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Other Skills Professional Microsoft Word Users Know

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While I’ve covered what I consider the top 5 sets of skills in Microsoft Word that professional users know how to do, there are other skills that are really useful, and I thought I should at least give a mention to these other skills, and share how they can be helpful, and link to some good learning resources.

Inserting Quick Parts -> Document Properties

A feature of Word that is nice for templates, or documents that may be reused in different situations, is to have some common metadata, such as the author inserted in a way that if the author’s name changes, it gets automatically updated.  The Insert -> Quick Parts -> Document Properties can do this, along with inserting the Publish Date, and having it easy to update what date the document is actually published.


SmartArt is a feature of Microsoft Office that makes inserting diagrams very easy.  There is a good tutorial about how do SmartArt Graphics from GCF.

Working with Pictures, and Understanding text wrapping

Pictures are a great feature of Microsoft Word, but a lot of people struggle with them, because when they are first inserted, they act like a character on the screen, and can’t be moved around.  To have it become easier to move your pictures around, you simply need to change the text wrapping option.  There is a good tutorial from GCF about Inserting Clip Art and Pictures for Word 2010, although this has changed a little in newer versions of Word, and GCF has an updated tutorial for the newer versions also.

Find / Replace, including Finding Formatting

Find and Replace is a great feature of Word, and professional users know how to also use it to find formatting, so for instance, if you want to find anything that is colored red, you can use the advanced Find feature to find only red fonts.  Check out How-To Geeks article about How to Find and Replace Formatting in Microsoft Word to see how to do this.

Headers and Footers

Headers and footers are often useful to put information such as a last updated date, or the filename of the document, or a letterhead, on each page.  There are some techniques about how to connect and disconnect headers and footers from one section of the document to the next, so they can be different from each other.   It is also possible to set it so that left pages have a different header and footer than right pages, in 2-sided printing, helping to have page numbers be consistently on the outside of the page. GCF has a good basic introduction to Headers and Footers, and there are lots of other resources to learn the advanced skills.

Inserting Equations

If you ever need to put any type of mathematics in a document, the Insert Equation feature makes it fairly easy to insert these, and have them look fairly professional. There is a video about Writing Math Equations in Microsoft Word from Albert Rodriguez, that shows the basics of inserting equations, which while geared for math instructors, can help anyone who wants to write math equations.

Inserting Symbols

Often you may want to insert the copyright symbol, trademark symbol, or other type of symbol.  Insert Symbol makes this pretty easy to do.  There are lots of cool symbols under the Wingdings and Webdings.

Mail Merge

Mail merge is a very common function that businesses want to be able to do.  Word has a fairly powerful process, although I have found it tends to work best with a spreadsheet or csv file as the data source.  GCF has a fairly good Using Mail Merge lesson, but before diving into mail merge, you should have a good understanding of file management and file types, as otherwise, I find people often get their data source, and form letter files confused with each other.

Commenting and Tracking Changes

Professional Word users often will have people edit their work, whether it is an Editor, a manager, a committee, etc.   The Review Tab has a good method of commenting on documents, and if changes are made by someone, to have those changes being tracked, so the original author can choose which to keep and which to not keep.  Again, GCF has a good lesson on Track Changes and Comments.


I hope this blog series has helped explain where features and skills in Microsoft Word are valuable.  Please leave me thoughts about any other feature of Microsoft Word that you find is valuable on a regular basis, in a professional capacity, and share your thoughts on what I have shared in the comments.

Thanks for reading, and I hope this has been helpful!

Written by Jacob Walker

December 8th, 2018 at 11:59 am

Professional Microsoft Word Skill #5: Know how to Reference Info Internal and External to your Document

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Professional Word users create and maintain documents that are used by others, and are of sufficient size that and cover sufficiently complex information that it is helpful to be able to reference information either within the document or information elsewhere that is related to the document. Today I’ll talk about some of the features to help out with this.

Page Numbers

Any document that is beyond 3 pages should have page numbering, because if you are ever discussing the document with someone else, the page numbers make it much easier to be “on the same page”. (figuratively and literally!)  There is a good Microsoft video about how to insert or remove page numbers.

