Some Tips and “Gotchas” for those who are new to Word

Especially if migrating from WordPerfect

Article contributed by Dave Rado and Suzanne S. Barnhill

1.  Tips


Take the time to learn how to use templates and styles properly – they are the most powerful features in Word and will save you many, many hours. See Creating a Template – The Basics (Part I) and How to save yourself hours by using Outline View properly.


Read all of the articles on our Tutorials page (or at least all of the non-VBA ones).

If migrating from WordPerfect, pay particular attention to John McGhie's article on the difference between Word and WordPerfect.


Take the time to explore all of the menus in Word (and the dialogs they bring up) to learn the features available and the terminology used for them. One hour doing this will save you many, many hours over the following weeks and months. 

If in doubt, press Shift+F1 and click on a menu item or click on a dialog item and press Shift+F1 for more information.

When a dialog box is open, you can also right-click on any item in the dialog and select What's This?. Or you can click on the ? button at the top right of the dialog:

and click on an item. 

Usually all three methods do the same thing, (a call-out is displayed, giving more information); but very occasionally, for example when you click on a Field name in the Insert | Fields dialog, the mouse methods launch the relevant Help topic whereas the keyboard method doesn't, unfortunately. For this reason, if you want to stick to one method, the Right-click What's This? method is perhaps the best.

If using Word 2000, select Tools | Customize, and on the Options tab, de-select Menus show recently used commands first. Otherwise you are likely never to discover many of Word's most useful commands, because you'll never see them! And if you see a dialog with a More button, click on it and explore the options it reveals.


Follow this link for a description of some of Word's most useful shortcuts and how to use them. The paper you print this list onto will be worth its weight in gold to you, if you learn and use them! Perhaps especially the shortcuts for selecting text.

You can also get a complete list of keyboard shortcuts by selecting Tools | Macro | Macros, where it says Macros in, select Word Commands, select the command called ListCommands and press Run. (I got this tip from Beth Melton, who also suggests pasting the resulting table into Excel, so that you can apply filters and make it more readable).

Alternatively, you might find the following more useful: Word commands, and their descriptions, default shortcuts and menu assignments


Select Insert | Field and spend some time exploring all the Field Names on the dialog. Many of them are a godsend. Click the Options button (Word 97 and 2000) to see and insert the supported switches. (In Word 2002, you can see them in the main dialog.)

To launch the Help topic about a particular field, right-click on it and select What's This?

Or, if you have already inserted the field, right-click on it and select Toggle Field Codes to display the field codes rather than the field results; click in the field name and press F1; you'll see a list of Help topics, one of which will be the topic about the field you've inserted.


Look up Sections in Help. You can't use Word for anything serious without understanding how these work. See also Working with sections.




Much heartache can be avoided if you select Tools | AutoCorrect, and on the Autoformat as you type and Autoformat tabs, de-select most of the options. For more information on this, follow this link.


Make sure the Help for WordPerfect users and Navigation keys for WordPerfect users in Tools | Options | General are not selected. For one thing, they don't work in the way WordPerfect (and especially WordPerfect for Windows) users expect them to (they seem to be based on WordPerfect for DOS); for another, they will simply slow down the process of getting to know the  Word way of doing things, so your learning curve will be much steeper; and thirdly, you will get some very odd behaviour with these options switched on: for instance, see the following article.


Make sure Allow fast saves is switched off (under Tools | Options | Save).

Fast Save (which should really be renamed Fast Corrupt”!) works by appending changes made since the last save to the end of the file, while retaining all of the original information. The more times it does so, the more tenuous the link becomes between objects (such as paragraphs, tables etc) and their properties (such as formatting and text) until sooner or later the whole thing goes bang and bits of your masterpiece are splattered far and wide. Think burst balloon.

The larger the document, the more likely the Fast Save feature is to cause a corruption. Don't use it – ever. 


 Never use Master Documents.


 Never use Versions.


Avoid the Document Map, which also tends to corrupt documents (especially in Word 97). Use Outline View instead.


Never save to a floppy; this is also a very frequent cause of file corruptions. If you must use a floppy, copy the file to it using Windows Explorer – or select Send to, which you can do even from Word's File | Open and File | Save dialogs – rather than using File | Save As. And perform a full format on the floppy first.

When you save a Word file, a large temporary file is created, and if this is too large to fit on the floppy a corruption is likely to result. See MSKB article Q89247, How Word for Windows Uses Temporary Files, for more information on this.


Avoid Word's List Numbering (under Format | Bullets and numbering) unless you're sure you know what you're doing. Manual numbering works; so do SEQ fields. But Word's automated list numbering contains more bugs than a compost heap. It is possible to work around the bugs, and some articles on how to tame them and make Word's list numbering work for you will appear on this site shortly.


If using Page X of Y page numbering, see the following article.