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Advanced Tips and Tricks in Microsoft Word

Sure, we all know how to use Microsoft Word, but I’m sure there are many of you out there who have never stopped to check out its more advanced features. Let’s take a tour!

It’s safe to say that virtually all translators are at least proficient with Microsoft Word, but how many of us have investigated its more advanced features? The following are some Word functions that I’ve found to be particularly useful for translators that you may not have noticed. The majority of these tricks are helpful for formatting documents neatly and tidily (and automatically), which is something that could otherwise eat up an inordinate amount of a project’s allotted time.

The steps and descriptions that appear here are written for the 2016 version of Word on a PC, but these features should exist in all versions of the software. If your interface differs, just search online for instructions for your version to find out exactly where to click to execute the same tasks.

Figure 1: Tab Stop Selector. Click the tab stop selector (#1 above) to scroll through the selection of tab stops. I’ve circled the examples of tab stop placements: 2) Left tab stop; 3) Bar tab stop; 4) Center tab stop; 5) Decimal tab stop; and 6) Right tab stop.

Figure 1: Tab Stop Selector.
Click the tab stop selector (#1 above) to scroll through the selection of tab stops. I’ve circled the examples of tab stop placements: 2) Left tab stop; 3) Bar tab stop; 4) Center tab stop; 5) Decimal tab stop; and 6) Right tab stop.

Figure 2: Example of a header created using left, center, and right tab stops.

Figure 2: Example of a header created using left, center, and right tab stops.

Figure 3: Example of a column of numbers aligned according to the decimal point using the decimal tab stop.

Figure 3: Example of a column of numbers aligned according to the decimal point using the decimal tab stop.

Figure 4: Example of table created using the bar tab stop.

Figure 4: Example of table created using the bar tab stop.

Figure 5: Example of tab leaders.

Figure 5: Example of tab leaders.

Figure 6: Using the Find-Replace tool to search for highlighted text.

Figure 6: Using the Find-Replace tool to search for highlighted text.

Figure 7: Using the Find-Replace tool to search for special characters.

Figure 7: Using the Find-Replace tool to search for special characters.

Tab Stops

A tab stop sets the location where a cursor stops after a tab is inserted in the body of a text. Tab stops are useful for aligning pieces of text. To use them, click on the tab stop selector and scroll through the selections until you arrive at the desired tap stop. Then click on the appropriate spot on the ruler at the top of the page to place the tab stop. (See Figure 1.)

There are five different kinds of tab stops.

Left, Center, and Right: If you place a left, center, or right tab stop and then insert a tab in the document, any text that comes after the tab will be left-, center-, or right-aligned with that tab stop. (If your text is so long that it runs past the tab stop, Word will automatically use the next tab stop available. If no other tab stops have been set, Word will advance the cursor to the next half-inch mark on the ruler.) The left, center, and right tab stops are extremely useful for creating neatly aligned headers and footers, though they have many other uses as well that are limited only by your creativity. (See Figure 2.)

Decimal: The decimal tab stop aligns columns of numbers according to the decimal point, whether the decimal is explicitly typed out or merely implied mathematically. This tab stop must be reapplied to each paragraph (i.e., after every carriage return). You can apply it to multiple paragraphs at once by selecting all the desired paragraphs and then placing the tab stop. The decimal tab stop is helpful for creating neat columns of figures that have differing numbers of digits before or after the decimal point. (See Figure 3.)

Bar: Instead of aligning text, the bar tab stop inserts a vertical line or bar in the paragraph to which it’s applied. The resulting bar is handy for making neat, ad hoc columns. (See Figure 4.)

Tab Leaders

If you’ve ever tried to insert a row of dots or dashes that runs perfectly to the end of the page—for instance, in a table of contents—you know how much of a headache it can be to get everything to align perfectly, especially if you change the text font or size later. That’s where tab leaders come in. Tab leaders require the use of tab stops. (See Figure 2.) There are three different varieties of tab leaders: dots, dashes, and underscore. To create a tab leader, follow these steps:

  • Place a right tab stop where you want the row to end. Then place your cursor at the end of the text. This is where the tab leader will start.
  • Press the tab button on your keyboard. The cursor should jump to the right tab stop that you placed.
  • Next, in the ribbon at the top of the screen, click Paragraph➔Tabs. (The ribbon is where a majority of Word’s commands are located and where settings are made. These items appear as buttons, input boxes, and menus. In earlier versions of Office for Mac, many of these commands were located on the Formatting Palette.)
  • Under Leader, choose the style of tab leader you want (dots, dashes, or underscore). If you have multiple tab stops in the paragraph, all of them will appear in a list under Tab Stop Position and you’ll have to select which tab stop you want the tab leader to apply. (See Figure 5.)
Figure 8: Creating a Style

Figure 8: Creating a Style

Figure 9: The SECTION button we created containing a set of formatting parameters.