Multi-Level Lists for Outlines

For documents that have legalities or other areas that may be referenced in a discussion, it is often helpful to have the headings also have numbers, so similar to page numbers you can quickly refer to a part of a document.  Or if you are creating a traditional outline, this is very helpful.  One good video tutorial about how to do this is available from the Library La Trobe University on YouTube about “How to create a multi-level list in Word 2016


Cross-Reference allow you to insert the name of a heading in your document, and if that heading changes later, it can automatically update.  (The easiest way is to top Ctrl+A to select All, then tap the F9 key to update fields).  This can be very useful for referring to an appendix in your document, like “See Appendix A for more information”, but that if that appendix later becomes Appendix B instead, the reference name will automatically update, when you update your fields, or you can have it say “See page 6 for more information”, and if the part changes to a different page number, it can get updated automatically.  Cross-references can also refer to a lot of other types of items in your document, such as bookmarks, figures, numbered items, etc.  There is a Bookmarks & Cross-References video on YouTube by David Murray that does a very thorough job of showing several of these ways of using cross-references.


Hyperlinks are a real easy way to point to a website, or to some place else in the document.  Making an external hyperlink is very easy to do, and it isn’t that difficult to be able to make a hyperlink to a heading in the document, or a bookmark.  (Which is another good reason to use styles!)  Check out GCF’s lesson on Working with Hyperlinks for a good tutorial.


For short documents, that you want to reference a website, it is often nice to put in the full URL in a footnote or endnote.  Footnotes are also good for asides in a document.  They are very easy to inert, and there is a nice quick tutorial on inserting a footnote or endnote by Microsoft.

Zotero – The Free Third-Party Utility that All Professional Word Users Should Have

If you are doing any type of report or academic writing where you need to cite your sources, the very best way to do this, is to get a free third-party utility called Zotero.  While I know that Microsoft Word now has a basic Citation & Bibliography feature, this feature pales in comparison to the power and ease of using Zotero, which gives a user an advanced bookmarking system for their browser, while at the same time making it extremely easy to do nearly any type of bibliography/citation style.  Visit Zotero.org to learn more and download it for free. (Legitimately free!)

So how are you using these various methods of doing references?

Are there important concepts I left out of this article?

Please comment and let me know your thoughts.

Tomorrow, I will have “bonus” 6th article about some of the other miscellaneous skills in Microsoft Word that professionals know how to use to make their work easier, more manageable, and require less rework.

Written by Jacob Walker

December 7th, 2018 at 5:15 am

Professional Microsoft Word Skill #4: Know the 3 “T’s” of Layout – Tab Stops, Tables, and Text Boxes

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In Microsoft Word, there are several methods to have text appear on the page where you want it to appear.  While amateurs will use the methods that they first learned, such as pressing the space bar to try and line up text in a column, or maybe tapping tab multiple times, professionals are aware of the four major ways of doing layout in Word, and will choose a layout method based upon the specific need, and how well the specific method accommodates that need.

Tab Stops and Indents

Tab stops and indents are related features of Microsoft Word that can be challenging for beginners to learn.  Partly this is because if you are using the ruler to do these, then your mouse has to be precisely on the right spot, and it is very easy to mess up.   Because of this, for many tasks, I recommend using tables with no borders to do layout instead of tab stops for most purposes.

But there are several instances where tab stops are very useful.  For instance, if you want to have a small list of things, with a label on the left side, and a value on the right side of the page, then using a right tab stop on the right side of the page is very useful, and leader lines can be added to make it even easier for the eye to follow from the text to the value.   There is a great video on YouTube from Ken Swartwout that shows how to do Tab Stops and Leaders, GCFLearn also has a good video about indents and tabs.

Indents are useful for doing block quotes, and hanging indents can be used in conjunction with tab stops to make a nice glossary, although tables also can do a great job with this, and I haven’t found a good video that shows how to use hanging indents in conjunction with tab stops to make a glossary, but maybe you can figure that out on your own, as you become more advanced…  And make a video that I can share.


Tables are one of the most powerful, and fairly easy to use layout features of Microsoft Word.  When I taught Word, I would often teach tables before tab stops, because it is far easier to do columns, with tables by simply turning off the borders.  In fact, I generally prefer to use tables for most layout functions, instead of trying to use the “Columns” feature.

