Ten things everyone should know how to do with a word processor
By Jeffery Battersby
Admit it: You don’t use half the tools in your word processing app—whether it’s Microsoft Word, Apple’s own Pages, or Google Docs—maybe even less than half. But without all those bells and whistles you’ve been ignoring, that app is little more than a glorified text editor. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that: I use my favorite text editor, BBEdit, as a glorified word processor.)
But a big part of owning a tool is knowing how to use it effectively. So if you ever use Word, Pages, or Google Docs, you owe it to yourself to know how to do a few essential things with it. Here are the ten of the most essential.
1. Use Keyboard Shortcuts
When I’m in the flow of writing, there’s nothing worse than having to lift my fingers from the keyboard, grab the mouse, and click to select, copy, cut, paste, or format text, or to save or print a document. But in most cases, my hands never actually need to leave the keys to take care of these things. I use keyboard shortcuts instead.
Every Mac application offers some keyboard shortcuts. The beauty of word processing apps is that these shortcuts tend to be consistent from app to app. Emphasis on tend, however: For example, take note of the Redo option in the Edit menus of Google Docs, Pages, and Word: Word and Google Docs use Command-Y, while Pages uses another Command-Shift-Z.
You don’t have to memorize all these commands, but it’s smart to memorize the ones you use most often. Following are a few you’re likely to use every day, and they almost all work in Word, Pages, and Google Docs:
Command-A selects all the text in your document.
Command-B bolds text.
Command-I italicizes text.
Command-N creates a new document (not in Google Docs).
Command-P prints your document.
Command-S saves your document.
Command-U underlines text.
Command-V pastes text at the cursor.
Command-X cuts selected text.
2. Create and Manage Lists
Word and Pages make it easy to create lists; sometimes they do so whether you like it or not. (See “Turn Off Automatic Numbered Lists” below.) Begin any paragraph with the number 1 followed by a period in either of these applications, and it’ll assume you want to create a numbered list, so each subsequent paragraph will start with the next number in the sequence.
When creating lists, the Tab key is your friend. When you create a new list item, pressing Tab indents the line and changes the numbering sequence to a different one, indicating a new level of organization.
Google Docs behaves a bit differently. Simply typing a number and a period won’t work. To create lists, you click the Numbered List or Bulleted List button in the Google Docs toolbar. The Tab key won’t work here either. Instead, you’ll need to click the Increase Indent or Decrease Indent button to change your list’s sequencing.
All three applications default to a basic numbered list, although Word offers more sophisticated list-formatting options than do Pages and Google Docs. Google Docs and Word let you change list formatting using the list tools in the toolbar. Click and hold on any of them, and you’ll get several list options to choose from; Word also offers an option for creating your own custom list formats.
To change list formatting in Pages, select all the paragraphs in your list and use the Bullets & Lists section of the Format sidebar to adjust your list settings.
3. Turn Off Automatic Numbered Lists
Hate automatically numbered lists? Turn them off, keeping in mind that to create lists in the future you will need to use the list buttons in the toolbar.
Word: Open the Tools menu and select AutoCorrect. When the AutoCorrect settings window opens, click the AutoFormat As You Type tab and uncheck the boxes next to Automatic Bulleted Lists and Automatic Numbered Lists.
Pages: Open the Pages menu, click the General button and in the Editing section uncheck the box that says Automatically Detect Lists.
Google Docs: It doesn’t offer an automatic lists option.
4. Find and Replace Text
Oh, I know you’ve done it: Written an entire document and then realized you’ve misspelled someone’s name. How do you fix your error? By using find and replace. The three apps provide slightly different options for replacing your found text with new text. But in each case, you have the option to use Replace or Replace All. Replace only replaces the currently selected instance of the word while Replace All changes every instance in the document in one fell swoop.
Word: Click the Edit menu, select Find and then Replace. (Or press Command-Shift-H.) A small sidebar will appear next to your document with two fields. In the Search Document field, type the name of the word or phrase you want to find. (You should see a list with every instance of that word below, and in the document itself every instance should be highlighted.) In the Replace With field, type the word or phrase that is to replace what you’ve typed in the search field.
Pages: Open the Edit menu and select Find > Find (or press Command-F), then select Find & Replace from the gear menu on the left. Enter your search term in the field that says Find The Word Or Phrase You Want To Replace It With in the Replace field.
