These 9 Microsoft Word shortcuts will supercharge your documents with automation

Learn how to make Microsoft Word dance to your tune with these handy tips and tricks to Word automation. Learning these will make your day.
Christopher McFadden
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  • Microsoft Word is probably, the world's most popular word-processing software.
  • While used by millions of people daily, few know the secrets to unlock Word's power truly.
  • Here are a few hints and tips to get the most out of your MS Word user experience.

Microsoft Word is one of the world's most widely used word-processing programs. Decades old now, the software is very mature and stable and comes packed with many valuable features for casual and advanced users.

For this reason, among many others, Word rightfully sits close to, if not at the top of, the pile of the best word processors. However, there is much more to Microsoft Word than meets the eye. Using built-in features and Visual Basic (VBA), you can make the software "jump through hoops" if you know how.

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That's the beautiful world of Word automation; learning how to do it will change your life! Once you start down this path, you will never look back.

But, before we get into the main point of this piece, for the uninitiated, let's quickly go over what Microsoft Word is and how you get a copy of it.

What Is Microsoft Word?

Microsoft Word, more often referred to as simply "Word" or "MS Word," is a commercial word processor made by Microsoft Corporation. One of, if not the most popular word processors on the planet, it is used by hundreds of millions daily.

Microsoft Word is one of several main software components of the Microsoft Office productivity software suite, but it can also be bought independently if desired.

Microsoft Word was first released in 1983; since then, it has been changed many times. "MS Word" can be used on both Windows and Apple computers.

These 9 Microsoft Word shortcuts will supercharge your documents with automation
Microsoft Word is one of Microsoft's most popular products.

Initially, "MS Word" wasn't very popular because it was very different in appearance from "WordPerfect," the most popular word processor at the time. But Microsoft kept making changes to Word over the years, and in 1985 there was a version that could run on a Mac.

In the second major version of Word, which came out in 1985, some of the most essential features most users love today were updated, and new features like spellcheck and support for rich text format were added (RTF).

With the release of Windows 95 and Office 95 in 1995, a set of office productivity software, Microsoft's market share in the word processor business grew.

"MS Word" is valuable primarily because it has a WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) display, which ensures that everything you see on the screen looks the same when you print it or move it to another format or program.

This is one of the main reasons that "MS Word" has stayed so popular over the last few decades because users can copy and paste the content into many other platforms without losing much formatting.

"MS Word" also has a built-in dictionary for checking users' spelling. Words that have been misspelled are marked with a red squiggly underline. This is a powerful visual aid and has been copied by many other word processors developed since Microsoft Word first introduced the function.

These 9 Microsoft Word shortcuts will supercharge your documents with automation
Microsoft Word is one of the world's most popular word processors.

MS Word has text and page features, such as bold, underlined italics, and strikethrough. It also has features for indenting, spacing, and justification. Word works with many programs, but the other programs in the Office suite are the most common.

In 2007, the ".doc" extension was replaced by the ".docx" extension.

As time passed, both Microsoft Word and Microsoft operating systems improved. Since the Microsoft Office suite is built into the Microsoft operating system, users were upset when Microsoft XP and its successors, Vista and Windows 7, 8, and 10, stopped being supported.

In recent years, Microsoft has also entered the cloud market. Its new product, Microsoft Office 365, replaces old out-of-the-box or single-machine licensing methods with software applications that users can access from anywhere.

With subscription pricing, many customers now use Office 365 to access Microsoft Word and Office suites instead of downloading them and entering license keys. The cloud-delivered method, in theory, lets you use it on more devices, but some users have said that it's hard to get new devices authorized.

These 9 Microsoft Word shortcuts will supercharge your documents with automation
Microsoft Word now comes with Office 365.

Cloud-delivered software is also popular because it doesn't have to be on the local hard drive. This means drivers and other software infrastructure don't have to be put on the end device.

At the same time, Microsoft has added other cloud apps like OneNote, OneDrive, and SharePoint for business users and an Office suite for Apple and Android mobile devices.

Where to get Microsoft Word?

You have a few free and paid options if you want to get your hands on a copy of Microsoft Word. As you can imagine, the paid versions offer the most functionality and are the best options if you need to use Word regularly, especially professionally.

Paying for Word also comes with the benefit of it being supported by Microsoft, which, trust us, is always a good idea. You'll be more than aware of this if you use old, now unsupported versions of Word, like Word '97.

