Word Tips

[Last updated: 24-Oct-2018]

This page describes aspects of Microsoft (MS) Word that improve the appearance and readability of documents. By adopting them, they can also help maintain consistency across a documentation set.

This page is aimed at anyone interested in wanting to learn a few simple MS Word features - regarded as advanced features by some training establishments - that can make a large impact to documents. I believe these should be part of Word’s basic training!

This page is also available as a PDF document (for A4-sized paper). [Currently being updated!]

There are a number of features and controls that MS Word has to help an author produce good quality documents; these are described in the following sections.

Formatting Controls

Word uses paragraph marks (¶) to control the formatting characteristics of a document. These marks contain the characteristics (styles, etc.) of the preceding object; be it a list item, paragraph or heading. Each paragraph mark can contain up to thirty different formatting commands for the screen and printer.

When copying existing text from one document to another (when both can have different templates), it is important that the new document is not "contaminated" by styles from the original document; by copying the paragraph marks. See Copying and Pasting Text.

As a default, all formatting marks are usually invisible, so it is useful (and highly recommended) to have them displayed. In doing so, they can reveal additional (and sometimes interesting) information about a document; for example, wasted spaces, tab spaces and line feeds that are not necessary.

Some authors do not like them displayed, because, to some, it makes the document look cluttered. However, one can be selective to what marks are (and are not) displayed:

  1. Turn these formatting marks ON by clicking File, Options and Display

  2. Select the required marks in the Always show these formatting marks on the screen section; see Figure 1

    Figure 1: Formatting Marks

    Note: Of the formatting marks available (and for most documents), the Tab characters and Paragraph marks are the most useful.

    There is a quicker way to display the formatting marks: Under the Home tab, click the paragraph symbol (¶) in the Paragraph group; see Figure 2.

    Figure 2: Paragraph Group

    Note: The disadvantage of using this action is that it turns on ALL formatting marks (including·placing·a·dot·in·every·space), which can make the document look very cluttered and difficult to read!

Text Boundaries

Similar to formatting marks, text boundaries show when objects (for example, paragraphs and images) are out of alignment. Similar to formatting marks, text boundaries show interesting information; for example, when objects (paragraphs and images) are not only out of alignment, but sometimes extend off the page! Switching text boundaries ON shows the exact limits of how and where the page layout settings are configured.

  1. Turn text boundaries ON by clicking File, Options and Advanced

  2. Scroll down to the Show document content section and select Show text boundaries; see Figue 3.

    Figure 3: Text Boundaries

    With the text boundaries now showing, the margin settings are adjusted by clicking the little arrow icon, in the bottom right-hand corner of the Page Setup group, under the Page Layout tab; see Figure 4.

    Figure 4: The Page Layout Group

    When modifying the page’s text boundaries, do not set the Top, Bottom, Left and Right margins to zero; most ‘domestic’ printers are unable to print to the page’s edge. Unless otherwise stated, a suggested, and convenient, distance is 2.5 cm for the Top and Bottom margins and 2.0 cm for the Left and Right margins; see Figure 5.

    Figure 5: Page Setup

Horizontal Indentation

Because little appears to be known about Word’s text indentation, many authors use the <Tab> key or the <Space Bar> to move or position text to the right. This action can cause additional editing maintenance if the document is modified at a later date! Therefore, do not use these two keys to move text to the right. Word uses proportional spacing for its most common fonts, so the <Space Bar> does not provide consistent or representative spacing. Instead:

  1. Click the small arrow in the bottom right-hand corner of the Paragraph group (Figure 2) to open the Paragraph Settings pane

  2. Click the Indents and Spacing tab; see Figure 4

  3. Use the Left and Right values in the Indentation section.

    Figure 6: Paragraph Indent and Spacing

    In the Indentation group, a value of 0 cm means that the text aligns with the text boundary. To indent the text, set the Left value to 0.5 cm, 1.0 cm, or the required distance from the left-hand margin.

    Note: Only set a Right value if there is a specific requirement to. Also, for normal paragraphs, ensure the Special value is set to None.

Vertical Spacing

Do not use the <Enter> key to increase the white space between objects (for example, paragraphs). Instead, set all objects (except Headings) with a vertical spacing of 0 pt Before and 6 pt After (in the Spacing section of Figure 6). These values provide an adequate amount of white space between objects, without it being too excessive.

