I swear, sometimes I think I'm living in the days of manual typewriters, overused carbon paper, and crusted over bottles of Liquid Paper.
I recently polled some writer friends and asked what kind of shortcuts they used while working in their word processor. I don't mean spell checking or basic manuscript formatting, but automatically typing common text, or changing the way Word inserts symbols, quotes, and other characters.
Only one of my friends even knew what I meant; the rest simply started the program, and then typed on the keys.
If You Have a Computer for Writing, Use It!
Some writers don't like getting caught up in the mechanics of writing. If it gets too complicated it wrecks their creative flow. That's okay, except using Word's basic automation tools isn't at all complicated, certainly no more than first learning how to double-click on desktop icons in Windows.
Microsoft Word has a trio of handy shortcut features that - taken together - can trim minutes off your daily writing time. Over a week or a month, the time savings really start to add up.
What follows are three ways to streamline your writing. The kind of writing you do doesn't really matter, though jobs that require very specific formats (like screenplays, audio visual or radio scripts), cry out for application-specific tools. You can certainly write your script with Word, but most folks find it easier to use Final Draft.
The instructions I provide are for Microsoft Word for Windows. I'll use Word 2000 for the screen shots as it makes for a convenient common baseline. When menu names and commands change in later versions it's easy enough to locate their equivalents.
Use AutoText to Insert Repetitive Phrases
The concept of AutoText is straightforward: start typing, and as soon as Word thinks it knows what you're writing, it displays the suggestion in a popup tip.
AutoText works for words and phrases that begin a new paragraph.
Pre made word suggestions are provided for a wide swath of letter-writing phrases, such as Yours truly, or Attention:.
You can keep typing to complete the word or phrase yourself, or press Enter to insert the suggestion.
You're free to add suggestions, and change the ones already provided. Choose Tools, AutoCorrect, then click on the AutoText tab.
- To add a new suggestion, type it into the top line, then click on Add.
- To delete a suggestion, highlight in the list, then click on Delete.
- To change a suggestion, delete the old one, and add your new version
Note: If AutoText doesn't seem to be working for you, be sure there's a check in the Show AutoComplete tip for AutoText and dates option. You find the option by choosing Tools, AutoCorrect, then clicking on AutoText.
Use AutoCorrect to Correct Spelling On the Fly; Insert Common Phrases
You can opt to have Word correct common spelling errors while you type. This saves time during the spell check phase.
A whole slew of the most typical misspellings are already provided for you - teh, tghis, thats, and many others. The moment you type a misspelling, then go on to the next word (press space, period, and so on), Word flips the spelling for you.
The same feature is used to insert common symbols, like the c-in-circle copyright. Plus you can use it to automatically insert your name or any other phrase. I have mine set to insert Gordon McComb whenever I type grdn.
- To turn AutoCorrect on, choose Tools, AutoCorrect, then add a check beside the Correct text as you type option.
- To add your own phrase, enter the "misspelling" in the Replace box, and the corrected or expanded text in the With box.
Delete misspellings you want to intentionally make, or add correctly spelled words that you tend to misuse. If you have a habit of typing fro instead of for, and you seldom use fro - as in "to and fro" - then add that one to your list.
Use Word's Toolbars
Word sports a dozen-plus built-in toolbars, each containing a bunch of buttons for common functions.
Except for the Standard toolbar, which contains general purpose buttons, the other toolbars are task-specific. There's a Drawing toolbar with a number of buttons and options used in creating a drawing in Word. There's a Formatting toolbar with formatting buttons. And so on.
You can hide and show toolbars by choosing View, Toolbars, and selecting/deselecting them from the list. Those with a check beside them are visible.
Get into the habit of using the toolbar buttons rather than choosing commands from the menus. The toolbars either dock - they stick to the top, bottom, or sides of the Word window, or you can use the mouse to drag them to any other spot. (Drag by the little handle on the far left of the bar.)
To discover what a button does just hover the mouse over it. A little popup box with a short description appears. Feel free to open a blank document and click on buttons just to see what they do.
If you're feeling especially daring, you can customize any toolbar, even create your own. That's a tutorial for some future installment, but you can learn how to do it by searching for the phase "customize toolbar" in Word's built-in help.
For more advanced automation you can use macros. These are programmed scripts that run inside Word, and perform complex steps in rapid fire succession. I specialize in creating macros, and teaching others how to make their own. See my Microsoft Word document automation page for more information.
What are your favorite time-saving tips for Word?