So, if you need a current version of Word, where do you get it from? Let's start with some of the free options first.

1. Get a free version of Microsoft Office on your mobile device

A dedicated application is available if you want to use Word on your mobile device. Microsoft's all-in-one Office suite for Android and iOS is free and includes all your Microsoft Office favorites like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Forms, and many PDF options.

Download Microsoft's official app from Microsoft directly. They will require you to enter your email address to access it, but they will only use it to send you a link with a download link.

While not as capable as the full desktop version, you can still do most of the basics, and it is pretty decent for showing things like charts and graphics in documents. Files can open seamlessly and scroll pretty well on your mobile device without lag. The app also optimizes files for viewing on smaller screens, which is nice.

There is also a good dictation mode in the app. You can also make lists, add punctuation, change lines, and do much more than turn your voice into text.

Not bad.

2. Try Word Mobile on your Windows desktop

For a long time, Microsoft did offer a free program called "Word Viewer" that let you open any DOCX file without needing to buy the complete Office package. However, this has since, sadly, been discontinued.

But all is not lost; you can still get your hands on the new "Word Mobile."

Any Windows laptop, desktop, tablet, or phone can have Word Mobile installed. With it, you can open and view Word files, but you can't create or edit files with the free Microsoft Word Mobile if your screen is bigger than 10.1 inches. If your screen is bigger than this, and you don't have an active Office 365 account, you can only open and read documents on bigger screens.

Go to the Microsoft Store and search for "Word Mobile," or follow this link to get the app. You then install it and open it like any other application on Windows.

3. Office Online isn't too shabby

The above are pretty good options. But if you don't mind using Word online only, you might consider Office Online. All you'll need to use it is to get yourself a free Microsoft account and to choose the Word app.

Please note, however, that Microsoft is planning on migrating this service to its next iteration of Office 365 soon.

Until they do, there are a few good reasons to use Office Online instead of paying Microsoft to use Word. With a Microsoft account, you get 5GB of free storage on OneDrive, which lets you access documents from anywhere.

Unlike some other apps, it also keeps the formatting of Microsoft Word. And it saves your work automatically, so you don't lose it.

Office Online also makes it easier to work with others and share files. This free Microsoft Word online app lets you and your friends work together on the same document, just like Google Docs. If you already use Microsoft Office, it's easy to move to cloud computing.

But you can't use Office Online without a way to connect to the internet. Office 365 is still your best bet if you need an office suite that works offline and is fully installed on your PC.

This is a halfway house between Office 365 and older versions of Word.

4. OpenOffice sort of works

If you don't want any of the above, there is an option called OpenOffice. Developed by Apache, OpenOffice is the best open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases, and more.

It can be used on most operating systems and comes in many languages. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other standard office software packages. It can be downloaded for free and used for whatever you want.

OpenOffice is open source, and anyone can report or suggest improvements. You can also contribute to the code if you are tech-savvy enough.

Apache OpenOffice is easy to learn, and if you're already familiar with another office software program, you'll pick it up quickly.

In most cases, you can use OpenOffice to access and view Microsoft Office documents, but saving them back to a Microsoft format can be a little buggy. The word processor also lacks many cool features in the latest MS Word versions.

However, OpenOffice is perfectly serviceable for a no-frills method of opening, reading, and adding some basic edits.

5. Get an older, unsupported version of Office

If all else fails, you can continue to use or get your hands on an outdated version of Microsoft Office. However, be warned that as most are no longer officially supported by Mircosoft, they could expose you to malware and other issues, and you might not be able to open files created using more recent Office products.

You can also get your hands on "cracked" versions of older Microsoft Office packages, but we recommend you not use them. The first reason is that they are not supported, but the most important one is that the provider of the "cracked" software might use it as a vector to infect your computer with malicious software.

6. You can always take the plunge and try Microsoft 365

Of all the options available, however, the best has always been and still currently is to get your hands on the latest versions of Microsoft Office. This is included in the current Office 365.

You don't have to buy a full license immediately if you get a free trial of Microsoft 365, which may be an option if you only need the full version of Microsoft Word on your PC or Mac for a short time.