Copying and Pasting Text

Now that paragraph marks have been explained (in Section 1), there are a few things to be aware of when copying and pasting text.

If the source document has origins from an unknown location, it is quite possible that it has (unknowingly) become 'infected' or 'contaminated' with unwanted styles. Thus, if the paragraph mark is copied, the template governing the destination document could become 'infected' or 'contaminated' with those unwanted styles.

As a flu virus is passed between humans, unwanted styles can be passed to other documents by pasting, and via the default template file (Normal.dot).

There are two ways of copying (or moving) text between documents: Inserting Text using Paste and Inserting Text using Paste Special. For both processes, navigate to the text to copy in the source document and ensure paragraph marks are showing. Inserting Text using Paste

This is the most commomn process:

  1. Open the source document and navigate to the text to copy

  2. Select the required text, but DO NOT include any paragraph marks.

    In most situations when selecting text, Word includes the paragraph mark. To avoid that happening, position the cursor at the beginning of the text to copy, hold down the <Shift> key and select the required text using the <Left>, <Right>, <Up> and <Down> arrowed keys.

  3. Copy (<Ctrl> + <C>) the text paragraph by paragraph.

    Although the process could take some time (depending on the size of the document), it reduces the risk of copying unwanted styles.

    If the ¶ mark was inadvertently included, the target document 'could' become infected with the style from the source document (when the copied text is pasted into that document).

  4. Open the target document and Paste (<Ctrl> + <V>) the copied text.

    A small pane opens, with a series of paste options; see Figure 7. Select the last option: Keep Text Only (T). This pastes the copied text into the document without any formatting characteristics, ensuring the pasted text adopts the target document's formatting style.

    Figure 7: Paste Options

    If the pasted text does not resemble the destination format, use the Format Painter to reformat the copied text.

Inserting Text using Paste Special

This is the less common process, but pastes text without any formatting associated with it.

  1. Open the source document and navigate to the text to copy

  2. Select the required text (or image or object, etc.) having the correct format to copy

  3. Copy (<Ctrl> + <C>) the text paragraph by paragraph

  4. Switch to the destination document and place the cursor at the required insertion point

  5. Click the Paste down arrow, in the Clipboard Group (Figure 8), under the Home tab

    Figure 8: Clipboard Group

  6. In the Paste Special pane that opens (Figure 9), select Unformatted Text

    Figure 9: Pasting as Unformatted Text

  7. Click OK and the copied text is pasted into the destination document, adopting the surrounding style. Any styles in the destination document are therefore preserved.

Format Painter

The Format Painter applies formatting from one object to another. To use the Format Painter:

  1. Select the object (text or image, etc.) having the correct format to copy

  2. Click the Format Painter icon, in the Clipboard group, under the Home tab; see Figure 8

  3. With the cursor resembling a paintbrush, 'paint' the object to be reformatted - Et Viola!

Note: To format more than one object, double-click the Format Painter icon. This allows the cursor to be used to reformat numerous times. To turn the feature OFF, either click the icon again, or press the <Esc> key.

Track Changes

To avoid having a document full of markup changes, ensure Track Changes are turned OFF when creating:

Once the new document has been successfully created, there is a probability that it needs to be updated. At this point, Track Changes need to be turned ON. Track change controls are located in the Tracking and Changes groups (see Figure 10), under the Review tab.

Figure 10: The Tracking and Changes Groups

  1. Turn track changes ON by clicking Track Changes in the Tracking group; see Figure 10

  2. Select Track Changes from the dropdown menu.
    Track Changes can also be turned on/off by pressing <Ctrl> + <Shift> + <E>

  3. Apply the updates.

    As well as any corrections shown throughout the text, modifications are indicated by vertical lines in the left and right margins.

Separated Headings

How many times have you seen a heading at the bottom of a page and the rest of the text is on the next page? This scenario can be easily rectified.

  1. Select the heading

  2. Navigate to the Home tab and open the Paragraph Settings pane by clicking the small arrow in the bottom right-hand corner of the Paragraph group; see Figure 2

  3. After the Paragraph pane opens, click the Line and Page Breaks tab, and select Keep with next in the Pagination section; see Figure 11.

