Microsoft Word is a powerful piece of software that conceals many of its most useful features. Unfortunately, using Word over time doesn’t improve your skill because you won’t stumble across what you really need to know. You can take classes, read a 1,000-page manual, or read these tips, which will help you learn to control the most powerful (and maddening) program you may ever use. Here are five rules to help you with your next Word document.

Rule 1: There Is A Feature For That

This is a very important rule and should be a big red flag when you are working on a document. Essentially, if you have to keep doing something over and over to get the document to look the way you want, you must be missing a feature that would make it easier. For example, if you don’t like the way your footnotes look so you are “fixing” them by selecting each one and manually changing its formatting, that would constitute an annoying, repetitive and laborious process for which there must be better approach. In that particular case, you would simply find the style called Footnote Text and change it which would instantly update all of your footnotes to the formatting you want without selecting any of them.

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  1. Malby says:

    Great time to mention the Mac Word issue that we have encountered on several occasions: the disappearing footnotes. They are there but half of them seem to disappear on the screen and cause much distress. Solved by making lines=12 pt or something similar.

    My question is:

    How do you start each new document with your preferences? Fix up the Word format then paste in the text you start with using the Paste w/out formatting option? We always work from earlier documents, and sometimes from other firms’ documents–which is where the trouble with inherited hidden craziness seems to arise.

    • Create a template:

      To create a template in Word 2013,

      Adjust your styles, margins, etc. in a BLANK document.

      In the File Ribbon, select Save As, then click on the Browse button. A dialogue box will come up. The Save as Type dropdown defaults to .docx. In order to save the file as a template, you can use either the .dotx or .dotm format.

    • Larry Crossan says:

      You can also change your default new/blank document by making the changes directly in normal.dotm. Then, every time you open a new/blank document, it will have all the formatting you want.

  2. Does “use the number feature” fall under Rule 1? I’m amazed how many people do not know how to properly use Word’s numbering function. Sometimes I will get documents with a lot of numbered items (contracts, discovery questions, whatever) and lo and behold, when I go in and add an item in the middle somwhere, it’s not actually an automatically numbered list and I have to manually re-number everything. Among my top 5 “I’d rather stab my eyeballs” lawyering tasks.

    • Kirsten Weinzierl says:

      I love the “I’d rather stab my eyeballs” lawyering task! It’s amazing how so many lawyers don’t know how to format a document properly. Fortunately I love doing this kind of stuff and I love fixing these kinds of mistakes in documents. I think one of the best tools an attorney can and should use is a document processing professional. They do all those things you’d rather not do (so you don’t have to stab your eyeballs), so you can do what you do best “lawyering”. :)

    • Brian D. Day says:

      The problem that I have with the automatic numbering is that it can turn redlining into a complete mess. It’s not much of a problem if the numbering scheme is simple. But I’ve had documents with multiple levels of numbering that required more effort to format things in tracked changes than it did making the substantive edits. Depending on the size and complexity of the document, the auto-formatting can be more of a hassle than its worth.

  3. moedogs says:

    Thank you for this!

  4. Christine Retherford says:

    At my organization, after taking Barron’s two Word CLEs, I helped create our Normal.dotm template for Word 2010. It has all the proper defaults for a litigation practice, including preset styles formatted to court rule specs for briefs. We installed on every attorney’s computer & taught them to use the styles. If a style needs modified, the paralegals know how & do it. This has increased efficiency with brief writing, editing, and finalizing documents. An added bonus: using styles improves a document’s accessibility for screenreaders & we don’t have problems converting to PDF.

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