Once your trial is over, you'll have to decide whether to keep using one of the free versions of Microsoft Word or pay for the full version. With the new subscription model for Microsoft 365, you not only get Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote, and Outlook, but if you choose the Family package, you also get 1TB of OneDrive storage for each person, for a total of up to 6TB.

For $9.99 a month or $99.99 a year, you can get the Microsoft 365 Family package. If you plan to share Office with family members, this is the best deal you can get for your money.

It works for six users, so you can install Office offline on six PCs, Macs, tablets, or phones and get 1TB of storage for each of those six users. And Word Mobile on your phone comes with some extra safety features:

The cheaper Microsoft 365 Personal package costs $6.99 per month or $69.99 per year, but it only supports one user with 1TB of storage and offline installation on one computer, tablet, and phone.

If you don't like the new subscription model, you can also buy Office for a one-time fee that ranges from $149.99 to $399.99.

How can you automate word?

So, now you know what MS Word is and how to get your hands on a copy, let's look at how you can make it dance to your tune. After all, MS Word is a digital tool, so making your life easier is, in effect, the basic philosophy behind it.

These 9 Microsoft Word shortcuts will supercharge your documents with automation
Microsoft Word automation can seem like magic to some.

The strategy you choose will depend entirely on how you use the software. For example, do you need to use your word processor to pump out standard reports or outputs, or do you need it to collect a set amount of information?

If either, does it require using a standard pro forma format with limited variable information, or does it need some flexibility for specific parts?

Unless you have a series of existing forms or templates, before you jump down this rabbit hole, it is advisable to make some standard templates first to get an idea of what you need.

With those in hand, you can compare and contrast the templates to see which elements are common to all. This might include, but is not limited to including -

  • A person's name
  • Their address
  • A site address or object name
  • The date of the report/letter
  • Signature and credentials of the author of the document
  • Your company name and address/other pertinent company information
  • Formal declarations or caveats, etc.
  • Set things to check off or collect for data collection
These 9 Microsoft Word shortcuts will supercharge your documents with automation
Word automation is a powerful tool.

The above are just examples, but they are pretty typical. You'll likely have other elements of documents that are standard regardless of content.

With that in hand, the next thing is to consider, and often agree, the standard wording for these sorts of things. With most of the above, this is pretty obvious (e.g., addressee, company address, etc.), but for data collection, you need to sort the fixed from the more malleable.

Do set variables for some fields restrict you? Or are some free text? Perhaps some fields could benefit from automated calculations (i.e., unit conversions like feet to meters).

Once you are armed with this information, you can begin to plan and build methods of automating your Word document.

For the rest of this section, we'll assume you only plan on making basic reusable templates for your organization.

In general, automating Word falls into two main grand categories. These are: -

  • Optimizing your document using fields. These could include standard text and sections that can vary. This could require drop-down lists of set options, calculation fields, or free-text areas.
  • Using VBA/Macros to perform repetitive functions.
These 9 Microsoft Word shortcuts will supercharge your documents with automation
By mastering automation in Word you save a lot of time.

Bearing this in mind, interrogate your set documents individually and collectively to find areas that benefit from the above. Headers and footers are probably standardized, so these can be set for all documents. The same applies if your documents require your company's name, address, or an official to sign off.

Perhaps the document is to be a template invoice or quotation document? If so, this will probably need to display elements like tax, net total, gross total, etc. These can be automated.

Where relevant, these elements can be made as set elements on all documents once you've done all that. You can then begin the automation process.

We'll break this down into the two main "types" listed above.

Automating Word documents using fields

You have a few options to choose from when attempting to automate Word. These are baked into the software and are readily easy to use once you know what they are.

1. Auto Text is a great way to automate your Word documents

The first is something called the Auto Text tool.

Users can swiftly add text selections to a document with the Auto Text tool in Microsoft Word. This text is saved in a Word Template as, funnily enough, AutoText and is accessible anytime for insertion into other documents. This s great for adding chunks of standard text to a wide variety of documents like, say, a company address, report caveat, etc.

Before you use it, however, it is a good idea to add the Auto Text button to your Word Ribbon for ease of access later. Once you've done that, start typing the text or open the document containing the content you want to use as AutoText, to start producing an entry. Make sure "display / hide" is activated while doing this, however.

To add paragraph formatting, select this text and add the paragraph mark at the end of the text. Select some text, click the AutoText icon and select "Save Selection to Auto Text Gallery."