Google Docs: Open the Edit menu and select Find and Replace (or press Command-Shift-H).
5. Insert a Table
Adding a table to your documents is a simple task in all three apps.
Word: Select the Tables tab, then click the New button at the left of the toolbar. Word will display a ten-by-eight grid from which you can create your table. If you need something bigger, click the Insert Table menu that appears below the grid. When you do, a new window will appear giving you the option to create a table the size you want.
Pages: When you click the Table tool in the toolbar, Pages offers a menu of pre-formatted tables, all of which are four columns wide by five high. Selecting one of these tables inserts it into your document. To add more rows and columns, click the small button at the end of the row and column headings. Once clicked, it displays a menu you can use to add or remove cells.
Google Docs: Click the Insert menu, then select Table. Another smaller menu will appear with a five-by-five grid. Select the table size you want by dragging over the grid. It will expand as you drag down and to the left, to a maximum size of 20-by-20, and what you select will be inserted into the document.
6. Format a Table
Once you have your table inserted, it’s time to make it pretty. Because table formatting can be complicated, these applications offer separate formatting options for entire tables, for individual cells, and for the text that appears within your tables. (The keyboard shortcuts mentioned earlier for text formatting work on table text quite well.)
Word: Word offers a multitude of table-formatting options, all of which you manage using the Tables tab in Word’s toolbar. In fact, Word’s table tool offers nearly the same set of formatting features available in Excel.
Using the toolbar’s Table Options, you can manage the way your table displays headers and footers, add a Total row at the bottom of a table, change the table’s color scheme using predefined table styles, and even draw your own borders around tables and cells.
Additionally, Word offers Table Layout tools you can use to add, remove, or otherwise adjust the cells within your table. You can easily add or remove a single cell or entire rows and columns by selecting a row or column and clicking a single button. But be warned: Word’s tools can get complicated, and it’s easy to find yourself in the weeds once you start digging around.
Pages: The Format sidebar provides a number of options for quickly changing the look of your entire table or a single cell. Click anywhere on your table, and the Format sidebar will change to a set of table tools. Four tabs appear at the top: Table, Cell, Text, and Arrange.
Click Table and you’ll see six table styles. Click one and it will change the entire table to match the style you’ve selected. With Table selected you can also manage the way the table’s headers and footers appear; make global changes to the table’s font sizes; hide, display, and change the table’s outline and the way the table grid looks; and adjust cell colors and sizes.
Select the formatting sidebar’s Cell tab, and you’ll find options for formatting the data within cells. So, for example, if you want the data in a cell to always be treated as text, even if it’s a number, you can specify that here.
Use the Text tab to change the way text appears within table cells. You can change fonts, adjust text alignment, create lists within cells, and do just about anything else you can in the body of a word processing doc.
The Arrange tab lets you fine-tune the location of the table within your document. In most cases, you’ll drag and drop your table where you want it, but you can use this tool when you want to change the way text wraps around your table or when you want to tweak its location by a couple of pixels in your document.
Google Docs: Select your table, a selection of cells, or a single cell; click the Table menu; then choose Table Properties.
You can then change a table’s border color, change the cell backgrounds, set column width and height to a specific number, change the way the table appears inline in the body text of your document, and alter the way text aligns vertically within a cell.
7. Insert a Chart
For many people, myself included, a table full of numbers is enough to make your your eyes glaze over. A graphic chart, on the other hand, can make cold, hard numbers easier to understand. Adding charts to your documents in all but Google Docs is a simple process.
Word: Click the toolbar’s Chart tab and you’ll see a set of tools for creating and formatting charts. Selecting the chart you want inserts it into your document and opens an Excel spreadsheet with a default data set. Changing this data changes how your chart looks in the document.
If you need to change your chart, Control-click (or right-click) your chart and select the Edit Data menu. This will reopen both Excel and the table containing your chart data.
Pages: Of the three applications, Pages makes it easiest to add charts. Click the chart tool in the toolbar, and you’ll see a menu with a three chart options: 2D, 3D, and Interactive. In addition to chart types, Pages also offers a number of color themes, which you can navigate using the left and right arrow buttons in the menu.
