Crucial Microsoft Word Skills That Just Don't Get Taught

By Deane Barker on July 22, 2006

My church is building a huge new addition, and part of it is going to be a computer lab. This means that I’ll finally have a nice spot to teach some free computer classes, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

I got to thinking the other day what I’d teach, and I think there’s really a need for a class on Microsoft Word. I could call it, “The Things They Never Taught You About Word That Have Been Driving You Nuts Ever Since.”

Here’s what I’d teach:


How styles work. How to create them, how to derive them, and how to apply them.


How to strip the formatting from existing text and start over.


How to paste unformatted text.


The different between a paragraph break and a line break. (This is one of the most overlooked things in any text formatting program.)


How to use tabs or tables to line up text columns (instead of spaces, which is what normally happens).


How templates work, including how to modify the template to carry styles through to every new document you open.


How to do “Select All.”

It sounds simple, but knowing these things would improve most users’ experience with Word a hundred-fold. Related to this, consider these two posts as well:

Anyone got any other advice they’d care to add to my list?

Comments (5)

Noel says:

One feature that I really like and just started using occasionally a few years ago is the Document Map.

Another thing that I think would be valuable to cover, but would be more MS Office rather than just MS Word is mail merging. And not just creating the mail merge document, but creating the datasource (very likely MS Excel) that can be easily used in mail merge later.

Many times when assisting others with a mail merge project I have spent considerable time massaging data to prepare it for the mail merge when if some simple data standardization and normalization rules had been applied prior to data collection it would have saved a lot of time (and maybe my help would have been unnecessary).

Now I wouldn’t expect full database normalization and data perfection, but simple things like all phone numbers being in the same format would be a good start.

Brad Rhine says:

One thing a lot of my users ask is how to turn off a lot of the “features” that are on by default (auto spell/grammer check, auto line numbering, etc.). A lot of people basically want to turn off the bells and whistles and get down to work.

Brad Rhine says:

PS: I think it’s awesome that your church is including a computer lab. That’s something I’ve dreamed of for a long time as well. Of course, we’ll need our own building first...

Dave says:

It looks like you’ve covered the important stuff; Anything to get people out of the mindset of treating their computer as if it’s a typewriter.

One extra thing you ought to throw in (I’ll even help with this section of the class) is the proper use of graphics in their Word documents. Too many people are clueless about what resolution they need for an image and how to resample it, and they end up with documents that take forever to print and are a huge pain when they send such a monstrosity by e-mail.

Also, make sure they know that the only thing to do with any reference to saving web pages or HTML in Word is ignore it.

M E-L says:

Teach them how to always show full menus (Tools > Customize > Options). It’s maddening for beginning users when they can’t find what they’re looking for.