In the "Create New Building Block" dialogue box, give this auto text input a name. A suggestion for naming these entries is, to begin with an "*" to make them distinct, but you can call them whatever you want. To save this AutoText entry, select the gallery and category in the "Create New Building Block" dialogue box.

This AutoText entry can now be added to a document whenever you choose! To do this, place your cursor where you want the AutoText entry to go, type the Autotext name for the Auto Text entry, and press "enter" when the smart tag appears to insert the AutoText entry into the current page.

Alternately, click the AutoText button on the Quick Access Toolbar and look for the AutoText entry in the list. Bargain!

2. Building blocks are fantastic

Called fields or Form Fields in older Word documents, Word's Building Blocks feature is another powerful method of automating your documents.

Building Blocks are reusable document components, including headers, borders, tables of contents, title pages, and more that are a subset of Quick Parts. These are all kept in "galleries." Type and select all the contents you want to be in the new building block.

You can also blend the newer components with the aforementioned form fields to build a document skeleton that can be used repeatedly. These are great for building things like data collection forms or standard reports.

Some components can even be programmed to create calculations, reference other text, or have drop-downs.

To use them, choose the Explore Quick Parts drop-down from the Text group on the Insert ribbon, and click the Save Selection to Quick Part Gallery button. Complete the Name, Category, Gallery, Description, Save in, and Options fields in the create new building block dialogue box.

To examine and put these building pieces into the document, utilize the Building Blocks Organizer.

However, legacy functions like form fields will require you to add a separate toolbox.

Whichever you use, these fields can also be used as placeholders for more complex automation using VBA, as you'll see in a little bit.

3. Don't forget to take advantage of AutoCorrect

Another function of Microsoft Word that is comparable to AutoText is AutoCorrect. When a word is entered incorrectly, or if you want to change a word in a document, AutoCorrect can automatically replace the incorrect text. When typing a lengthy company name or client's name, AutoCorrect might be especially helpful because it avoids spelling mistakes.

Choose the word or phrase you want to use to start the AutoCorrect entry, click File, then Options. Pick "AutoCorrect Options" and Proofing from there. The selected text displays in the "with" text box as the AutoCorrect dialogue box opens. In the "replace" box, type the text you want to replace. The entry will be included in the AutoCorrect list after you select "OK."

Automating Word documents macros and Visual Basic (VBA)

VBA, or visual basic, is one of Microsoft Office's trade secrets. While it is a little overwhelming when you first encounter it, mastering it can supercharge your MS documents in no time.

You can use it to build little functions for yourself and perform repetitive tasks. This could include saving the document with a specific name, grabbing information from Excel and dumping it into Word, "printing" a document as a PDF, attaching it to an email, getting Word to trigger a function in Access or Excel, etc.

The only real limit is your imagination (and ability to translate your ideas into code, of course).

Since VBA is very much a rabbit warren of a subject, we'll not go into too much detail here, but rest assured, there are likely multiple solutions for a particular thing you are trying to do on forums, from Microsoft, and places like Stack Overflow. However, never use someone else's code unless you completely understand what it does!

However, here is a simple introduction to VBA for Word from Microsoft. The best way to get to grips with VBA is to dive in and try to make some code. As you use it, you'll also get a good idea of the terminology and functions of VBA.

Whether you formulate your code or "borrow" someone else's, you should save the document in question as a template.

Preformatted templates can be advantageous if you utilize automation to create documents in the same format. Compared to starting from scratch, using a template with your Word Automation client provides three key benefits:

  • The formatting and positioning of things within your pages are more in your hands and will be the same every time you use them.
  • You can arrange tables, paragraphs, and other document elements too.
  • It reduces the amount of code needed for each document you create.

Templates can also be used to store fields and other placeholders that can be referred to in VBA. This lets VBA know where to put elements like standard text in a document. You can even reference them from other Microsoft applications to import and display data.

For example, if you have an MS Access database, you can drag through entire tables, insert them into a Word document, format the table, and then have Word automatically save and print itself! And all that can be done with a single click of a button using VBA.

Diving into the beautiful world of Word automation using VBA is worth the investment of your time.

And that is your lot for today.

As you have seen, Microsoft Word has various options to help you semi- or fully automate your documents. Each method can be used in isolation or combined to supercharge your MS Word user experience!