Selecting a chart places it in your Pages document with a default set of data. Click the Edit Chart Data button and a table will open displaying the current chart data. Replace the default data with your own data, and the chart will change to reflect your data. If you need to change the data in your chart again, just click the chart and click the Edit Chart Data button again.
Google Docs: Google Docs offers no way to directly add and update a chart in your document. Instead, you need to create a chart in Google Spreadsheet, publish an image of the chart to the Web, and then insert the image’s URL into your document.
First, create a new Google spreadsheet by opening Google Drive, clicking the Create button and selecting Spreadsheet. In the resulting spreadsheet, enter your chart data. Select the data by clicking the first cell containing your data, and then Shift-click the last cell of data you want to include in your chart.
Next, click the Insert Chart button that appears on the left side of the Google Spreadsheet toolbar. That opens the Chart Editor. If you don’t see the type of chart you want, click the Charts tab or click the More link that appears next to Recommended Charts. Once you’ve selected your chart, click Insert.
To add the chart to your document, click near the top of the chart, look for and click the small Edit Menu arrow in the upper-right corner, then select Publish chart. In the next window, open the Publish Format menu and select image. The window will change displaying a few lines of HTML text. Select and copy only the text that appears between the quotation marks. This text will start with https:// and end with a series of text characters.
In your document, open the Insert menu, select Image, then choose By URL and paste your image’s URL into the URL field. Your chart should appear in the window. If it doesn’t, make sure the URL is correct. When you’re done, click the Select button and your chart will appear in your document.
Note: Because this chart is an image, it doesn’t change if you change your table data. If you update the data driving your chart, you will have to republish the chart and insert the new URL into your document.
8. Interact With Graphics
In addition to charts, you may also want to add pictures or other graphical objects to your document and then gussy them up so people take notice.
Word: Click the Insert menu and select Photo. You’ll see two options: Photo Browser and Picture From File. The former allows you to select images from your iPhoto or Aperture libraries; the latter, an image from the Finder. From the browser, select the image you want to use and drag it into your document.
To make changes to the document, select the image in your document, then click the Format Picture tab in the toolbar. By default Word inserts your image inline with the text, which means it cannot initially be dragged where you want it on the page. To change this, click the Wrap Text button and choose one of the wrapping options, then drag your picture where you want it.
Like Pages, Word offers a number of preset picture styles—all available in the toolbar—that you can use to add shadows, borders, and other effects to your image. In addition, you can create your own borders and shadowing, correct a photo’s color, or apply filters. The toolbar includes a tool for rotating your images using a button, but that appears just above the image will let you rotate your image by hand.
Pages: Click the Media button in the toolbar and choose Photos from the three tabs at the top of the Media menu. (Alternatively, you can open the Insert menu from the menu bar and select Choose. Then you can choose anything you want from the Finder and not just from your iPhoto library.)
The image you select will appear in the document. To resize it, click and drag any of the tiny boxes that appear at the edges of the image. (If you don’t see the boxes, click the image and they’ll appear.) You can also drag the object anywhere you want it on the page.
To change the image’s appearance, click the image and look at the Format sidebar, where you’ll see three tabs: Style, Image, and Arrange. Style is where you change borders either using one of six predefined styles or by creating your own using the Border, Shadow, Reflection, and Opacity options. If you create your own style, you can save it for later use by clicking the plus button in the Image Styles section of the Styles tab.
Use the Image tab to replace your current image with a new one, adjust exposure and saturation, create a mask, or to use the Instant Alpha button to make parts of your image transparent. Use the Arrange tab to make adjustments to where and how the image appears on the page and to change how your image interacts with text on the page. In most cases, the default setting will work for you, but if you want your text closer to your image, or if you want to rotate your image slightly, this is the place to do it.
Google Docs: Adding an image in Google Docs is exactly the same as inserting a chart: Open the Insert menu and choose Image. As was the case with the chart, you can insert an image using a URL, but you can also insert images by uploading them from your Mac or using your Mac’s iSight camera (you must have Adobe Flash installed).
Google Docs inserts your image inline with the text. To change this, click the image and then click the Wrap Text link. A new menu will appear to the right, which you can use to set the margin around your picture. You can now drag your image where you want it to appear in your document.
Google Docs doesn’t offer any way to add extra formatting to your images, but you can resize your images by clicking and dragging one of the squares that appear around the edge of the image.
