Little-known features of Microsoft Word

If you want to make the way you work more efficient, then you’ll be interested in finding out all the hidden features and tricks which save you time and increase productivity!

When it comes to bashing out everyday documents, there’s rarely much need to venture beyond Word’s Home tab. But tucked away within the interface, there’s a wealth of additional tools waiting to be discovered. These features aren’t really “secret”, but many users never find them – and they could save you considerable time and effort.

Firstly, let’s take a look at some of our favourite time-savers. And the good news is, these are so easy to implement that you’ll be kicking yourself for not finding out about these sooner.

Co-Author in Real Time

One of the most significant changes during 2020 was the number of people working remotely. However, when you use the real-time co-authoring feature in PowerPoint, Word and Excel, you can make life so much simpler.

Using constantly-updating cloud capabilities, Microsoft 365 gives you access to online collaboration with your team and you can see edits made to documents and files in real time. You can save your file to a shared drive and have multiple users making changes which update simultaneously, which is gratifyingly convenient for remote workers.

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Stop Forwarding Entire Files and Start Inserting Links

Did you know that you’ve been wasting time by sending email attachments? Microsoft 365 is designed to save you time, and with the ability to upload your file to the cloud storage you get with Office 365, you can share documents far easier!

You can insert links to the file on your cloud instead of attaching documents to an Outlook email. You’ll then be able to allow others to edit by granting permission to the people you are emailing.

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Office Chat Just Got Easier

With the Skype in-app integration in Microsoft 365, you can now communicate with your co-workers via video, audio, and screen shares. You can stay in your application and let it run in the background, giving you the perfect unified platform for eliminating distractions and streamlining collaboration.

Polish Your Presentations

Sometimes, it pays to be professional when you are presenting with PowerPoint. You can make your presentations look extra polished and clear by turning your mouse into a laser pointer using Ctrl+P. This trick has actually been around for years, but it’s little used simply because people aren’t aware of it!

Read Out Loud

The immersive reader feature is found in Word Online as well as other apps included in Microsoft 365 like Microsoft Teams and PowerPoint. Just select “View” and then “Immersive Reader” to have the text read aloud to you. This feature can aid concentration when you’re reading or allow you to listen to text while multitasking.

A few more Word features that come in handy are the ability to see a word’s pronunciation and translate words directly in the program.

Turn Data Into Maps

If you head on over to Excel, you can use ‘Power Map’ to create visual representations of data. You can change the regular rows of data into an interactive 3D map which adds an easily understandable visual illustration to your standard data presentation.

Automate Workflows

With Microsoft Power Automate, you can automate your workflow across all applications. Flow connects to IM alerts, email, sync files, copy files from one place to another, and share collected data between apps to create a truly unified platform. Some of these ideas appear complicated at first, but in actual fact, they are much easier than you would imagine.

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PDF Conversion Made Simple

When you have finished editing a document in any of the Microsoft 365 applications, you can convert it to PDF instantly simply by choosing “Save As PDF.” You can also convert PDFs back into Word documents for easy editing without the formatting hiccups you get from copy and pasting.

Communicate with Shortcuts in Teams

Did you know that Microsoft Teams comes with hidden slash commands which open different features in just a few keystrokes? You can change your status, make a call, or send a message with these simple commands. Here are some user favourites:

Send a message: /chat

Make a call: /call

Set your status to available: /available

Set your status to away: /away

Set your status to do not disturb: /dnd

Set your status to busy: /busy

See someone’s activity: /activity

See your recent files: /files

Pick Up Where You Left Off with Resume Reading

When using Word, there is a “Resume Reading” feature that allows you to open a document and automatically navigate to where you finished the last time it was opened. Word will remember the page you were reading and let you jump there, even if you’re logging on using a different device!

Select Similar Formatting

In an ideal world, every element in your document would have a style assigned to it. But if you’ve relied on local formatting, it’s still easy to make global changes. The Editing section, at the far right of the Home tab, includes the handy option to “Select all text with similar formatting”. This lets you easily highlight all your ad hoc headings, captions, and so forth at once and tweak their appearance in a single swoop – or apply a style for easier management in the future.

Clipboard Panel

The clipboard panel offers a convenient way to keep more than one element on your clipboard at once. Click the tiny pop-out icon within the Clipboard section of the Home tab to open it. Up to 24 recent cut and copy operations are remembered, and you can click on any one of them to paste it at the insertion point. The Options dropdown at the bottom lets you control when the Clipboard panel appears; one option is to make it appear when you press Ctrl+C twice.


Word’s Review | Translate function sends the text of your document to the Microsoft Translator web page and displays a translation in a browser window. In Word 2010 and 2013, you can also activate Review | Translate | Mini Translator, which presents a ghosted tooltip when you hover over a selected passage of text; move your pointer onto it to see a pop-up translation in your selected language. There are dozens of languages to choose from: browse them by selecting Choose Translation Language from the Translate dropdown.

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Kerning (and what is it?)

Professional desktop publishing software supports kerning – the selective adjustment of spacing between characters to make the text more aesthetically pleasing. Word doesn’t do this by default, but it can be turned on by clicking the pop-out icon in the Font section of the Home tab and ticking the box labelled “Kerning for fonts”; enter a minimum point size in the box to the right. If you use kerning on tiny fonts, however, the letters can appear to run together, which reduces readability.

For easier access use the CTRL+D keyboard shortcut, or CMD+D on a Mac. This shortcut will take you directly to the Fonts screen regardless of which version you’re using. Select the ‘Advanced’ tab at the top of the pop-up window.

