Your Word Processor Wants to Please You

In my line of work, I hear a lot about the annoyances of typing on a computer. People hate it when MS Word* springs a pop-up in the middle of certain tasks, or vetoes perfectly good grammar, or automatically uses the Calibri font, or capitalizes words meant to be lowercased, or highlights a whole word when they want to highlight only part of it.

What many writers and editors don’t seem to understand is that computers do as they’re told but would be happy (so to speak) to do otherwise. We can tell them what to do!

What’s more, although detailed customizing takes a bit of time and trouble, there is a quick and easy shortcut to disciplining the most-used features of your word processor. In Word 2010, you can find it under the File → Options button. (In Word 2007, Options are found in the colorful Office button in the upper-left corner; in earlier versions of Word, look under Tools.)

This is where your application begs, “Just tell me what you want.” Clicking around, you’ll find dozens of checkboxes. Reviewing all the choices takes only a few minutes. With one click, you can make the grammar checker stop forever—unless you invite it back in later, of course. You can choose which toolbars are visible and even which icons are visible on each toolbar.

Me? I would rather Super Glue my fingers to the keyboard than look at formatting balloons when I’m tracking changes. Click—they’re gone. (NB, you won’t find this choice in Options: another whole drugstore for migraine prevention can be found under Review → Track Changes → Change Tracking Options.)

Granted, one reason this is quick and easy is that some of the choices are so bewildering you can skip them. But if you are inclined to investigate, that’s easy too: just type “What is smart cursoring?” into Google or Bing, and all will be revealed.

There are still things I haven’t figured out how to do in Word 2007 and 2010: I would like all documents, new or old, to open in Normal view. I would like to be able to manipulate hard returns within the endnotes area. It would add years to my life if someone could prevent those formatting-information boxes from popping up and blocking text I’m trying to read. If you happen to know the magic instructions, please tell me so I can tell my computer. Then we can all be happy.


*Although my comments apply to Microsoft Word, other applications can be wrangled in similar ways.

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