9. Track and Manage Changes
Are you working collaboratively on a document and want to keep track of who has made which changes? Pages, Word, and Google Docs all offer tools for tracking the changes in your documents. Using these tools you can see who has made changes to a document, accept or reject changes, and add comments.
Word: Open the Tools menu, select Track Changes, then choose Highlight Changes. This opens a dialog box where you can select options for how you want to track your changes. The Options button in this dialog box lets you change the way the text you’ve changed will appear in the document. If you want to see your changes as you type, check the Track Changes While Editing box.
To manage changes to your document, click the Review tab on the toolbar. You can add comments, navigate through document changes, and accept or reject comments and changes. Clicking the Review Pane button in the toolbar opens a sidebar where you can see and navigate through all a documents changes at once.
Word also offers options for securing the document with a password, so you can control who can comment on, track, or make changes to a document. Word will not track position changes you make to objects in your document, but it will track the insertion and deletion of objects.
Pages: To begin tracking changes, click the Edit menu and select Track Changes. This reveals a new toolbar just below the main Pages toolbar and, when you start typing, changes the way your text appears on the page.
To view changes made to the document, click the arrows on the left side of the toolbar; Pages displays an informational box shows you who made the change or comment, tells you when it was made, and provides options for accepting or rejecting those changes. Accepting a change removes the tracking information for the text or comment and returns the text color to whatever is normal for that paragraph.
You can change the way the Track Changes tool behaves by clicking the Action (gear) menu to the right of the toolbar. Note: Pages tracks only text changes in your document; it does not track changes you make to images or graphics you’ve inserted.
Google Docs: Google Docs’ track changes feature is limited but still useful. To see document changes, open the File menu and select See Revision History. This reveals a sidebar with a list of all versions of the document. Selecting an item in the list displays a copy of your document at that point in time, with changes made to the document highlighted by color.
While it isn’t possible to accept or reject changes made to a document in this interface, it is possible to restore older versions of documents you’ve worked on and to copy text from one version of a document and paste it into your most current version. Also, unlike both Word and Pages, Google Docs tracks all changes made to the objects in your document.
10. Create and Manage Paragraph Styles
Paragraph styles are a powerful tool that few people use. Using styles you can capture information about text you’ve formatted—fonts, font sizes, line spacing and indentation, italicization and bolding—and change any paragraph to match that formatting with a single click.
Word: Open the View menu and select Styles. This opens Word’s toolbox with the Styles tab selected. Word uses a pick-list for changing paragraph styles. After typing some text in your document, scroll through the list of available styles and click one. Note that your text will change to reflect that style.
To make changes to an existing style, hang your mouse over the style appearing below the text that says, Current style of selected text, click the small down arrow that appears, then select Modify style… This opens a Modify Style dialog window where you can make more changes to the existing style or you can just click OK to accept the changes you’ve already made.
To create a new style from the changes you’ve made to an existing style, follow the same steps above, only select New Style from the menu. This opens a New Style window where you can name your style, make additional changes or simply accept the changes you’ve made.
To create a new style from scratch, click the New Style button in the Style Toolbox. A New Style dialog will open, which is exactly the same as the New Style dialog you just saw. Use the text and paragraph formatting tools in this window to create and name your new style.
Pages: With a Pages document open, type some text on the page then make sure the Format sidebar is open by clicking the Format button on the toolbar. At the top of the sidebar you should see the word Body with a small arrow next to it. Clicking that arrow reveals a Styles menu containing a collection of styles that are part of a default Pages document. Select one of those styles and you’ll see the text in your document change to match the style you’ve selected.
You have two options for creating your own styles: You can save changes you make to an existing style or create your own from scratch.
To change an existing style, make changes to the text in your document so it looks the way you want it, including spacing, indents, alignment, and so on. Now, look at the Style menu and you’ll see a button that says Update. Click that button, and the style will change to match the formatting you’ve created. Also note that all of the paragraphs using that style in your document will change to reflect the updated style.
To create a new style without making changes to an existing one, open the Style menu and click the plus-sign button that appears next to Paragraph Styles. This adds a new style to the list of Styles available in the document. To manage styles used within a document, hover your mouse over an existing style and click the small arrow appearing next to the style name. This reveals a menu you can use to make changes to and create keyboard shortcuts for existing document styles.
Google Docs: Google Docs does not currently offer an option for creating paragraph styles.
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