But tables have their limitations, and some special knowledge is needed with them.  First of all, if you want to use tabs with tables, you need to use Ctrl+Tab to activate the tab, because otherwise tapping tab will move to the next cell.  Also, sometimes it is hard to put a line above a table.  This can often be solved with going to the very first part of the first cell of a table, and tapping Enter. Also, while you can have headings in a table, these will not be part of the navigation pane, nor show up in automatically generated table of contents.  Tables also sometimes have troubles and weirdness when they extend more than one page.  GCFLearnFree has a good tutorial about how to do things with tables.

Text Boxes

In Microsoft PowerPoint and Publisher, textboxes make layout very easy.  Unfortunately, in Word, text boxes can cause some weirdness, because Word was first designed to deal with things as characters like on a typewriter, and textboxes act more as objects.  But, if you want to do all your layout with textboxes, and mostly avoid typing in the normal text area of Word, this can work as a layout strategy, and Microsoft Word will then act much like Publisher works.  Check out this article about how to Use Word Text Boxes Effectively to learn about some of the cool things you can do with text boxes.

Page Setup – Columns

I will be quite up front, that I am not a fan of the “Columns” feature that can be found in page setup.  To use them properly, it takes having a good understanding of sections, and section breaks, and nearly everything that Columns can do, tables can do more easily.  The only exception, is that Columns allows for wrapping from one column to the next, while tables don’t.   If you want to learn about the Columns feature, I recommend the Advanced Microsoft Word video on YouTube from Technology for Teachers and Students.

So how are you using these various ways of doing layout?

Are there important concepts I left out of this article?

Please comment and let me know your thoughts.

Tomorrow, we will talk about ways to be able to have various forms of internal and external references in your Word documents.

Written by Jacob Walker

December 6th, 2018 at 11:59 am

Professional Microsoft Word Skill #3: Know the 3 levels of Attributes – Character, Paragraph, and Section

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One thing that distinguishes experts from novices, is that experts in an area, have a “feel” for how things work, where they intuitively know what they should do for a given situation without having to think about it.  This often comes from having an accurate ingrained mental model about what they are doing. In Microsoft Word, one of the most important mental models that a professional user has, is that of understanding what level of formatting different tools affect, which there are three:

1. Character (Font) Level Attributes/Formatting

Everything in the Font portion of the Home Ribbon in Word is Character-Level (often called Font-Level) formatting, meaning that it affects individual characters.  This includes font size, font face, bold, italics, underline, strikethrough, subscript, superscript, and other text effects; text highlight color, and text color.

To use these on existing text, you must select the text you want to change, and then choose one of these.  If you are having a hard time selecting text with the mouse, try using Shift and the Arrow keys to select text with the keyboard.

2. Paragraph Level Attributes/Formatting

Everything in the Paragraph portion of the Home Ribbon in Word is Paragraph-Level, which means that it affects an entire paragraph.  Paragraph effects include bullets, numbering, indents, tab stops, horizontal text alignment, paragraph spacing, and text spacing.  It also is how paragraph shading and paragraph borders work, but I don’t recommend usually using these, as tables are generally a better way of doing these things.

It is very important to understand how Word defines a paragraph.  If you tap the Enter key, you start a new paragraph.  If you tap Shift+Enter, you stay in the same paragraph.  You can easily see where new paragraphs start in Word by using Show/Hide, which I talked about on day 1 of my blogging about professional Word skills.

With paragraph level formatting, the whole paragraph changes.  So you only need your cursor (aka text insertion point) to be in the text, and when you select the formatting, it will all change.   Even if you have text selected in the paragraph, the entire paragraph will change, because it would not make sense for instance, to have only part of a line become centered.

3. Section Level Attributes/Formatting

Everything in the Page Setup portion of the Layout Ribbon affects either the entire document, or if you add Section Breaks, will affect only that section.  This means by having different Sections of a document can have different page orientations, different margins, different page sizes, and different vertical alignments.  It also can be used for the Columns feature of Word, but I generally prefer using Tables to do columns, instead of the “Columns” feature.

To insert a Section Break so you can change the Page Setup on only part of your document, go to the Layout Tab, and go to Breaks, and under Section Breaks, choose Next Page.  This basically acts like a page break, but also makes an entirely new section.

Check out O’reilly’s missing manual section about Formatting Text, Paragraphs, and Headings, for more info about the different levels of formatting.

So how else do you think understanding the levels of formatting can help you?

Are there important concepts I left out of this article?

Please comment and let me know your thoughts.

