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Top Tips for using Word

Top Tips for using Word

Most of us think we know how to use Word, it’s easy, we’ve been doing it for years! But there are right and wrong ways to do many different things in Word. Follow these tips below and your documents will more consistent, robust, easier to mange and look better.


We cannot emphasise strongly enough the importance and significance of using styles in all but the shortest of Word documents and for all but the very simplest formatting.

What is a style?

The most obvious function of a style is to apply one or more formats to a selection of text. If you use the same styles throughout a document then you get consistent formatting quickly and easily. But there’s more to it than that. Styles are semantic, they give text “meaning”. When you apply a heading or a title style to text, you are not just formatting it, you are also indicating that the text actually is a heading or is a title and this gives the document a structure. Word can make use of this structure in many ways.

How to apply a style

The easiest way to apply a style is with the Style gallery on the ribbon Home tab. Simply select the text and click the style to apply.

Word 2013 Style gallery
Word 2013 Style gallery

Or you could use the Styles window:

Word 2013 Styles window
Word 2013 Styles window

Many styles also have shortcut keys assigned to their application. For example, pressing Ctrl+Alt+1 applies the Heading 1 style and pressing Ctrl+Shift+N applies the Normal style.

Built-in and custom styles

Word contains several hundred built-in styles. Wherever possible, use the appropriate built-in style rather than creating a new custom style.


Word has buttons on the ribbon Home tab for creating bullet and numbered lists. DO NOT USE THEM!

Word 2013 Paragraph group
Word 2013 Paragraph group

The lists you get will vary by document and by user. To create lists ALWAYS USE THE LIST BULLET AND LIST NUMBER STYLES.

Hidden formatting symbols

Many people find the formatting symbols intrusive, confusing and annoying. However, it’s well worth persevering with them as they will save you a lot of headaches in the long run.

If the formatting symbols are not visible on the screen it is very easy to accidentally delete page breaks, section breaks and other important document content. This can have serious consequences on the layout and structure of the document.

To toggle the screen display of the formatting symbols press CTRL+* (for the * press SHIFT+8 [NOT on the number pad]) or click the ¶ button on the ribbon Home tab.

Word 2013 Hidden formatting symbols button
Word 2013 Hidden formatting symbols button

For a fuller discussion of hidden formatting see http://word.mvps.org/FAQs/Formatting/NonPrintChars.htm.

Paste as text

Pasting content from other sources such as other Word documents, web pages or PDFs can significantly corrupt the formatting and integrity of your document.

Generally it is safest to paste as plain text and then apply styles to format within the document.

In Word, right-click where you want to paste the text and choose the Keep Text Only option.

Keep Text Only
Keep Text Only

Text boxes

Avoid using text boxes whenever possible. They move around and get deleted far too easily.

In-line objects

When inserting images, charts, shapes and other objects into a document keep them in-line with the text, whenever possible, rather than wrapping text around them.

Captions and cross-references

To add a caption to an image or table always use the Insert Caption command on the ribbon References tab. Captions are automatically numbered and the caption style applied. The captions can be cross-referenced and a table of captions, with page numbers, can be automatically generated.

To refer to a heading, image or table elsewhere in the document always use the Cross-reference command on the ribbon References tab. Cross-references will automatically update if the document is changed.


To align next on different rows NEVER use spaces. Always use tabs or indents, preferably via styles.

Page breaks

NEVER NEVER push text onto the start of a new page by typing lots of carriage returns, or, even worse, lots and lots of spaces! Use the Page Break command on the ribbon Insert tab or use the pagination options in the Paragraph dialog:

Pagination options
Pagination options

Press Ctrl+Return to quickly insert a page breaks.


Did we mention styles? Well, it’s worth mentioning them again.

ALWAYS use the built-in styles for formatting for everything except the odd bit of bold and italic.


The best way to start a new document is with a template that contains the right layout and styles and that may also have customised commands to help you do everything as quickly, easily and cleanly as possible. And that’s just what we do – create great templates to make your life easier! We also provide training for beginners to the most experienced users.

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