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5 handy tips for Microsoft Word

A friend of mine was exporting content from Excel into Microsoft Word and kept getting tripped up by the different exporting options. No matter what he did, the resulting Word doc had unnecessary tabs where there should have been single spaces. He called me and asked me to drop by and help.

"Just find and replace the tab spaces with single spaces," I said.

"How do you do that?"

It's a decidedly simple function, but it's one of those Microsoft Word tricks that if you've never seen it before, you wouldn't know how to do it or even how to phrase it properly in a Google search.

So I showed him how, plus a few other handy tricks I use in Microsoft Word all the time. And I'll share them with you here, too.

Read on for my five handy Word tips...

1. Find and Replace tab spaces

Here's the solution to the problem I was talking about in the introduction of this article. In Microsoft Word, tab spaces translate to ^t.

To find and replace them with a single space, use the Find/Replace button. Type ^t into the first field and a single space into the second field.

Hit "replace all" and voilà.

2. Find and Replace paragraph returns

Who hasn't received a document that has double paragraph returns where we only need one?

Paragraph returns, or carriage returns as they're sometimes called, can be represented in Microsoft Word as ^p.

To find and replace double paragraph returns with single ones, use the Find/Replace button. Type ^p^p into the first field and ^p into the second field. Hit "replace all" and you're done.

3. Automate frequently typed text with Macros

Confession: I was scared of macros for years because I didn't understand what they were and it looked like I had to learn code to use them. Not true. Macros are your friends. I wish they had a different name, though, like the Frequently Typed Text button, because that's really what they are.

A lot of people use macros for boilerplates, company disclaimers, or legal text that's required on all documents of a certain nature. I use them to automate extremely basic text that I have to type over and over again, including some HTML codes that I use in publishing articles online.

Setting up a macro for the first time takes a few steps, but it's worth it for the time you'll save thereafter.

Here's how to do it (the instructions are printed below the two minute video, which also shows you how to use macros):

Windows 2010 version of Word: From the View tab, hit the Macros button on the far right and select Record Macro.

Mac 2011 version of Word: From the top menu, go to Tools, select Macro, then select Record New Macro.

Give your macro a name in the Macro Name field — and note that names can't have hyphens or other special characters, just letters and numbers (which is stupid, but there you have it). Next, you can assign a button or keyboard shortcut for the macro, but it's optional. You'll always be able to run your macro from the menu if you prefer. Assigning a keyboard shortcut can be tricky because you have to know all the other existing keyboard shortcuts so that you don't accidentally override one you might need. Add a description if you want, but it's not required.

When you click OK, Word will record everything you type and do. Type the text you want to automate and format it how you want, or record the action you want to capture, and then go back to the Macro button and hit Stop Recording.

Now test out your macro by going back to the Macro button and selecting View Macros, and then selecting "run" for the one you created; or just hit the keyboard shortcut or button you assigned. You should see your text magically appear in one fell swoop.

4. Clear the formatting of pasted text

Do you copy and paste text from online sources, email, other documents and so on, and cringe when it pops onto the page in red at 18 point size in Verdana? Stripping the formatting that unwittingly comes with pasted text is a big pain in the neck. You can change a setting in Word so that formatting never carries over from other texts.

In Word for Windows, start by going to File and selecting Options. Look for Word Options and click Advanced. Somewhere in that massive list (I know, it's long) is an entry called "Pasting from other programs." Select Keep Text Only, and click OK. Give this a test drive by pasting some text from a web document; it will (or should, if you've done this right) conform to the existing formatting for that document.

In Word for Mac, choose the Word menu option, then Preferences, select Edit and then look for Cut and Paste options. Click the Settings button in that section, and make sure the box is checked for Show Paste Option buttons. Whenever you paste a piece of text, you can choose "keep text only" to remove any carry-over formatting.

5. Delete a line

The dreaded line! You hit a series of hyphens or underscores plus the enter key, and Microsoft Word dropped in a fat line all the way across the page that you can't for the life of you figure out how to remove!

The trick to getting rid of this line is to call it a "border," not a line. Click directly above that line — er, "border." From the Home tab, choose the border icon (it looks like a 4 x 4 grid). You should see that the lower border is selected. Just change it to No Border, and you're done. If you want to change Word's settings so this border never appears again, go to File, select Options, then AutoCorrect Options. Select AutoFormat as You Type, and look for "Apply as you type." In that section, you can remove the check from the box for Border Lines.