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Insert Chart

If you want to include an Excel chart in your document, you don’t have to leave Word. Selecting Insert | Chart in Word will open a miniature Excel view, in which you can edit or import your data. Just close the Excel window once you’re done – it will be presented in chart form within Word. At the top of the Word window, the Chart Tools tabs give you full control over the design and appearance of your chart, so there’s no need to launch Excel manually.

Insert Screenshot

If you’re writing a tutorial – or you simply want an easy way to include an image in your documnet from another program – you can grab an area of the Windows desktop by selecting Insert | Screenshot; the dropdown menu lets you directly import any open window as an image. Alternatively, you can select the Screen Clipping option to drag a rectangle with the mouse and capture a customised area of the screen.

Insert Quick Parts

Businesses often need to create letters and documents which contain standard elements or paragraphs, such as an address. Word’s AutoText feature can help. Select a passage of text, then select Insert | Quick Parts | AutoText | Save Selection To AutoText Gallery. You can now re-insert that text into any document by selecting it from the Insert | Quick Parts | AutoText menu. You can also set up Quick Parts for elements such as your company name and email address, and in the Building Blocks Organiser you can set up quick-access templates and objects, too.

*Keep in mind that this option is not available to Mac users at the time of writing.


Allowing the odd word to spill across two lines can improve the appearance of your document. It can keep your right margin from becoming too ragged or, in fully justified text, it can prevent large “islands” of white space from appearing between each word. Word can automatically hyphenate words as needed, but the feature is turned off by default: to enable it, go to the Page Layout tab and select Hyphenation | Automatic.

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Line numbers

If you’re referring to code or legal documents, you might want to number your lines for easy reference. Word’s numbered-list tool applies indentation settings that may not be what you want: select Page Layout | Line Numbers instead and Word will apply neat numbering in the document margin. By default, line numbering is applied to the whole document, but you can make it skip selected text by choosing Line Numbers | “Suppress for current paragraph”.

Digital Signatures

It isn’t always obvious whether a digital document is an authentic original. To sign a document with a personal encryption key, go to the File tab, select Protect Document, and choose “Add a digital signature”; you’ll be prompted to save the document before your signature is added. The signature will be automatically invalidated if the document is altered, so its presence is a guarantee of authenticity. If you want to invite someone else to sign a document, go to the Insert tab and, within the Text section, select Signature Line.

Use the Watermark

When you’re circulating a draft of a document or sharing something private with a work colleague, it’s useful to be able to watermark the page so you can see at a glance what type of document it is. The Watermark dropdown, under the Page Layout tab, lets you add a large grey watermark saying “DRAFT”, “CONFIDENTIAL” or “URGENT” in two clicks. Select Custom Watermark to place your own text or an image.

*Mac users will need to use the ‘Insert’ tab at the top of their computer screen to access the Watermark option.


For academic works, Word can also help you manage your citations. On the References tab, you’ll find a button to Manage Sources; here, you can enter the details of each work you refer to, then insert references to them by clicking the Insert Citation dropdown. You can choose a citation format from 14 recognised styles, and at the end, you can generate a bibliography with one click.

Outline View

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If you’re using Word for a large project, such as a university dissertation, it can be helpful to divide the document into sections and subsections. Go to View | Outline to access a hierarchical display which lets you mark up headings and collapse the body text under them; this gives you a clear overview of your document, which can be effortlessly reorganised by moving sections around. You can also collect several documents into one master project: click Show Document in the Master Document section of the Outlining tab to import or create subdocuments.

Page Colour

If you want your document to stand out, you can use the Page Layout | Page Colour dropdown to apply a background wash; select Fill Effects and you can add patterns and textures. Fills and patterns are automatically applied to all pages of your document. Also, although you can see them onscreen, they’re not printed, so they won’t interfere with the readability of your hard copies.

Some users may find the Page Colours selection under the ‘Design’ tab depending on the version of Microsoft Word and system that you’re using.

Insert Index

A third useful feature for longer works is the ability to automatically generate an index. To use this feature, you must first mark your references in the text by selecting the relevant word or phrase, then clicking References | Insert Index. When you’ve marked up all your headings, click Insert Index to create an index. This will contain references to the ones you’ve marked, and self-updating links to the page numbers on which they appear.

Combine and Compare Documents

Word can automatically compare or combine two documents: you’ll find the tool under Review | Compare. If you prefer to do the job yourself, click View | View Side by Side; this will automatically position your documents next to each other at identical zoom factors, so you can easily look back and forth between them. If you click the Synchronous Scrolling button, they’ll even scroll up and down in step with each other when you move the cursor around or drag the scroll bar.

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Document Inspector

Press officers and civil servants have landed themselves in hot water in the past for distributing documents with sensitive information embedded in their metadata, or that’s recoverable via Word’s Track Changes option. Don’t make the same mistake: in the Info section under the File tab you’ll find a selection of options under the “Prepare for sharing” dropdown that let you check for hidden information (and confirm compatibility with other editions of Word).

Customise the ribbon

Firstly, what exactly is the ‘ribbon’? The Ribbon is the toolbar which runs across the top of Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and other Microsoft Office applications.

The ribbon interface was designed to be more stable than the highly customisable Office 2003 interface. However, if you select File | Options | Customise Ribbon, you can add new functions to it, and remove ones you don’t want to see. You can add features that aren’t normally exposed at all – there’s a helpful selection of “Commands not in the ribbon” – and even create your own tabs. If that’s too complicated, you can customise the Quick Access toolbar which appears at the top of the screen by using the tiny dropdown arrow at its right end.

We hope you’ve found some of these Word shortcuts helpful. Give them a try and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how they can make your life easier!

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