CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Originally published Monday, August 23, 1999

Microsoft Word on AutoPilot

Microsoft Word has undergone many facelifts and upgrades since version 2.0 first appeared on the word processing scene. Each successive generation, through the current version Word 2000, has offered many improvements over its predecessor but the concept of user free will has taken a back seat to increasing automation over the years.

Microsoft Word is configured with a number of default settings that are designed to be intuitive and anticipate the users needs. While these settings might be helpful to beginners, for the thousands of users who have been processing words for years, these automatic formatting commands can be a huge annoyance and cause much grief when trying to remedy or correct.

How many times have you typed the number one, pressed the tab key, typed text and then press enter, only to have Word automatically create a hanging indent and begin a bulleted list? Or maybe you've experienced Word suddenly applying capitalization to your text in mid-sentence. Or how about the precocious Office Assistant who annoyingly pops up to help without being invited? Welcome to the world of AutoFormatting as you type.

Seasoned word processing users and beginners alike unanimously agree these automated features are more often a headache than they are a help. Fortunately, you can turn these features off and take back control of your document formatting if you know where find them.

The first place to look is under the Tools, AutoCorrect menu, from the Menu bar. Explore both the AutoCorrect and AutoFormat as You Type tabs and study all the check boxes enabled in these dialog boxes. These are all the formatting commands that Word will automatically apply to your document based on its ongoing analysis of your keystrokes. Point and click any check box to disable undesirable features, such as automatic numbered and bulleted lists. You can easily create bulleted lists on your own from the Formatting toolbar.

Another source of paragraph formatting anguish is when the tab key automatically creates a hard indent, rather than a simple tab setting. Choose Tools, Options from the Menu bar and click the Edit tab. You'll notice the following checkbox enabled: "Tabs and backspace set left indent". Call me an old school purist, but these formatting commands are distinctly different and shouldn't be confused under one keystroke that only befuddles the user. I strongly suggest disabling this option.

To tame the animated Office Assistant to appear when only summoned, click the Options button the next time he pops upand disable all automatic help options. Word 2000 users can simply choose not to use the Assistant.

Other Word defaults can be overridden to match your personal preferences. If you're like most people who find the default font Times Roman 10 too small, choose Format, Font from the Menu bar. Increase the font size or pick an entirely new font that you'd like to use for every new document, then click the Default button in the lower left corner of the dialog box. This will overwrite the Normal template and every new document will be configured from the start with your favorite font settings.

The same holds true for margin settings. The default Word margins are 1" top and bottom and 1.25" left and right. To change the margins for all new documents, choose File, Page Setup from the Menu bar, select the desired settings and then click the Default button.

Certainly, if you like some of the Word automated features, such as fractions replaced with the fraction symbol, be sure to keep those check boxes enabled. Some of these tools are great additions to Word, as long as they don't cause unwelcome formatting changes.

Here's my Microsoft Word Tip of the Day: To create the appearance of a double space between each bulleted item in a list while keeping the line spacing single, choose Format, Paragraph from the Menu bar. In the "Spacing" area, enter 12 in the "After" text box. This will add 12 extra points of spacing AFTER you press enter, thereby giving the appearance of double spacing.

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.

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