For most of us—whether experienced Word user or beginner—Microsoft Word is the workhorse of writing. CSE members heard tips on using Word as an editorial tool rather than an authoring tool at the CSE annual meeting in Baltimore, MD, this May.
“Word actually does have a lot of good tools for copyediting, but they can be challenging to find”, said Elizabeth Blake, noting that the 2007 upgrade of Word has “a pretty radical change in the interface, partially done to make Word’s features more discoverable”.
Word was overhauled again in 2010, although Blake noted that the changes were less drastic than in the transition from Word 2003 to Word 2007. “Once they get used to the new interface, most people seem to like the upgrades”, said Blake. “However, a lot of what we talk about during tips sessions are default behaviors you don’t like and want to turn off.”
Among the pluses she has noted in the Word upgrades are
- Spelling and grammar functions. “I think it probably has become more sophisticated than it was years ago”, she said. For instance, the contextual spelling feature distinguishes between ensure and insure and between vary and very.
- Improvements in the “paste special” button. “Word now allows you to specify your default formatting settings when pasting content from a different document or a different program”, Blake said. The ability to save your preferences instead of having to specify them on a case-by-case basis via multiple clicks “was for me probably the most exciting new feature in Word 2007”.
Other useful editorial tools highlighted include
- The Auto-Correct feature. Blake noted that the default settings—for example, change “(c)” to the copyright symbol— can be dangerous, but auto-corrections can be deleted, modified, and added by the editor. Auto-Correct can, for instance, be used to insert boilerplate queries quickly or to automate the expansion of commonly used abbreviations (such as “NIH”).
- The format painter. The paintbrush icon allows the editor to copy complex visual formatting or underlying paragraph or character styles and “paint” them onto other text selections in one step.
- Navigational tools. The “splitter” allows an editor to view and scroll through two sections of a single file and is particularly useful for comparing in-text citations with references or data in the abstract with data in the results section.
- Keyboard shortcuts. Control + y allows users to repeat their last action and is helpful for actions for which there is no simple keyboard command, such as adding rows to tables. Control + space “normalizes” selected text, removing extraneous font settings or face markup in one step.
“As with everything in Word”, Blake said, “explore”. And remember, she told attendees, “A shortcut is only as good as it is memorable”.