Skip to main content

How to use the Microsoft Office Ribbon

(Image credit: Nor Gal /

If you haven't used Microsoft Office before, you may be surprised and even a little bit confused (assuming you've used previous versions) by what you see when you first run an application.

In Office 365, the menus and toolbars in the main applications (Excel, PowerPoint, Word and Outlook) have all been replaced with the Ribbon, which is part of the Microsoft Office Fluent user interface.

Using the Ribbon

The key feature of the Ribbon is that it groups together related commands to make them easier to locate. In this article, we will use the Word Ribbon as an example to show how the Ribbon works and how to change the commands on a Ribbon. However the same principles that we apply here, also apply to the complete Office 365 suite.

There are five main components to a Ribbon; QAT (Quick Access Toolbar), tabs, command buttons, groups of command buttons, and dialog launchers.


Tabs are similar to the old menu system. However rather than having a selection of menus, when you change the Tab, you will see a different command set on the Ribbon. In Word  there are eight tabs along the top; File, Home, Insert, Page Layout, References, Mailings, Review, and View.

Each tab relates to different activities that you can carry out when creating a document, for example should you wish to change margins and paper size you would click on the Page Layout tab. The Page Layout tab would then display a ribbon which contains all the page format commands including ones to change the margins and paper size.

Applications in the Microsoft Office Suite, such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint also have special tabs that aren't immediately available in order to save space within the Ribbon. However, these tabs will appear when special commands are required. For example, In Word, Excel and PowerPoint, the Picture Tools Format tab is only available when a picture is selected.

The File tab is the only exception to the Ribbon rule and is common across the entire Office 365 Suite. When the File tab is selected, a menu of the essential commands common to the majority of Office 365 applications is displayed. These menu items include options to save your data, close the current file you're working on, print your data and exit the application. In Word, the default menu option shown is Recent which shows the recently opened documents and the folders that these documents are saved in.

Ribbon Groups

As we've already seen, each tab contains several groups of commands on the Ribbon. For example, when we select the Home tab in Word, we can see the following groups; Clipboard, Font, Paragraph, Styles and Editing. Each group contains the command buttons that are used most often in that category, for example, the Font group contains Bold, Italic and Underline command buttons.

Command Buttons

The command buttons are the components that do all the work. For example, if you want words to appear in bold, you would click on the Bold button.

You can tell what most of these buttons can do by the little picture on the button, however if you are unsure as to their meaning, hover your mouse over the command button and a description of what the button does will appear a second or so afterwards as in our Bold example above. Depending on how complex the command is, a picture may also accompany the description when the mouse is hovered, as in the Page Layout tab, Watermark command button example shown below.

Dialog Launcher

Some groups have a set of command buttons that cannot fit on the Ribbon due to lack of space. If there is an additional command set, an arrow in the bottom right corner of the group will be visible, which will allow you to see the complete command set. For example, if you need a function or advanced feature to customise Fonts, ensure you have the Home tab selected, then click on the arrow in the bottom right corner of the Font section. The Font dialog box should now appear. The little arrow at the corner of a command set is known as a Dialog launcher.

Quick Access Toolbar (QAT)

The QAT or Quick Access Toolbar is a set of the most often used commands that will always be available no matter what Ribbon command set is being use. The default QAT contains three commands; Quick Save, Undo, and Redo, however many users customise the QAT to contain, print, copy and paste as well as the default commands.

You can customise the QAT by clicking on the drop down arrow to the immediate right of the QAT. A list of commonly used commands is shown with a tick next to each command that appears in the QAT. Should you wish to have one of the commands appear in your QAT, click on the command in the list. However, if your command is not available in the list, for example should you wish to have the copy and paste commands in your QAT, then select the More Commands... option to display a comprehensive list of application commands.

Tip: If you are working on a computer with a small screen, you can minimise the ribbon so that only the tabs appear. Minimising the ribbon will provide more space on your screen for viewing and editing a document as the command buttons will no longer be displayed.

To minimise the ribbon, click the small arrow in the top right corner of the screen. Alternatively use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + F1.

The Microsoft Office Ribbon provides a more intuitive way of working. For users who are used to using the menus and toolbars, there is usually a teething period as they get used to where everything is located. 

However, the Ribbon is an integral part of the Microsoft Office 365 Suite and it is important for users to familiarise themselves with its components. Once they understand and can navigate across the various tabs to access the commands they need, the Ribbon will allow them to quickly understand how to work with the majority of the Microsoft Office Suite and the Office 365 Web Apps.