10 Microsoft Word tips you need to learn right now

The text processing program can still surprise you after almost 40 years in the market.
Two hands with fingerless gloves on a laptop with Microsoft Word open.
Get the make the most of your writing with these expert Microsoft Word tips Romain V / Unsplash

If you’ve owned a PC, you may think you have no need for Microsoft Word tips. After all, it’s been around for 40 years, surely all of its secrets have long since been laid bare. Boy, do we have news for you.

Whether you use Word all the time or only open it when you need to dust off your resume, you’ll need to wade a little deeper beyond bolding and underlining to truly get the most out of it. Luckily for you, we dipped our pan into the river of options and pulled out some advice that’s pure gold.

1. Create fake chunks of texts with the lorem ipsum tool

Folks who don’t work with words may not know that lorem ipsum is the Simlish of the written word. It’s just gibberish—word-looking chunks of letters that help people visualize how text looks on a website or in a magazine, book, or stylized document. 

[Related: Become a better writer with these online tools]

If you’re more inclined to design documents rather than write them, or like to procrastinate on drafts by messing around with the page format, you can use lorem ipsum in Word. You don’t even have to open a menu—just type =Lorem() somewhere on the page, hit Enter, and you’re all set. 

By default, the command will create five short paragraphs of text. If that’s not enough for you, you can tell Word how many you want by adding a number inside the parentheses. So, if you want 12 paragraphs, type =Lorem(12), and enjoy your free text.  

2. Add a live timestamp to your work

If you have a document template you constantly have to update with the current date, Word has a tool that will prevent you from having to look at the corner of your screen while whispering, “What day is it?” to yourself. 

You can add a timestamp to a document by going to the Insert tab and clicking the Insert date and time tool—it’s a small icon showing a calendar with a clock on top, to the left of the Equation button. 

In the emerging window, you’ll be able to choose from a long list of time formats, such as the classic two-digit “month/day/year,” or even one that includes the exact second you inserted it into the document. By default, this function will be static unless you check the box right below the list next to Update automatically. Once you’re done, click OK and you’ll be good to go. 

If you collaborate with people in other countries or are working in a language other than your system’s default language, the Insert date and time window will provide a dropdown menu where you’ll be able to change the lingo and the date format options with it. Microsoft will immediately show you the languages you have added to your operating system, so if you need to use one that’s not listed there, you’ll need to add it through Settings, followed by Time & language (Windows), or System Settings > General > Language & Region (macOS).

3. Sign documents in Microsoft Word

At one point in time, signing a document you received over email required you to print it, sign it, and then take a picture of it. Or worse—scan it. Today, Word lets you bypass the physical aspect of signing a document with the Shapes option.

Go to the Insert tab, click on Shapes, and choose the squiggle under Lines. This will allow you to use your cursor as a pen to draw your signature, which you’ll then be able to move throughout the document and even copy/cut and paste it whenever you want. Of course, drawing your signature with a mouse is not the easiest or most comfortable task, but it’ll get easier with a little bit of practice. 

On the other hand, if you’re signing an important document and cannot bear the sight of your shaky signature sitting there for all of time, there’s another option. If you’re a Office 365 subscriber and have a PC, you can use your trackpad to sign using the Draw feature. 

Go to the Draw tab and turn on the toggle switch above Draw with trackpad. Word will show you a rectangular area on screen—fill it by drawing on your trackpad with your finger. You don’t have to press down or anything, just slide your digit around. Use two fingers to move the area to another place on the screen (useful if you need to check a box) and press any key when you’re done. Your scribbles will then behave like objects you can resize and copy/cut and paste across the document. 

4. Shut down distractions with Microsoft’s Focus mode

One thing Word (or any text processor, for that matter) won’t be able to do for you is actually write what you need to write. You can find inspiration elsewhere, but at the end of the day, your words have to be yours. As simple as that sounds, it’s not easy to do. 

Help yourself by avoiding distractions with Microsoft’s Focus mode. This feature will set your document to full screen with a black background, so there’s literally nothing else to do but type words in. The default view won’t even display the main navigation bar or the ribbon with all the options you’re used to. But they’re still there—just move your pointer to the top of the screen and the options will roll down. Oh, and the whole thing is monochrome, so you won’t get distracted by any pretty colors. 

To activate Focus mode, go to View and choose Focus. You can exit the feature whenever you want by hitting the Esc key.

5. Let Word assess your writing with a readability score

As we said, Word can’t compose prose for you, but it can be a useful editor. The program can assess your writing and tell you where you need to improve so your text is suitable for your audience. 

