Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

With its many features to support you when creating and editing documents, Microsoft Word is a powerful word processor. However, as a daily user of the desktop version of the software, there are some features that I’ve hoped would be added for many years—but my wishes are yet to be granted.

Microsoft’s Quick Access Toolbar (QAT) is a great way of adding those features and functions that you use frequently to your toolbar at the top of your Microsoft Word window. For example, to speed up my work as a proofreader, I created macros and added these two buttons to my QAT to automatically make certain formatting changes every time I open up a Word document created by somebody else.

The QAT toolbar in Microsoft Word with two green tick icons.

You can also quickly access most of Word’s functions through the search box at the top of the window.

The Microsoft Word search bar with 'Table of con' typed into the bar and the options beneath showing.

While these are both certainly useful ways to make things happen without having to trawl through Word’s many menus, they both come with their problems.

Using the QAT is great if, like me, you only have a couple of icons to choose from, but if there are lots of things you do on a regular basis on Microsoft Word, your QAT can quickly become congested and confusing. That ultimately slowing you down as you try to remember which icon is the one you need to click. Equally frustratingly, the QAT isn’t available on Microsoft Word for the web.

The search bar is only useful if you know the best keywords to type to find the feature you’re looking for, and the Recently Used Actions and Suggested Actions that pop up when you click the search bar don’t seem to represent reality.

To rectify this issue and speed up your work, Microsoft Word should have an extra tab on the ribbon, called Frequently Used Actions, that syncs between both the paid desktop app and its web-based counterpart. This alternative to the QAT would automatically log the tools you use more often in Microsoft Word, and make them available automatically without you having to manually add them to a toolbar, search for the function, or learn the keyboard shortcut.

2. Removing (and Adding) Blank Pages

There are various reasons for there being a blank page in a Word document, ranging from empty paragraph markers to hidden page or section breaks. You can use the Show/Hide icon (¶) to see if there are empty paragraph markers, and this will certainly go some way to helping you identify the source of the blank page.

The most problematic cause of a blank page for me, however, has been Microsoft Word insisting on there being a paragraph marker after a table.

A Word document with an empty paragraph marker after table, taking the document to a new page. The Show/Hide icon is also highlighted at the top of the image.

As you can see in the screenshot above, after creating my table, clicking ¶ reveals that a new page has been created, even though this is the end of my document and I don’t want a new page. As a result, to remove the extra page, I would have to change my font or line and paragraph spacing options, or adjust the page borders. And you can tell your printer not to print page 2 of your document, but it shouldn’t be necessary to have to remember to do this.

The ideal solution to this issue would be for Microsoft to insert a Remove Blank Page option in the Layout tab on the ribbon.

You might also find situations where it would be useful to add a blank page to your document. While you can do this by adding a page break, because they’re invisible unless you click “¶”, sometimes it’s easy to forget that they’re there. So, as well as adding the option to remove the blank page, Microsoft should also consider having an Add Blank Page icon, too.

3. Instant Saving

Microsoft’s AutoSave is a really handy safety net, as it automatically saves your work to your OneDrive. This means that you don’t have to press Ctrl+S before closing your Word document, and if your computer suddenly shows you the blue screen of death, you can be confident that your work is sitting in the cloud, ready for you to continue once your PC has recovered.

But there’s a catch. If you haven’t initially saved your document, it won’t be uploaded to your OneDrive, as Word will regard your document as a draft until you give it a name and save it to a folder.

A Microsoft Word document that hasn't been saved, with the file name Document1 and AutoSave turned off.

As you can see in this example, I haven’t given the document a name, so AutoSave is turned off, even though I have started to add text. If my computer were to require a spontaneous update, I’d lose this work.

As a workaround to this issue, it would be really handy if new Word documents were to save automatically as soon as they’re created, even if named according to the first three or four words you type onto the page. What’s more, with today’s AI age, it would be even more useful if Word could scan your document, give it an appropriate name, and save it to a folder in your OneDrive where other similar documents have already been uploaded. But maybe that’s pie-in-the-sky territory.

4. More Excel-Type Function User-Friendliness in Tables

You can use around 20 basic calculation formulas in tables on Microsoft Word, including =SUM, =AVERAGE, =COUNT, and =ROUND. But there’s still a long way for Microsoft to go in this area.

First off, when you launch the Formula window after creating your table, there’s no way for you to know which functions you can and cannot use. Unlike in Microsoft Excel, which offers formula suggestions when you start to type them into a cell, a very basic dialog box appears on Word, ultimately limiting what is actually a potentially really useful feature.

A table in Microsoft Word with the Formula button highlighted and the Formula dialog box on screen.

What’s more, because there are no cell references on Word’s tables, you have to type ABOVE, BELOW, LEFT, and RIGHT, which just seems cumbersome and less reliable.

And there’s another issue (and it’s a big one). If you change any of the values in the table, the calculations won’t update automatically. Instead, you have to press Ctrl+A (to select all the functions) and F9, and it’s very easy to forget to do this.

I’d really like to see Microsoft bring Word and Excel closer in this regard. When you create a table, the cells should be headed with column letters and row numbers, you should be given more of a clue which formulas you can use (and you should be able to use more), the formula syntax should be identical to what you’d type in Excel, and the formulas should update automatically if the data they rely on changes.

5. Add Attachments to Mail Merge

Word’s Mail Merge tool is great for distributing the same copy of a document or email to many people but with certain elements personalized for each recipient, such as their name at the top. Let’s say you want to send a personalized wedding invitation email to 100 friends and family, and you want to attach the itinerary to your email. While you can, indeed, send that personalized invitation through Word’s Mail Merge, there are no easy ways to attach your itinerary. Instead, you’d have to install an add-in—which can work intermittently or pose a security risk—or create a complex macro—which takes a great deal of time to learn how to do.

I guess a lot of people would benefit greatly from the simple addition of an Add Attachment button to the Mail Merge dialog box in Microsoft Word—I know it’d make me very happy!

6. Better Image Integration

When you add images to a Word document, they can be frustrating to position and control, and often lead to layout changes in your work. Sometimes, it’s difficult to know which option to choose when you right-click the image and select “Wrap Text,” and selecting the wrong one can lead to the text behaving erratically around the image.

A Microsoft Word document containing an image. The image has been selected with a right-click, and the 'Wrap Text' option has been hovered over to reveal the different image-text positioning options.

Also, if you add a large image to your document, this can significantly slow down its processing speed.

As an experienced Word user, I can adjust the settings and, ultimately, find ways to have the image behave how I want it to, but it shouldn’t be that difficult. Things would be so much easier if, when you insert an image, a dialog box appeared before you see the image appear in your document, giving you options such as where and how you want the image to be placed among your words.

Ultimately, I’m a big fan of Microsoft Word and use it daily without any issues. But having these few extra features added would make my life a lot easier.

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By John P.

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