    Figure 11: Keep with Next

    Note: In Figure 11, the Keep with next and Keep lines together options work across page boundaries, but differently from each other. The first option keeps two objects together (for example, a heading and its following paragraph; or images/tables and their captions, etc.), whereas the second option keeps lines of text in the same paragraph together; i.e., it does not split paragraphs across page boundaries.

    When paragraph marks are turned ON and Keep with next has been selected, a small black square appears to the left of the selected object, indicating that it is ‘glued’ to the object that follows it; see the example in Figure 12 (the “How many times…” paragraph).

    Figure 12: Small Square ‘Keep with next’ Marks

Table Formatting

To ensure tables look aesthetically pleasing to the eye, and have a consistent look about them, apply the following options.

Note: When the cursor is placed anywhere inside a table, two additional tabs (Design and Layout) appear under a new ‘parent’ Tools group.

  1. White Space - When a table spans more than one page, it is possible that large blank areas appear at the bottom of pages, due to the height of some rows (or images). If the order of rows is not important, consider rearranging the table rows to avoid this situation.

    However, if the vertical size (height) of the table row is greater than the page, consider splitting the row into logical segments (paragraphs). Also, for exceptions like this, the Allow rows to break across pages option may need to be selected.
  2. Separated Headers - The Keep with next option that is applied to paragraph headings (previous section) should also be applied to table headers, to avoid the all too common scenario where a table header has become ‘divorced’ from the rest of the table, across page boundaries. In Table 1, the caption is ‘glued’ to the table header, which itself is ‘glued’ to the first table row. Therefore, if there is not enough space at the bottom of a page for the ‘glued’ items, Word places them on the next page.

    Table 1: A Sample Table
    Column 1 Heading Column 2 Heading Column 3 Heading
    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Integer nec mi orci. Duis in varius quam, ac dictum risus. Mauris vulputate, nisl quis placerat placerat, justo odio aliquam libero, at euismod mi turpis id nisi.
    Duis sit amet magna quis nisl semper semper. Nunc fermentum, magna accumsan blandit pretium, ligula eros dignissim risus. Nulla pharetra accumsan libero, et suscipit nunc feugiat in.
    Nulla pharetra iaculis eros eget feugiat. Fusce facilisis blandit metus vel rutrum. Vivamus et sodales dolor. Sed ut lacus justo. Nam vel augue egestas diam tincidunt egestas. Duis et nisl ut turpis ultrices mattis ut eget arcu. Sed suscipit mi scelerisque elit ultrices scelerisque.
    Praesent eu quam quis libero cursus ultricies. Nam convallis fringilla nunc vitae dapibus. Etiam luctus, eros eleifend facilisis luctus, pellentesque iaculis nisl nibh eget eros. Vestibulum aliquam nisl fringilla nibh gravida, et hendrerit nulla pellentesque. Nunc gravida porta nunc non hendrerit. Sed dolor ante, posuere sit amet nisl a, ultricies posuere dolor. Aliquam accumsan ac nisi mattis tincidunt.

  3. Repeat Header Rows - To ensure the header row of a table is repeated at the top of each page (as in Table 1) when the table spans a page boundary, click Repeat Header Rows, in the Data group, under the Layout tab; see Figure 13.

    Figure 13: Repeat Header Rows

  4. Table Alignment - Microsoft (in its infinite wisdom!) has a ‘feature’ whereby it believes that the text inside a table should align with the text of the surrounding paragraphs. Depending upon the version of Word, this ‘feature’ causes table borders to protrude (or extend) outside the text boundaries! To correct this situation, the whole table needs to be moved approximately 0.2 cm to the right; and the column widths adjusted accordingly.

    Note: It appears that this anomaly has (at last!) been corrected in Word 2013 and later!

    Select the table, click Properties (in the Tables group, under the Layout tab). Under the Table tab, set the Indent from left value to approximately 0.2 cm greater than the Horizontal Indentation.

    In the example in Figure 14, paragraphs before and after the table had a Horizontal Indentation set to 1.5 cm. Therefore, to set the table border in-line with the text, the Indent from left value has been set to 1.7 cm.

    Figure 14: Table Properties

  5. Table Column Widths – On many occasions, I have seen table columns (that contain one or two words) having the same width as columns that are full of text. Why? Some people cannot apply common sense when adjusting the column widths according to the amount of data within them.