With words already on the page, go to Tools, Spelling and Grammar, and select Editor. A sidebar will appear to the right of your screen showing you an overall score for your writing and three areas where you can improve: Spelling, Grammar, and Conciseness. Click on each one to see Word’s suggestions. Keep in mind that this is only a program, so it’s perfectly possible that some of its recommendations don’t make sense to you at all. If that’s the case, you can choose to ignore them.

At the bottom of the sidebar is where the magic happens: click on Document stats, and after a couple seconds you’ll see a window with details about your document, like the number of words and sentences, and the average characters per word. 

But the really fun part is under Readability. There, Word will show you your text’s score based on the Flesch Reading Ease and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level indexes. Respectively, these systems aim to determine how easy it is to read a document, and what school grade reading level your audience should have to fully and easily understand it.

In the case of the reading ease score, the higher the number, the easier it is to understand. In general, you want whatever you write to be between 70 and 80, which means it should be fairly easy for the average adult to understand. The Flesch-Kincaid index, meanwhile, uses the US education system’s grade levels as its parameters, and can help you gauge whether your text suits your audience—if you’re speaking at an academic conference, for example, a high score won’t be a problem. 

From the top of the page to the paragraph above, Word says this story has a readability score of 65, which is not ideal, but this is why we still have human editors. (If you were wondering, the score improved after my editor worked on it.)

6. Select an entire sentence with one click

Speaking of editing, when writing on Word, selecting text is one of the best ways to move sentences around and get rid of what doesn’t work. 

You probably use shortcuts like Shift + arrow to select text character by character, and Shift + Option + arrow (Mac) or Shift + Control + arrow (Windows) to go at it word by word. If you’re a butcher editor, you might just triple-click on a paragraph to select and kill the whole thing. But Word offers yet another option: selecting a single sentence with one click. The trick is to hold Command (Mac) or Control (Windows) while you do it. 

7. Jump between hot editing spots

A more niche but still useful tip is to use a keyboard shortcut to hop between edits. Hit Shift + F5 and Microsoft will take you back to the last place you edited your text. Hit it again, and you’ll go to the one before that.

Keep in mind that if your laptop or keyboard uses the F-key row for other functions (like muting your computer or adjusting your screen brightness) you might have to add the Function or Fn key before that shortcut. This will tell your computer you’re using F5 as F5 and have no intention of, say, adjusting your keyboard’s backlight. 

This is incredibly useful if you’re revising a particularly long document, or are in the last stages of editing, when changes may be scarce and far removed from one another. 

8. Find and replace invisible characters

If you’ve ever struggled with a highly formatted document or wondered why hitting the Enter key is not giving you the right spacing, you might be running into hidden or invisible characters.

You see, most things in a document have a character, even the space between paragraphs. If you need to see what you’re dealing with, you can ask Microsoft to show you by hitting Command + 8 (Mac) or Ctrl + Shift + 8 (Windows). When you do, you’ll see a bunch of new characters appear in a different color. Some of the most common are a suspended point between words, which stands for a single space, and a left-facing “P”, which means there’s a single paragraph break. 

You probably won’t use this shortcut with simple documents, but if you use a template you found on Word or online, it might help you understand what’s wrong if the file starts misbehaving. 

9. Protect your documents with a password

Not everything you write is for everyone to read, and if you want to make sure not even the snoopiest of spies reads what you’re working on, you can protect Word documents with a password. 

Depending on the version of Word you have, you may find this option by clicking File, Info, and then Protect document. The following menu will give you a list of things you can do, like restricting editing or only giving certain people access to the file. But if you want to go a more secure route, choose Encrypt with password and follow the instructions. 

[Related: Stop choosing bad passwords already]

In the 2023 version of Word, you’ll find the Protect document option under the Review tab. The next window will show you a number of things you can do, from setting up a password to access the document, to requiring credentials for specific actions like viewing comments, editing, or tracking changes. Enter your password (memorize it or save it somewhere safe) and click OK to finish.

10. Align all objects perfectly

When it comes to inserting objects in your document, Word gives you a lot of freedom. You can embed images, videos, GIFs, and doodles, and move them around wherever you want. 

But all that freedom sometimes makes it hard to tell if the graphs you’re adding to your yearly report are actually aligned properly. And you’ve spent too many hours working to let an image ruin your day. 

To make sure everything’s where it needs to be, use a grid. Under the Layout tab, click Align, and from the dropdown menu choose View gridlines. This option will immediately overlay a grid on the working area of your page, which you can use as a reference to see exactly where to place objects or make sure they’re all the same size. On the Align menu, you can also click Grid settings to customize options like what area of the page objects will snap to or the size of the grid. When you’re done, click OK to save your settings.