Tomorrow, we will talk about the three major ways of doing layout in Word: Tab Stops, Tables, and Text Boxes, and share a little about the pros and cons of each method.  I’ll also talk a bit about the “Columns” feature and why I personally don’t use it.

Written by Jacob Walker

December 5th, 2018 at 11:59 am

Professional Microsoft Word Skill #2: Have Form follow Function with Styles and Headings

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One of the first things that most Microsoft Word users learn is how to change the formatting of their fonts using the Font section of the ribbon, such as making things bold, italics, underline, using different font faces, and different sizes. While learning these techniques, allows a beginner to quickly be able to make a document that has their fonts look the way they want, it also hinders amateurs from becoming professionals, because by using the Font section for all formatting, instead of just ad-hoc formatting, users develop bad habits.

So what should be used instead?  Styles

Why do professionals use Styles?  There are three major reasons:

1. Consistency

Styles quickly helps all formatting to be consistent in a document.  By using “Heading 1” for the start of every chapter of a book, or part of a report, all the headings will still be consistent.

2. Quickly Changing Formats Throughout a Document

Styles allow you to quickly change all your formatting.  If you used Heading 1 to set the font for all of your chapter titles, or report section headings, then by changing the Heading 1 style in the style Ribbon, all of the titles will change at one time.  This is the same for using the “Normal” style, you can have all your normal text change at one time.  Check out the Microsoft Support article about how to customize or create new styles in Word, to see how to do this.

3. Styles have Meta-Data

Styles are not only about fonts, but they also are a form of meta-data about your document, that facilitate a lot of other Microsoft Word features.  For example, by using Heading 1, Heading 2, etc. for chapter titles, or sections of a report, these headings will automatically be shown in the navigation pane, making it very easy to quickly jump to different parts of your document.  Further, by using headings, you can make a Table of Contents quickly and easily, in a way that can easily be updated.  Without using the Heading styles, making a Table of Contents is more time consuming, and takes a lot more work to ensure it is accurate.  Check out the article “The Wicked Easy Way to Create a Table of Contents in Word” from LinkedIn Learning, to see how to do this.

So how else do you think Styles can help you?

Are there important concepts I left out of this article?

Please comment and let me know your thoughts.

Tomorrow, we will talk about the three levels of attributes that Microsoft Word has: Character, Paragraph, and Section, and why professionals understand these levels well, and how that mental model helps them to quickly know what tools to use in Microsoft Word for what type of formatting.

Written by Jacob Walker

December 4th, 2018 at 11:59 am

Professional Microsoft Word Skill #1: Know what is Happening behind the Scenes with Show/Hide

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In my many years of teaching adults, I have come to realize that most people don’t know what they don’t know.  While sometimes this can be as bad as someone having the Dunning–Kruger effect, most of the time it isn’t because of low IQ, but instead is because we automatically have a tendency to believe that “what you see is all there is”, as Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman described in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”.   In either case, I have needed a method to determine fairly quickly about what a person’s ability level is with Microsoft Word, so I don’t waste time re-teaching things that are too basic for someone, and at the same time, I don’t assume they are ready for advanced materials, when they aren’t.

The most effective method for me to start to figure out how skilled a user is, is to ask “Do you use the Show/Hide button in Word?” and if the person answers “Yes”, I follow up with “Can you share about when you use it, and how it has been helpful?”

One of the most common things Show/Hide helps with, is finding extra spaces in a document.  It is easy to accidentally press the space bar twice, or in other ways add additional spaces to a document that you might not want.  But it is not always easy to see that this happened.  By turning on Show/Hide, there is a dot shown for every space used, and it becomes easy to know if extra spaces were inserted when they were not meant to.  Check out Microsoft’s Support page about how to show or hide formatting marks for more information about this.

So why else is the Show/Hide button so important to anyone who is a professional Microsoft Word user?  It is because that Word has from 3 to 5 ways to do nearly any form of layout work you want to do, and if you receive a document from someone else, or are working on a long document yourself, you will often want to be able to quickly see which method Microsoft Word is actually using.

As an example, there is more than one way to start a new page in Microsoft Word.  For instance, let’s say you have one page that only is halfway filled with text for the end of a chapter of a book, and you want your new chapter to start on a new page.  An amateur will tap the Enter key several times to get to the new page, while a professional will either use page break (by tapping Ctrl+Enter) or insert a Section Break (Next Page), to start the new chapter.  To quickly see which method was used, a professional Word user will turn on Show/Hide, and see which was used.  Check out the GCF tutorial about breaks to see how Show/Hide helps with this.

