate the keystrokes and/or mouse-clicks this shortcut has saved me. You're importing text from an email, a webpage, or a file from some other application, and you want it to blend seamlessly into your document's current paragraph and character format. And you do this dozens of times a day. Do you want to go through a series of menus each time? No. Create a macro and assign it to the keyboard as, say, alt-V. It's just like regular "paste" (ctrl-V), except using the alt-key instead of ctrl. Easy peasy!

EM-DASH. You're trying to create documents that have a professional look. Are you going to leave the punctuation mark your boss likes to use for dramatic effect--the "em" dash--to chance? No! Are you going to type two hyphens like I did just now because Blogger is for the birds? No! Are you going to go through another bunch of menus to insert the em-dash as a special character? No, no, no! You're going to assign ctrl-M (regardless of the fact that Word has already assigned an important task to that key) because you're going to be typing it a LOT and you don't want to have to remember whether it's shift-ctrl-hyphen, shift-alt-hyphen, or alt-ctrl-hyphen, or maybe it's not a hyphen at all but the minus sign on the numeric keypad... These so-called "shortcuts" are so unhelpful because they're different in every program (including other applications you have to use daily), and getting them wrong can lead to disasters such as your mouse pointer turning into a dingus that permanently deletes items from your menus. So yes, definitely, tell ctrl-M to say goodbye to its native function and hello to the em-dash!

EN-DASH. Not quite as important as the em-dash, you nevertheless find out that you're going to have trouble if you can't readily remember and quickly type the key combo for this handy character. Why? Because the stylebook Nazi in your office swears he's going to grab you by the shoulders and shake you the next time you type a hyphen between two numbers representing a range of pages, Bible verses, etc. The character you need is longer than a hyphen but shorter than an em-dash. Use ctrl-N, dummy! Don't worry about the fact that Word already has it assigned to "create new document." You don't need it to create a new document. You have a cute little icon on the toolbar for that. But without a custom keyboard shortcut, each en-dash will cost you another fishing expedition through menus and dialog boxes. And ctrl-N is easy to remember!

NUMBERED LISTS. Do you frequently find yourself having to type a numbered list? Forget the menus, guy! Set alt-L (as in "list") to get started.

BLOCK QUOTES. How about those block-quote paragraphs that have to be indented .5" from both the left and right margin? Do you really want to have to play around with the paragraph margins every single time? No! Set alt-B (as in "block quote") to do this for you.

OTHER BELLS AND WHISTLES. My boss loves emphasis. He asks for "caps, bold and red" so often that I have set up a keyboard shortcut to do this. I have shortcuts to change the text color to red, blue, yellow, green, or pink, and also to highlight a selected region of text in various colors (sometimes changing the text color as well, for contrast). And though I didn't create the keyboard shortcuts for all-caps and word-only-underline, I am daily glad to know the ones native to Word. I also have a shortcut to tweak the margins of a paragraph to fit inside the printable area of a 3"x5" card, to insert a numbered footnote, to add headers and footers to various types of documents so that they can be annotated and/or located in a shared directory. I have autotexts to assist in repetitive tasks dealing with tables, embedded pictures, and texts in a foreign alphabet that always require extra massaging to integrate into a document.

When you work a lot with Word, and have to do a wide variety of things in it, you quickly discover who your best friends are. Their names are Autotexts, Stylesheets, Templates, and Macros. You learn how to create, import, export, and update all of them, and how to sync a document to them; how to force one style to automatically follow another; and above all, how many sins can be forgiven by ctrl-Z ("undo"). Without all the gimmicks only a "power user" knows about Microsoft Word, I doubt that I could do my job without going insane. And I appreciate these gimmicks more and more as I find myself forced by circumstances to work on someone else's version of Word, or (O help!) WordPerfect. Absence makes the heart grow fonder!

No comments: