Tips & Tricks for Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word 2011 Mac Icon

The ubiquitous word processing program, after emerging victorious from the Word Processor Wars of the 1990’s, Microsoft Word has managed to skate in front of every challenger since. Today Microsoft Office (the productivity suite that Word pilots) commands 45% of the market. As an early adopter (I chose sides in the WP Wars in 1992) and as a Microsoft Word power user over the past decade, I would love to persuade any small business thinking of using one of the other cloud-based or open-source office suites. Here are some tips and tricks to improve your business’s design capabilities with Microsoft Word.

Tip #1: Turn on Non-Printing Characters

Word-nonprinting button

It might be hard to get used to at first, but making nonprinting characters (also known as control characters or formatting marks) visible will keep your files tidy and manageable. Seeing multiple spaces that tabs could replace, or paragraph breaks where line breaks could be instead—all could be spotted and fixed by keeping track of your nonprinting characters. I promise after you keep them on for a while, you won’t be able to work without them.

Turn on nonprinting characters by clicking the pilchrow (¶) button in the Home tab, or use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+* (Command+* for the Mac) to toggle nonprinting characters. Alternatively, you can choose File – Options – Display (or Word – Preferences – View on a Mac) to micromanage your nonprinting characters.

Tip #2: Use a Mac!

Comparative market penetration: Microsoft Word Mac versus PC 1986 to 1997

Image © Stan Liebowitz

Not to break the truce in the old PC vs. Mac Wars as well, since Apple won it anyway (at least where it counts), but Microsoft Word for Mac has one major capability that makes it a no-brainer: picture handling. Even so, Word on a Mac ain’t as rare as 1988; today’s subscription-based pricing structure for Office allows most of us to install Word on five different machines—so why not make one of them a Macintosh?

Microsoft Word for Mac lets you insert native Photoshop files.

I’ve never been able to learn why (I suspect it has to do with the MacOS graphics rendering engine), but placing layered Photoshop files into Word for Mac is as easy as any other picture… not so on a Windows machine.

The major advantage: your source graphics look much better than some old pasted-in web graphic, and you don’t have to manage multiple versions of your visual assets just for Word. Secondly, you can work with transparency in ways that Windows just won’t permit (but still magically opens and prints on a PC!)

Word for Mac document with Photoshop files inserted

When I placed two Photoshop images into Word 365 for Mac

Screenshot of  an attempt to insert Photoshop file into Word 365 PC

When I tried to do the same in Word 365 for PC

Word on a Mac treats PDFs like images (not objects).

Word for Mac recognizes Adobe Acrobat documents for what they are: vector-based images. Place multi-page documents just like any other picture—and resize them without compromising legibility.

WARNING: Acrobat is not as reliable as Photoshop. Sometimes Word for Mac will mess up your PDF, especially if you have used exotic fonts, or have added objects to an existing PDF. So use care!

Tip #3: Table-Based Layouts—Outré in Web Design, Chic in Word

Word Table layout

A complex table layout before getting content

Back in the frontier days of the World Wide Web, good design consisted of creative layouts inside invisible tables. Since the widespread adoption of Cascading Style Sheets, web designers have eschewed table-based layouts, but tables still make excellent frameworks for creative layouts in Microsoft Word. Need a complex layout for your cover? Put it in a table!

WARNING: While web layouts love nested tables, recent versions of Microsoft Word will throw up compatibility errors if you use them. Whenever you need to put a table inside a table, split up your cells instead.

Tip #4: Boost Collaboration by Connecting to Adobe InDesign

Adobe InDesign is a complicated page layout program that many small businesses can’t afford to invest in. In fact, Word can accomplish most everything that InDesign can (in the case of bullet lists, Word actually surpasses InDesign!) Worse, there is an added cost to hire someone skilled in InDesign’s use. Here are some best practices to make your Word files ready to round-trip through Adobe InDesign:

  • Format as simply as possible. Unless your formatting is clearly defined in styles, all your special touches will be ignored in InDesign. Keep it simple—why waste creative energy this far upstream?
  • Make sure that all text is styled: paragraphs (like headers) and characters (like bold or italic) alike. InDesign will map Word styles across your document, and if you apply local styling (e.g., highlighting a word and hitting the “B” button) it will just get lost in the round trip. Take time to plan your styles—it will save time in the long run.
  • Leave tables unstyled. Tabular data is best micromanaged in InDesign.
  • Link your pictures. Embedded images will break. Instead, link to the same images in InDesign (and plan their placement ahead of time).
  • Keep revising the same Word document. If you make changes to a version on your desktop, you will need to over-write the file InDesign is linked to. InDesign will update it next time it opens. The best option is to save your document in the cloud, and link to it from InDesign through a desktop alias or shortcut.

Tip #5: Know When to Hire a Professional

To reiterate: Madmac Creations has been using Microsoft Word since the early Nineties. I have made every kind of document you can imagine in Microsoft Word. Why challenge yourself with creating and managing your desktop publishing when you can trust Tony MacFarlane to deliver?

Contact me to discuss your desktop publishing needs.