So how else do you think Show/Hide can help you?

Are there important concepts I left out of this article?

Please comment and let me know your thoughts.

Tomorrow, we will talk about another “hidden” portion of Word, the use of Styles, and why all professionals should use them.

Written by Jacob Walker

December 3rd, 2018 at 11:59 am

Top 5 Microsoft Word Skills to Learn, to Rise from an Amateur to a Professional

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This week I’m posting a series of blog articles that discuss what it takes to not just be an amateur user of Microsoft Word, but to move towards becoming a professional.  I do not mean to be disparaging to amateurs, as the term comes from the French “lover of”.  But, there is a difference between someone who uses technology for personal use, and someone who needs to use technology to produce something in a business context.

Professionals need to be efficient in their use of technology, to have a product that not only looks good, but also is maintainable, and can be changed easily, and that the production has the least amount of rework.  Professionals also need their product to be able to be used in different contexts, such as not only being printed, but potentially viewed on the Internet, or professionally published.

There are a ton of great free learning materials about Microsoft Word, from online courses such as those on GCF Learn Free, Saylor, and EdX; to videos like the YouTube videos from The Teacher and Word training videos directly from Microsoft; to other blogs such as the Microsoft 365 Blog; to textbooks such as the Microsoft Office Word textbook from bookboon.com, about how to do specific skills in Microsoft Word.

But, these materials rarely look at Word through the lens of which skills are important for which types of tasks, and how they can help a professional Word user.  Most of that is discovered by professionals over time, but even many professionals may not understand the pros and cons of using one technique over another.  That is why I’m writing this series of blog articles.  To help amateurs become more professional in their use of Microsoft Word, and to give existing professionals more understanding about the tools at their disposal, and which one is most appropriate to use for which type of job.

As I noted, there are lots of good learning materials available to learn how to do these skills. So I’m not going to write another set of tutorials about how to do the techniques that I’m discussing, but instead, I will help curate some of the learning materials I have found, and link to tutorials for the specific skills.

So tomorrow, I am going to start with the skill I always ask someone about first, to quickly determine whether they are an amateur Word user, or closer to a professional: Show/Hide.

Written by Jacob Walker

December 2nd, 2018 at 8:21 pm

Thoughts from the California Information Communication Technologies Industry Advisory Committee

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I flew down to San Diego last night to participate in the Statewide Information Communication Technologies (ICT) Industry Advisory Committee.  It helped me to remember how important ICT education is.  We had a great group of folks at the meeting, with a lot of passion and experience in supporting the students of California to becoming our next generation of “computer nerds”.

But it also brought back to me, about how our education system isn’t keeping up and changing for the needs of our next generation.  Technology is our future, and of any industry sector (other than potentially energy), it is the use or abuse of technology will make the biggest difference to the future of human kind. And educational content standards, and the related curriculum, can either be what will give our students the knowledge that will be needed when they graduate; or force irrelevant content on them, leading to more disillusion with our education system; and at the same time lead to more unemployment.

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Written by Jacob Walker

April 20th, 2017 at 7:01 pm

Thought of the Day: Thriving in the World of the Future requires Learning in the Manner of the Past

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I ran into two articles this morning about education from the Washington Post that on the surface seem very different, yet truly dovetail into each other.   The first is the fact that education in the United States is not providing the skills to the population that will be needed for the 21st century, even though it is in vogue to say things are “21st Century Skills”.   One only needs to look to the fact that Common Core requires teaching imaginary numbers but never mentions binary to see we have a problem.  The other article was about how we screw up learning in school so often, and how instructional fads that are said to be absolutely true at the time, are often not.  Along the same lines, it is worth considering what has happened when kids have just gotten to use a computer, and how much they learned on their own.



Written by Jacob Walker

August 22nd, 2016 at 11:59 am

Why Johnny Can’t Compute: The Failure of the Old Math

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Why Johnny Can't ComputeNearly every leader in our nation is saying that we need to have students get more STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), so that our country will not fall behind technologically and economically from the rest of the world. But, what they don’t say (possibly, because they don’t know), is that the type of math that is needed for Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and Computer Science (CS) is not the math that is normally taught in high school.

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