How to create custom toolbars for Microsoft Word 2011

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If you work with Microsoft Word 2011, you may find the program’s toolbars and ribbon practical ways to access functions you use often, such as formatting, alignment, and highlighting. But the toolbars and ribbon are stacked at the top of the program’s windows, reducing your vertical space. With today’s widescreen monitors, it makes sense to have toolbars at the side of your main window, so you can see more of your text while you work. It can also be useful for toolbars to contain the commands you really use—some of which may be deeply buried in menus. Here’s how to customize your Word 2011 toolbars to fit the way you work.

Step 1: Show and hide toolbars

Reveal toolbars
Use the View menu to hide or reveal toolbars.
To start with, it’s a good idea to show the basic toolbars so you can access their buttons when you create your own toolbar. To do this, choose View -> Toolbars, and selected the Standard and Formatting ones, if they are not already checked. This will add those toolbars at the top of the window, below the title bar, and above the ribbon. Don’t worry; you’ll be able to hide them later.

Step 2: Create a new toolbar

The Customize Toolbars And Menus window
The Customize Toolbars And Menus window lets you create new toolbars.

Choose View -> Toolbars -> Customize Toolbars And Menus. A window appears that lets you create new toolbars and manage existing toolbars. Click on New, and then enter a name for your toolbar. (Don’t click OK yet. You want this window to stay onscreen.) You’ll see a tiny, one-button-sized toolbar appear on your screen.

Step 3: Add buttons to your new toolbar

Add buttons
With the Customize Toolbars And Menus window open, drag a command from a standard toolbar (or the window itself) onto your custom toobar.
With the Customize Toolbars And Menus window open, you can easily add commands to your new toolbar. One way is to drag them from the Standard or Formatting toolbars. To copy buttons from either of these toolbars (which you made visible in step 1), hold down the Option key, click on a button, and then drag it to your new toolbar. This places a copy of the button on your toolbar—if you drag without holding the Option key, the button is moved to the new toolbar and will no longer appear on the original toolbar. Add as many buttons as you want to your toolbar: you may want to add buttons for styles, fonts, font size, bold or italic formatting, paragraph alignment, and so on.

To add commands that don’t appear on these toolbars, go to the Customize Toolbars And Menus window, and click on the Commands tab. Choose a category in the left column (some of these are menu names), and then drag commands from the right column to the toolbar. You won’t need to hold down the Option key to do this. This is a good way to reveal data merging tools, add buttons for custom macros, or access any command you use frequently that might be deeply buried in menus.

Step 4: Rearrange the buttons

Rearrange buttons
Drag your buttons around on the toolbar to rearrange them (top). To make a text field wider, click on its right edge and then drag (bottom).
If you drag a lot of buttons onto your new toolbar willy-nilly, you’ll want to clean up the toolbar and organize buttons so similar functions are next to each other. You may also want to change the width of some of the buttons; you can only do this for the ones with text-entry fields, such as the Style or Font menu.

To move buttons around on the toolbar click on one and drag it to where you want. For buttons with text-entry fields, hover your cursor over the right end of the button, and then drag; this will increase or decrease the size. For a button like the font menu, you’ll probably want a bit more space than the default size; for the font size menu or the Zoom menu, you generally need a smaller width.

Step 5: Change your toolbar’s shape

Change the toolbar's shape
Your toolbar can assume many shapes. Pick the one that fits your display and work habits.
For now, you have a long, one-button-high toolbar, which is exactly what you want to avoid if you want to save vertical space. You can change your toolbar’s shape, making it narrower and higher, so it fits better at the side of your document window. Click on the small resize triangle at the bottom-right of the toolbar and drag it to the left. As you do this, you’ll see the toolbar change shape. The more you drag it, the narrower it gets; and your buttons will stack up vertically giving you a more practical toolbar.

Note: now that you’ve changed the shape of your toolbar, you may want to move some more buttons around. For example, if you’ve added buttons for bold and italic, you may want them to be on the same line. Your toolbar will be easier to use if your buttons are grouped logically.

Step 6: Save the toolbar

Save the toolbar
Make sure you can access your toolbar in any document by saving it to the Normal template.
Once you’re happy with your toolbar, go back to the Customize Toolbars and Menus window. In the bottom left corner of the window, you’ll see the Save In pop-up menu. Check to make sure it is set to Normal.dotm or Normal.dotx file. This ensures that your toolbar is saved so you can access it in any document instead of just in the present document.

Click OK, and the window will close. You can now move your toolbar to the right or left of your document, and go back to the View -> Toolbars menu and hide the Standard and Formatting toolbars. You can even hide the Ribbon if you wish from the View menu.

Make as many custom toolbars as you want, and you can show or hide them from the View -> Toolbars menu as needed. While the setup may take a while, you can save a lot of time by grouping the commands you use most for quick access, and you can save space by putting all your toolbars to the side of your window, so you can see as much text as possible while you work.

Senior contributor Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just Macs on his blog Kirkville. Twitter: @mcelhearn Kirk’s latest book is Take Control of iTunes 10: The FAQ.

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At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Full parity with Word for Windows
    • The return of VBA
    • Much better, redesigned UI that matches the Windows UI
    • Document formatting is much easier


    • Likely to be much more than most non-business users need
    • Does not track changes made to images added to documents
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