The steady stream of letters and emails to the F!F!F! column, asking for help to find a symbol or formatting instruction in Microsoft Word, was the inspiration behind this week’s and next week’s episodes of Boot Camp. Usually we (or our highly knowledgeable readers) can oblige, but what we sometimes fail to do is point out that almost every action in Word can be assigned to a simple keyboard shortcut or toolbar icon.


Clearly this can be a major timesaver if the feature needs to be accessed on a regular basis, as would be the case for a student or chemist, for example, who wants subscript characters for typing chemical formulae. Normally switching this particular feature on and off involves almost a dozen separate actions. By assigning the function to an icon or keyboard shortcut it can be reduced to just a couple of key taps or mouse clicks.


The focus of our attention is an extremely powerful feature within Word 97 and 2000 called Customize (the Microsoft spelling…). It’s basically a ‘toolbox’ that lets you change the way Word looks and operates. Whilst it’s not exactly hidden away most users rarely come across it, nor in the normal course of events do they need to since the defaults in Word have been quite well thought out and users are generally quite happy to live with them. Unfortunately we haven’t the room to go into every one of Customize’s many functions but we’ll run through a few simple examples of how it can make Word a bit friendlier and easier to use, and hopefully this will inspire you investigate further and make a few modifications of your own.


Customize can be found on the Tools drop-down menu or you can right-click into an empty area of the tool bar and select it from the bottom of the drop-down menu. It’s worth knowing that once Customize is open the text window is disabled and toolbars and menus are in ‘modify’ mode, so be careful where you click, and before we go any further a word of warning. There’s no ‘undo’ function as such, so you can’t easily go back and correct an action but if you do get into a tangle you can always return a menu or toolbar back to the factory default by right-clicking on the item and selecting Reset from the menu that appears.


So let’s begin with a quick guided-tour. Open Customize and you are presented with three tabbed options. Start with the Toolbars tab. The Standard, Formatting and Menu items should all be checked and showing on the desktop, you can uncheck the first two but Menu is fixed as a safety precaution. All told there are around 20 toolbars to choose from, the majority of which you’ll never need or use but it’s worth spending a few minutes running down the list, checking each item in turn, to see what’s available. You may decide to keep one or two of them on screen, especially if you regularly use graphics in your work – Drawing and Picture can be very useful to have on display -- or Tables and Forms, if you make frequent use of those functions. You’ll also notice that you can create your own custom Toolbar, which we’ll come to later on, and at the bottom there’s a button marked Keyboard. You’ll see this on all three Customize tabs, and it’s another important feature that we’ll be looking at in more detail in part 2, next week.


Have a quick peek at the Options tab; on Word 97 there are just a handful of items, which should require no explanation. On Word 2000 there are some extra ‘switches’ for controlling the appearance of menus and again it’s fairly obvious what they all do.


Having familiarised yourself with the Toolbars and Options tabs move on to the Commands tab. This is the most powerful feature of Customize. It’s not immediately obvious how it operates but it’s quite straightforward once you get used to it. In the left hand Categories window is a list of Word’s main operating modes and features, click on a category and a set of functions specific to that feature appears in the right hand ‘Commands’ window. You can find out what each one does by highlighting it and clicking on the Description button. To add a function to a drop down menu or toolbar all you have to do is highlight it in the Commands window, and drag it onto a toolbar or drop-down menu.


Time to put theory into practice. Returning to our earlier example, of simplifying the Subscript function, highlight Format in the Categories Window then scroll down the list in the Commands window to find Subscript, click and hold on the label and drag it on to a toolbar; a bold ‘I’ bar shows where it will be placed, release the mouse key and it is inserted. You could also place it on a drop-down menu if you wished. Whilst the Customize window is open you can move the icon to any other location simply by clicking on it (it will be highlighted with a bold black box) and dragging it to its new position. To remove the icon (again with Customize open), click, hold and drag it onto the desktop, release the mouse button and it’s gone. By the way, whilst Customize is open you can move or remove any menu item or toolbar icon in exactly the same way.


Try the same thing with Word Count on the Tools category. This time you’ll notice that you don’t get an icon, just a large ugly label box. You can easily change that by right-clicking on the label and on the drop-down menu that appears click Default Style, then right-click again, this time select Change Button Image and a selection of icons appears. The Calculator icon is appropriate, so click on it, close Customise and you have a word count button on your Toolbar in the shape of a calculator. Other buttons you might want to have on your toolbar include ‘Close All’, ‘AutoScroll’, and try moving or adding second ‘Save’ and ‘Close’ buttons on the right hand side of the toolbars, to cut down on mouse travel. If your Toolbars start to get a bit crowded weed out unwanted or rarely used items, or create a New empty toolbar by going back to the Toolbars tab.


Next time  – Making Word work, part 2





Useful feature in Word – originally meant for ‘wheel’ type mice – that automatically scrolls through a document



Closes all open documents in one go



A simple and ideally memorable sequence of two or three key-strokes, used to invoke a frequently used action or activity within a program or application



If you are using Internet Explorer V5 and you haven’t tried Internet Radio yet, there’s a radio tuner facility hidden away inside your browser. To enable it click on Tools > Internet Options and select the Advanced tab. Scroll down the list to the Multimedia heading and check the item ‘Always Show Internet Explorer Radio Bar. Click Okay and exit the dialogue box, now right click into an empty area of the toolbar and select Radio from the drop-down menu. A new toolbar appears, click on Radio Stations and Radio Station Guide, which will take you to the Windows Media radio tuner home page. From there you can select a list of stations according to style, content, language etc. This will either take you to the station’s home page, and a live ‘listen’ button, which lets you hear what’s going on through Windows Media Player. (Be patient, it can take a few seconds before you hear anything, as the data has to be ‘buffered’ in the PC’s memory to prevent breaks in sound caused by heavy traffic on the Internet).  Some stations may require you to have special player software but there is usually a link on the page to the appropriate download web site.

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