We love to hate on Microsoft Word.
It’s a bloated, messy beast of an application that tries to be all things to all people and ends up pleasing no one — it is neither a pure word processor, nor a typesetting system, nor a page layout program.
But it does come with an intuitive graphic interface that allows you to create printed documents that look like they do on the screen, and this (plus its historic links with the market-dominant Windows OS) has helped it become widely used in the workplace.
It’s also industry standard software for the publishing industry. So even if you work mainly in Scrivener or another writing application, nearly every professional document you produce will spend at least some of its time in .docx format.
Like it or not, you need to make friends with Word.
And here’s the thesis that prompted me to write this article: Despite Word’s ubiquity and the hate heaped on it, many people don’t know how to use it effectively.
Here are six simple things to improve your experience of Word that I’ve picked up over the past 15 years as a professional .docx wrangler.
1. Understand character formatting vs paragraph formatting
There are two ways to format text in Word: at the character level and at the paragraph level.
It’s likely you know how to do character formatting via the graphic interface: you select the text you want to format and you change its parameters using the toolbars.
But this is not the only — nor the best — way to format the bulk of your text.
The more powerful method is to use paragraph formatting: you click the insertion point within the paragraph you want to format, and apply a style to it using the style pane. The text in that paragraph will then inherit the formatting of the style you chose.
To sum up
Character formatting is great for formatting minor elements within a paragraph, like italics and bold.
Paragraph formatting via the style pane is the best way to format everything else.