OK, that’s a cheat. But it makes the point: headings matter. Strong headings draw readers in and guide them through a document or down a web page. They can play a powerful role in telling your story. To make sure they do:
Make your headings meaningful
A heading like “Section 1” doesn’t tell readers anything about what’s in store for them or why they should care. “Introduction” and “Background” aren’t much better. The best headings sum up what each section of your document is going to say — and gives readers real information to take away, even if it’s all they read.
Entice your readers to want more
When headings are meaningful and deliver information of value, people will be more inclined to dig in and see what else you have to share. Being compelling doesn’t mean being click-baity — like, “You won’t BELIEVE what these stars look like today” or, ahem, “You need to read this…” Good, old-fashioned storytelling will get you where you want to be.
Be crystal clear
It’s OK to inject cleverness or wit into your headings, but first and foremost you want to be sure your audience will get the point. “A rose by any other name…” may be an artful setup to a blog on how digital and traditional advertising still have a lot in common, but nobody’s going to know that by reading those six words. As a rule, don’t force your readers to think too hard about what you mean to say.
Like many points of style, spelling can spark passionate debates. Sometimes there’s a definite right or wrong answer (you never get sent to the principle’s office but you could end up in the principal’s, for example). But often spelling decisions depend on which authority you choose to follow or who — and where — your audience is.
One word or two?
If you really want to see style hardheads go at it, ask them if they think a word like “healthcare” should be one word or two (“health care”). There are arguments for both (“healthcare” is compact; “health care” may be clearer) and official manuals of style come down on both sides of the question. In fact, the Canadian Press Stylebook says it should be two words and take a hyphen when it’s used as an adjective (“health-care system”). The Associated Press Stylebook begs to differ. At the end of the day, the decision on issues like these comes down to your organization’s preference. What’s most important is to be consistent.
Which side of the pond?
Many spelling preferences are regional. As Canadians, we really like to make things confusing by picking and choosing between British and U.S. conventions willy-nilly (but never willie-nillie). Examples: Canucks and Britons end “offence” and “defence” with -ce. Americans go with -se (“defense”). But Canadians and Americans stand united on “realize” and “recognize” versus the British “realise” and “recognise”. A good principle in cases like these is to go with the spelling that’s most common where your audience lives.
When you have a long Word document with many different elements — headings, subheads, pull quotes, etc. — it can be a painful process to change them all manually. Fortunately, Word’s style feature is a convenient way to make global changes all at once.
Making the most of styles in Word takes some upfront planning, but investing that time can save you tons down the road. Before starting on any lengthy document:
1. Decide how many header levels your document will need and format them via the Quick Style list or Styles Pane, both accessible through Word’s Home ribbon. Just right-click on the appropriate pre-programmed styles (e.g., “Header 1” for your document’s core section headers) and choose Modify.
2. Decide how the text in the body of your document should be formatted in terms of font, size, spacing between paragraphs, and so on. Then modify the “Normal” style via the Quick Style list or Styles Pane to match.
3. Apply your header styles consistently as you work through the document by highlighting the text and clicking on the appropriate style.
With these items covered, you can then quickly change the formatting for all your document’s headers, subheaders and body text by modifying any of the styles you’ve applied. If this doesn’t happen automatically, right-click the style in the Quick Style list or Styles Pane, choose “Select All X Instance(s)” and then click on the style again or choose another from the list.
Mastering this feature in Word can turn hour-long tasks into quick changes that take mere minutes to apply. Now that’s doing it with style!
There are generally two ways to do things in Microsoft Word. There’s the slow way, which involves digging around in menus and tabs until you finally find the right thing to click on; or the fast way, where you use hotkey shortcuts to access essential features.
Hotkeys can save a lot of time — and your backside. The hotkey combination Ctrl/Cmd + S saves the current document and is a reflex for writers who have learned the hard way how important it is to save work frequently.
Other hotkeys include:
- Ctrl/Cmd + C — Copy text
- Ctrl/Cmd + V — Paste copied text
- Ctrl/Cmd + D — Open the Font menu
- Ctrl/Cmd + A — Select all text
- Ctrl/Cmd + B — Bold selected text
- Ctrl/Cmd + I — Italicize selected text
- Ctrl/Cmd + U — Underline selected text
- Ctrl/Cmd + Enter — Insert a page break
There are plenty of other, less-known hotkeys that can be just as handy. Did you know, for example, that you can search the web for selected text with Cmd + Shift + L on the macOS version?
You can discover all Word’s hotkeys — and tweak them or even define new ones — in the Customize Keyboard menu. Look under the Customize Ribbon submenu in Word Options on Windows or the Tools menu in the menu bar on macOS.
Tables are great for presenting information in a scannable way. But things can go wrong fast when you’re trying to format a table manually, especially one with dozens of rows spanning multiple pages. Applying these three formatting techniques can save you a lot of grief:
Auto-fit rows and columns
To automatically make a group of columns or rows all the same width or height:
- Select the columns or rows you want to make the same size.
