9 top tips for Microsoft Word 2010

Have you used Microsoft Word for more than a decade? Was it your late-night friend in college, by your side for every all-nighter? And is it now your most trusted co-worker? Have you known it longer than you've known your own children? If you were an early computer adopter, you may even have a nearly 30-year history with the word processing program.

Despite everything you think you know about Microsoft Word, there are a few features you might not have come across if you never needed to look for them. In this article, we list nine great tips and tricks, all with accompanying screenshots for clarity, that all of you Word 2010 users out there should have in your tool belts. We'll look at all manner of things – including an unofficially supported redaction tool – and these are features you surely won't want to miss.

For the more technical users, we also have detailed information about manipulating Normal.dotm files, including a bonus tip that's undocumented in Microsoft Word about using the template to restore older Word files and macros. So without further ado, let's get on with the show.

Use Word to post to your blog

Word 2010 lets you post to a blog directly from Word's editing screen. Here's how this works. From Word's File menu, choose New, then select Blog Post from the gallery of document types. Word opens a document with a placeholder title, a horizontal line, and an empty space for typing your blog post.

Type in a title and a posting, and click Publish on the Blog Post tab of the Ruler. The first time you post, a wizard will walk you through the process of entering your blog's URL, your username, and your password. Click OK and your posting appears on your blog. The Ribbon also includes a Manage Accounts button that lets you revise or add to your list of hosting sites.

Add a Redaction Tool to Word

Word 2010 doesn't come with a built-in redaction tool, which means that you can't permanently hide text in a Word document. Still, you can add that functionality to Word 2010's Review tab by installing the Word 2007/2010 Redaction Tool. It's the work of a Microsoft engineer, but isn't officially supported by Microsoft (which means there's no guarantee it works). Be careful when you use this tool – when text is replaced by a black box, you can't press Ctrl-Z to reverse the redaction.

OpenType typography in Word

Want to avail yourself of all the advanced features built into the OpenType font format? Select all or part of your document, then press Ctrl-D or Shift-Ctrl-F to open the Font menu (which is also accessible from the Home tab, by clicking the arrow at the lower right corner of the Font group). Go to the Advanced tab and explore the OpenType Features; unfortunately, you'll need to experiment to see which features work and how the different "stylistic sets" change the appearance of your text. When you find a combination of features you like, you can click the Set as Default button to make it the base setting for the current document, or for all new documents.

Create and use Building Blocks as reusable document parts

Microsoft Word 2007 introduced a Building Blocks feature that let you create standardised cover pages, headers, footers, and tables – a feature still available in Word 2010. A Building Block is a powerful, reusable tool. Once you create a Building Block, you can insert it into any new document. For example, to create a header for confidential documents, go to the Insert tab, click Header, and choose Blank from the gallery. Type "Confidential" into the header and format it any way you like (for example, press Ctrl-E to centre it). With the text cursor in the header, press Ctrl-A to select the entire header. Return to the Insert tab, click Header, and then, from the foot of the gallery, click Save Selection to Header Gallery.

In the Create New Building Block dialog, give your header a name (for example, "Confidential"), and click OK to save it as a Building Block. To insert this header in a new document, go to the Insert tab, click Header, scroll down through the gallery to the list of General items, and click on the name you gave to your header – "Confidential," in our example. When you exit Word, you'll be prompted to save your changes to the special-purpose Word file that contains your building blocks, BuildingBlocks.dotx, so you can reuse your new Building Block in future Word sessions.

Back up and edit Word's default document template

Many of the tips in this selection tell you to edit the "default template" (Normal.dotm) that Word uses to specify the formatting of new documents. Before you proceed, turn off the Windows option that hides most filename extensions like DOTM. To do this in Windows 7, enter Folder Options in the Start Menu's search box, open the Folder Options applet, and in the View tab, remove the checkbox next to "Hide extensions for known file types", and click OK. Then, from Word's File menu, choose Open. Next, in the sidebar, depending on your Windows versions, either click on Microsoft Word, then Templates, or click on Trusted Templates. This will open a list of files that includes Normal.dotm.

Before doing anything else, make a backup copy of Normal.dotm. First highlighting the file, press Ctrl-C to copy it, then Ctrl-V to paste a copy into the same folder. The newly created copy will be named "Copy of Normal.dotm," but you can rename the backup copy anything you like, as long as you keep the DOTM file extension – for example, "My customised Normal.dotm." When you've made a backup copy, double click Normal.dotm to open it for editing.

Delete Normal.dotm and restore the default version or a backed-up copy

If you ever need to delete or rename Normal.dotm, you'll need to close Word and navigate to the folder that contains the template, because you can't modify Normal.dotm while Word is running. The location of that folder varies in different Windows versions, so the quickest way to find it is to enter this string in the search or run box in the Start Menu:


Your Templates folder will open in Windows Explorer. If you simply delete Normal.dotm, Microsoft's original version of the file will be recreated the next time you launch Word. Alternately, you can take a backed-up copy of Normal.dotm that you customised earlier and rename this backed-up copy as Normal.dotm, and then Word will use it as your default template.

Bonus undocumented tip: In Word 2003 and earlier, the default template was named Normal.dot (not Normal.dotm as in Word 2007 and 2010). If you ever had Word 2003 or earlier installed on your system, then a copy of Normal.dot will be in your Templates folder; it may have been renamed Normal11.dot by a later Word installation. If so, make a copy of it in the same folder and name the copy Normal.dot (NOT .dotm!). Now, if you delete your Word 2007 or 2010 Normal.dotm, and your Word 2003 (or earlier) Normal.dot is present in the Templates folder, Word will automatically import the customisations and macros from the old Normal.dot file when it recreates its new Normal.dotm. The newly created Normal.dotm won't be the clean version of the file created by a fresh installation of Word 2007 or 2010 – as it would be if Normal.dot were not present in the same folder – but will include your Word 2003 (or earlier) macros customisations. This is the easiest way to import your Word 2003 (or earlier) macros and customisations into Word 2007 or 2010.

Give Word a more readable default font

The default font in Word 2010 is Calibri, which looks elegant on screen but isn't very readable because it's a "sans-serif" type – in other words, it doesn't have the small horizontal strokes at the top and bottom of the letters that help guide the eye across the page. To change Word's default font to something more readable and appealing, press Ctrl-Shift-F to open the Font dialog. I recommend that you change the font to Palatino Linotype, 12 point. Click Save as Default, choose "All documents based on the Normal.dotm template," and click OK.

Save and restore your macros

If you want to share your Word macros with other users, or import them into other systems, but you don't want to share all the other customisations stored in Normal.dotm, save your macros to a file that contains just your macros and nothing else. Start by pressing Alt-F11 to open the Visual Basic Editor in the Project pane at the upper left, then click on the plus sign, Modules, and select "NewMacros." From the File menu, choose Export File to export your macros to a file. The file will have a .BAS extension, and if you want to remove some macros or add explanatory comments, you can edit the file in Notepad or any other text editor. To import your macros into another copy of Word, press Alt-F11, select Normal in the Project pane, and choose Import File from the File menu.

Enable or disable Word's Protected View

One safety feature that Office 2010 introduced is Protected View, which lets you view a document but prevents it from launching macros – thereby preventing it from injecting malware into your system. By default files downloaded from the Internet open in Protected View, as do files still in your browser cache, and attachments opened in Outlook. You can turn off Protected View for any of these options by using File, Options, Trust Centre, and then scrolling down to Protected View.

For more tips and tricks, check out our 14 handy tips for Microsoft Word 2010.