Office: Time to get smart

Before you write-off Smart Tags as unnecessary irritants that get in the way, here's how they can help rather than hinder you.

Afew years back Microsoft provoked an outcry when it proposed putting Smart Tags into Office. Many people found them intrusive and the argument went that if you are simply writing a letter you don't want to look up stock prices, so why would you need Smart Tags?

But Smart Tags can be useful even if you never intend to look any­thing up. They are the only thing that can keep AutoCorrect in check. If Word automatically corrects "capitalise" to "capitalize" because your document has ended up with English US as the language - and lets face it, a passing breeze can make that change - you can press <Ctrl>-Z immediately to undo the damage.

Make the correction

But, if you don't notice it for a while, you can still go back and change it later - using Smart Tags. Hover your mouse over the corrected word until you get the AutoCorrect Options Smart Tag. Not only does this let you undo the correction, it also enables you to tell Word not to change it ever again. You can do the same with hyphens at the beginning of lines that turn into bulleted lists. The Smart Tags give you so much control over AutoCorrect that you can safely leave it switched on instead of being so irritated by the occasional problems that you turn it off and lose all the benefit.

Back to the pasteboard

The Paste Options Smart Tag is very handy when you're copying from a Web site or between Excel and Word. If you don't like the look of the items you've just pasted, simply click the Paste Options button and make it match the formatting of the document you're pasting into. Alternatively, you can choose to keep only the text and lose any graphics and formatting.

If you're pasting cells from Excel, you can get rid of the table that Word creates automatically. And if you're pasting into Excel, you can start the Text Import Wizard to slice it up into different cells. Irritatingly, you can't go back and use Paste Options later - it's only available until you start typing something.

Excel also has its own Smart Tags. The AutoFill button appears when you drag the fill handle and lets you choose whether you want to copy the selected cell, use it to create a series of values, or just copy the formatting from one cell to the others. This latter option is a quick way of applying a complicated custom format to a number of cells. The Error button shows up for formulae that Excel thinks are wrong. It's a handy double-check and you get a suggested fix.

PowerPoint has Smart Tags for fitting text and pictures into your slide layout. Some of the action Smart Tags are useful, too. If you use Outlook you can click on a name or a date in a Word document to send an e-mail, look up a phone number or schedule a meeting. You'll find more free Smart Tags on the Office Update Web site. The Measurement Converter Smart Tag (go to www.microsoft.com/downloads and search using the term "measurement") allows you to con­v­ert inches to millimetres and Fahren­heit to Celsius without resorting to a calculator.

Power to the people

Let's leave Smart Tags for now and move on to PowerPoint design. Getting the most from Office's presentation package isn't just about being artistic. Good pictures and an appealing design can liven up your slideshow and help the points you make stick with your audience.

But these elements alone do not a presentation make. It's not just a question of clicking the Next button and reading out the bullet points from your slides: unless you deliberately want to send your audience to sleep. You need to design slides that are the starting point for what you're going to say or for a discussion with your audience.

Not all the information you want to get across needs to go on the slide itself - you could use a hand­out that covers any background infor­mation, or use speaker notes to fill in other relevant points. Unless you're expecting everyone to quickly scribble page after page of notes, you'll want to leave things flexible so you can concentrate on the area that most interests your audience.

And while you're building the presentation, the speaker notes field is a good place to jot down ideas you need to work on before they're ready to include. Just remember that you can't have private notes and public notes in the same presentation - it has to be one or the other.

See, view, print

You don't have to use Print Pre­view to see your notes as they'll print; click the Show Formatting button on the toolbar to turn on formatting. You can include images like charts in the notes field. Simply choose View-Notes-Page to add them.

Change the font formatting or add a log to all the notes pages from View, Master, Notes Master. And, if you want to keep your notes hidden when you save a presentation as a Web site, choose File-Save As Web Page-Publish and clear the Display speaker notes checkbox.

Quick Links

Documents you work with most often are recorded in the Recent Files list on your File menu in most applications. You can put important documents on the hidden Work menu in Word so you can open them quickly. But won't you still have to scroll through to find the section you were working on last? Not if you create a shortcut that goes right to the place you want. Before you close your document, select the paragraph or the cells in the spreadsheet you want to get back to. Right-click and drag your selection onto the desktop or into a folder in Explorer. Release the mouse button then choose Create Document Shortcut Here.

If that doesn't work, make your selection and click Edit-Copy. Right-click on the desktop or in a folder and choose the Paste Shortcut option. This works with any application that supports Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) but you may need to choose File-Save when you get back to the document even if you'd saved it before you started. If you've got a long document, you could make a shortcut for all the important sections and open whichever one you need.

Natural Selection

If you need to select text in Microsoft Word, there are quicker ways to do it than clicking and dragging.

  1. To select a word, double click it.
  2. To select a line, click in the margin to the left of it.
  3. To select a sentence, hold down <CTRL> and click anywhere in the sentence.
  4. To select a paragraph, double-click in the margin to the left of it, or triple-click anywhere within the paragraph.
  5. To select a large block of text, click at the start of the selection, hold down <SHIFT> and then click at the end of the selection.
  6. To select a rectangular area, hold down <ALT> and then drag from the top left down to the bottom right.
  7. To select the whole document, press <CTRL>-A or hold down <CTRL> and click in the left margin of the document.
  8. To make the text larger and easier to read, hold down <CTRL> and turn the mouse wheel to zoom in and out.

Mary Branscombe is a Freelance writer Mary Branscombe has spent 13 years looking for the perfect office suite, along with any other tools that make it easier to turn your documents into what you really want to say.

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