    Select the table, click Properties (in the Tables group, under the Layout tab) and select the Column tab; see Figure 15. Ensure Centimetres (the Americans can’t spell!) is showing in the Measure in field.

    Figure 15: Table Column Widths

    Select each table column in turn and adjust its width to the nearest 0.1 cm. When the table is full-width, this ensures that the total width of the columns fit exactly within the text boundaries.

    However, do not create columns that are too narrow; especially those that contain automatic numbering. I have seen unwanted – and unseen - text in a cell, where the column width was too narrow. For columns containing numbers (for example, 6.3.10), set the column width to 2 cm.

  6. Table Rows – To prevent table rows from splitting across page boundaries, select the table, click Properties, in the Tables group, under the Layout tab, and DESELECT the Allow rows to break across pages option, as shown in Figure 16.

    Figure 16: Table Row Properties

    When this option is selected (usually the default), one or two words, or a phrase, or even a single question/exclamation mark (if separated from the text by a space - as written in French), can appear on the next page, on its own; which can be totally confusing and meaningless!

    When this option is deselected, rows are NOT split, and thus the full context of the row is maintained; avoiding any confusion or misunderstanding!

    Note: Unless there is a specific reason to set the height of a row, let Word set the row height; i.e., keep the Specify Height value blank. If the text (within each table cell) has the Before and After values set (for example, to 3 points), there is no need to specify a row height.

  7. Row Spacing - To provide a constant and consistent spacing of all cell contents throughout all tables in a document, select each table in turn (including the header) and click the small arrow in the bottom right-hand corner of the Paragraph group; see Figure 2.

    In the Spacing section of the Paragraph pane, set a vertical spacing of 3 pt Before and 3 pt After; see Figure 17. [The nearest equivalent of these spacing settings (in HTML) has been applied to Table 1.]

    Figure 17: Paragraph Spacing

  8. Borders and Shading – Unless there is a justification or tradition to do otherwise, avoid colouring table headers in your favourite rainbow colour(s)! Some establishments only have monochrome printers. In these cases, the printer has to interpret the colour to the nearest grey tone; thus (fractionally) increasing the processing time.

    Apply shading to the table header, to improve the overall appearance of the table.

    Select the header, click Borders, in the Borders group, under the Design tab, click Borders and Shading in the dropdown list, and lastly, click the Shading tab.

    From the Style dropdown menu, select 10% as the level of shading; see Figure 17. This provides an adequate amount of grey colouring to differentiate the table header from the rest of the table’s data rows, without being too bold - and consuming excessive printer toner!

    Figure 17: Shading

  9. Captions - Adding captions to tables (and figures) aids navigation. For example, if there are three small tables on a page and the text reads “…the table below", how does the reader know which table is being referred to - unless they are labelled?!

    Also, if cross-references are used and a table is moved to another part of the document, any references to it are automatically updated - providing the whole document is updated, prior to being published.

    To update the document, excluding the Table of Contents (TOC):

    1. Position the cursor at the beginning of the first paragraph of Chapter 1; usually AFTER the TOC
    2. Select the document from the cursor to the end of the document by pressing <Ctrl> + <Shift> + <End>
    3. Press <F9> to update the selected text.
      It is possible that some references may not have been updated correctly. To check, search the document for Error! Reference source not found.. If any of these messages are found, update the reference manually.

    To apply a caption to a table, select the whole table, right-click inside the table and select Insert Caption. Reformat the caption (as required), as Microsoft’s default format for a table caption is pathetic; it is too small!


Images come in a variety of formats, namely: .jpg/.jpeg (Joint Photographic Experts Group), .gif (Graphics Interchange Format), .png (Portable Network Graphics) and .bmp (Windows Bitmap).

Consider the following points when inserting images into documents:

Based on the last bullet item, do not paste <Print Screen> images into documents; they are in .bmp format. Instead, use the Windows Snipping Tool to capture the required pane, window or part of the screen. These images are saved in the .png format

If any .bmp files exist, convert them by pasting them into the Windows Paint application (or your favourite image editor), and save them (for example) in the .png format; then insert the new, smaller image into the document.