Figure 9: The SECTION button we created containing a set of formatting parameters.

In my work, I use tab leaders most frequently for tables of contents and French birth certificates, which commonly end every line with a row of dashes running all the way to the right margin as a way to ensure that no text can be added later.

Find–Replace

Everyone has used Word’s Find-Replace tool, but did you know you can search for more than just text?

Searching for Formatting: The Find-Replace tool can be used to search for text that is formatted in a particular way. Here’s how to do it:

  • Press Ctrl + H to bring up the search box.
  • Click More➔Format. Here you’ll find a variety of attributes for which you can search. For example, under Font, you can choose to search for text that is size 14 point, italicized, red, and in Arial font. Under Styles, you can look for text written in a particular style (discussed later).

For translators, the most relevant formatting attribute to search for is Highlight. In our line of work, it’s common to receive documents with portions of highlighted text, accompanied by instructions from the client to touch only those sections. Using Find-Replace not only makes the workflow straightforward, it can also be used to obtain an accurate word count at the end of the project, even if the highlights are particularly numerous or scattered. To obtain a word count of highlighted text:

  • In the Find–Replace dialog box, place the cursor in the Find What field. (See Figure 6.)
  • Under the More➔Format drop-down menu, choose Highlight. You’ll see the caption Highlight appear underneath the field.

The trick lies in doing the same thing again.

  • With the cursor still in the same field, click Format➔Highlight. The caption under the field will change to Not Highlight.
  • Leaving both the Find What and Replace With fields empty, click Replace All. This tells Word to find all the non-highlighted text and replace it with nothing (i.e., to delete the text).

Thus, all non-highlighted text is deleted, leaving behind only highlighted text, making it quick and easy to get a word count.

You can use the Find-Replace tool to search for special characters, many of them invisible to the naked eye but important to formatting (e.g., paragraph marks, tabs, page breaks, and non-breaking spaces). You can also use it to search for other characters that are visible, but don’t appear on the keyboard (e.g., en- and em-dashes). (See Figure 7.)

Styles

Styles are a great timesaver, especially in long documents with repeated formatting. In Word, a “Style” is simply a set of formatting parameters saved under a single name. For example, let’s say we want to format all section headers in a document the same way: in red, size 12 point, Times New Roman font, and indented half an inch from the left. Using Styles, we can save all those attributes under a single name. For this example, let’s save it under the name “SECTION.” A button with the same name is created automatically in the Style bar in the ribbon at the top of the screen, and from then on we can apply all the attributes to a piece of text with one or two clicks.

Here’s one way to create your own Style:

  • Format a piece of text with all the attributes you want.
  • Leave your cursor somewhere in that text, and click on the arrow in the bottom right corner of the Styles bar. (See Figure 8.)
  • Click the New Style button in the bottom left corner of the Style menu that pops up. A dialog box will appear with the attributes of the text. You can then adjust the attributes manually, add more if desired, and name your Style. (Again, let’s call it “SECTION.”) Now click OK to save.

A button with your new style will appear in the Style menu and in the Style bar. (See Figure 9.)

To use your new Style, place your cursor in the text to which you wish to apply the Style. (No need to highlight any text; Word will apply the style automatically to the entire paragraph.) Click either one of the Style buttons (in the menu or in the bar), and voilà! Word applies the Style to your text.

You can alter the attributes of your newly created Style by right-clicking on the desired Style button and choosing Modify. This opens up the same dialog box as before, where you can change the font, size, color, etc. It’s also possible to change the definition of your Style from within the text. To do this:

  • Change the format of any piece of text that has been given the SECTION Style.
  • Make sure to leave the cursor somewhere in that text.
  • Right-click on one of the SECTION Style buttons and choose Update SECTION to Match Selection.

In both cases, all text that has been given the SECTION Style will automatically be changed to match your new formatting. This spares you the tedium of having to go back and do it manually for each piece of text, potentially saving enormous time.

Save Time and Aggravation

Microsoft Word, like the rest of the software in the Office suite, contains far more features than a single person is ever likely to use. Nevertheless, learning a few of its specialized functions will help you save time and aggravation in the long run.


Andie Ho is a French>English translator for the food industry. She is an alumna of Kent State’s graduate translation program and began her career as a project manager before moving into translation full-time. Her background includes a bachelor’s degree in French, a minor in mathematics, a performance at Carnegie Hall, and a stint at a criminal forensics laboratory—all of which influence her translation work today. Contact: andie@andiehotranslations.com.

1 Responses to "Advanced Tips and Tricks in Microsoft Word"

  1. Kate Deimling says:

    This was a very practical and helpful article about features in Word I was not aware of. Thanks for the detailed instructions!

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