- Click Table from the top menu bar.
- Select AutoFit and Distribute, then click Distribute Columns Evenly or Distribute Rows Evenly. Your cells will automatically shrink or expand as needed.
Keep rows intact
If you have a row at the bottom of a page and want all of its content to stay together rather than split across pages:
- Click anywhere in the row you want to keep together.
- Click Table from the top menu bar, followed by Table Properties.
- Open the Row tab. Under the Options heading, make sure the Allow row to break across pages checkbox is empty.
Set headers to repeat
A repeating header row reminds readers what each column contains, no matter what page they’re on. You can repeat your headers automatically by following these steps:
- Click anywhere inside your header row.
- Click Table from the top menu bar, followed by Table Properties.
- Open the Row tab. Under the Options heading, check the Repeat as header row at the top of each page box.
NOTE: These instructions are for the Mac version of Microsoft Word. In some versions of Word for Windows, the table formatting options are found in different places.
When you use Microsoft Word as much as we do, you’re bound to pick up a few useful tricks and shortcuts. Take the trusty ol’ copy-and-paste feature, for example. While it seems like the most basic of keyboard commands, there are actually a couple of different ways to enhance its functionality to help speed up your work:
Pasting text using destination formatting
If you copy and paste text with any regularity, you know that, by default, pasted text keeps its original font, colour and size. This is a nuisance more often than not because then you have to manually adjust the transplanted text to match the rest of your document.
There’s an easy way to avoid this if you use a Mac. Simply copy your text using the standard Command + C combo, then paste using Command + Option + Shift + V.
A neat thing about this keyboard command is that it works in any application on your Mac, not just Word. This is especially helpful in Mail, where sometimes pasted text can look like it’s formatted correctly — until you hit Send and the recipient gets a mess of fonts and text sizes on their screen. Using this hotkey combination makes sure your pasted text fits right in.
There doesn’t seem to be an equivalent function built into Windows, although certain applications (such as Word) will let you choose whether you want pasted text to retain its original formatting or match the rest of the document. There’s also a free application called PureText that lets you assign this functionality to a custom combination of keys for the same effect.
Copying tracked changes between documents
Track Changes is one of Microsoft Word’s most useful features, simplifying document reviews and creating a version-by-version record of edits. Things can get tricky, though, when multiple reviewers work on different copies of the same file or changes from separate documents need to be integrated into one consolidated file.
How do you import all of the edits without losing the tracking? Simply cutting and pasting text between files will wipe out the tracked changes in the pasted text (or worse, make everything you paste appear as an insertion/deletion). Fortunately, there is a way to preserve your tracked changes:
- In the first document, select the text you want to copy. Next, press Command + FN + F3 (Mac) or Control + F3 (PC). This will cut (not just copy) the text and all its tracked changes.
- In the second document, turn off Track Changes. Then, press Command + FN + Shift + F3 (Mac) or Control + Shift + F3 (PC) to paste your selected text along with its markups.
Whether you’re writing or reviewing documents, it pays to know your way around the Track Changes function of Microsoft Word. Here are a couple of useful tips for getting the most from a feature that we use pretty much every day!
Viewing changes by reviewer or markup type
We’ve all had to work with documents that have been seen by so many reviewers there’s an entire rainbow of changes to piece together. What if you want to see only the CFO’s edits? Or only insertions and deletions? Here’s how:
To isolate comments and markups from specific reviewers:
- Click Markup Options.
- Mouse over Reviewers.
- By default, All will be selected. Click All to de-select all of the reviewers, then click on the names of just the people whose changes you want to see.
To accept or reject the changes of just those reviewers — while leaving intact all the tracked changes by the other reviewers:
- Click the tiny arrow beside the Accept or Reject button.
- Choose Accept All Changes Shown or Reject All Changes Shown, as appropriate.
The Markup Options menu also lets you show or hide the different kinds of markups: comments, formatting, and insertions and deletions. You can view and clear out just formatting changes, for example, while keeping additions or deletions visible — perfect for focusing on the content rather than fonts or line spacing.
Showing and hiding markup
If edits aren’t showing in a file that’s supposed to contain tracked changes, it’s usually because the document is set to a different view option than you need. In the Review ribbon, look above the Markup Options button. The text there will say one of four things:
- All Markup, which means your file is showing all tracked changes and comments
- Simple Markup, which places a vertical red line in the margin to flag the locations of edited text but doesn’t highlight the changes with coloured text (comments still appear as usual, though)
- No Markup, which presents a totally clean file with no coloured text or comments at all (as though all changed had been accepted)
- Original, which shows the original version of the file (as though all changed has been rejected)
If you’re not seeing any tracked changes in your document, make sure All Markup is selected. And even if the other options are selected, as long as the Track Changes feature is on, Word is still tracking any changes you make. You just won’t be able to see them until you switch to a different viewing option.