Note: For consistency purposes, when inserting images into a document, ensure that they are all illustrated at the same size. Although all images on this page have been inserted full-size (100%), they have been reduced to 75% of their original size. This shows the true relative sizes between the various images. For example, it would look totally wrong if Figure 18 was produced the same size as Figure 1! They are not the same size. Besides, if Figure 1 was illustrated full-size, it would extent outside the page boundaries (paper version) and look over-scaled on a web page.

Double Spaces

Do not enter double spaces between sentences, as it can lead to both incorrect pagination and spacing. Modern application (for example, MS Word) uses proportional spacing for most of its fonts.

Typewriters are a thing of the past!!!

Document Reviewing

When all editing is complete, the author should pass the document to one or more reviewers.

Note: If there are two or more reviewers (and there is no electronic document management system), they need to decide who is going to accept the changes, once all review comments have been discussed - and agreed.

Note: If there are two or more reviewers (and there is no electronic document management system), they need to decide whether to review in parallel or in series. The in series option is better for the author, as there is only one document in which to accept/reject the changes. Also, the reviewers may provide additional modifications/comments to those from the other reviewers. The downside is that the reviewing process can take longer as the document is passed from one reviewer to the next reviewer.

If the parallel option is chosen, the author must be given enough time to review the mark-up in all reviewed documents.

If there are many modifications/comments, they can be hidden by clicking All Markup and selecting No Markup, in the Tracking group, under the Review tab; see Figure 10 (in the Track Changes section). This action produces a clean-looking document, although the markup changes still exist within the document. This version could be saved as <file_name>_markup.docx.

Accept the changes by clicking Accept in the Changes group (see Figure 10), and selecting Accept All Changes. If preferred, changes can be accepted one-by-one, by clicking Accept and selecting Accept and Move to Next from the dropdown menu. This version might be saved simply as <file_name>.docx to differentiate it from the marked-up version.

Table of Contents

The very last (and important) action to be done to a document is to update the Table of Contents (TOC).

  1. Select the TOC
  2. Press <F9>

    If presented with the Update Table of Contents pane (Figure 18), select Update entire table.

    Figure 18: Update the Complete Table of Contents

Updating the TOC can show if any objects have been formatted incorrectly. For example, if you see text that you know is NOT a heading, locate the text and reformat it as paragraph text, using the Format Painter.

With a keen eye, you can also see headings that have unwanted spaces at the end of the text. Remove them and update the TOC again.

Document Templates

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the word template when it comes to documentation. Microsoft’s definition is: A file or files that contain the structure and tools for shaping such elements as the style and page layout of finished files.

From a User point-of-view, a document template is usually a blank document, containing fields or paragraphs that require populating. From a System point-of-view, a document template refers to Word’s system-wide Normal.dotx. The latter definition is descried as follows:

A template contains specific styles, whether they are from Microsoft, or created elsewhere. Implementing a template (or set of templates) can help to:

Having a set of documents with a common template (for all similar types of document) also makes copying text between the documents easier, as the documents share the same styles. A common template is also better for the user; he/she can switch from one document to another without having to worry about changing styles; as all styles are common between the documents.

Thus, by using a bespoke template, there is less risk of a document becoming 'contaminated' with extraneous styles, and potentially corrupting future documents. This is especially relevant if the origin of a document is not known.

Note: Applying a global bespoke template could be a problem for the IT department; for example, who requires the template and who doesn't; if installed, would the user know of its presence and how to use it; would there be (regular) updates.

Style to Follow

This is a feature (style) of MS Word that produces a specific style when the Enter key is pressed. For example, the most common object to follow a Level 1 or Level 2 Heading, is a paragraph. This can be an automatic action, if the template style is set up correctly.

Figure 19 illustrates where the Style for following paragraph setting is made. In this example, the style that follows a Style Heading 1 +14 pt will always be a Normal paragraph.

Figure 19: Modify Style

Changing the Default Font

Microsoft introduced a new default font (Calibri) with Word 2007. If, for some reason, the default font needs to be changed, use the following list of actions:

  1. On the Home tab, click the small arrow (in the bottom-right corner of the Styles group) and the Styles window opens
  2. Click the Manage Styles button, at the bottom of the Styles pane
  3. Click the Set Defaults tab
  4. Select and click the required font; for example, Arial
  5. Select and click the required font Size; for example, 11
  6. Select the Only In This Document check box
  7. Click OK.


Click to reveal a QR Symbol for the Home Page