Ten things everyone should know how to do with a word processor

Admit it: You dont use half the tools in your word processing appwhether its Microsoft Word, Apples own Pages, or Google Docsmaybe even less than half. But without all those bells and whistles youve been ignoring, that app is little more than a glorified text editor. (Not that theres anything wrong with that: I use my favorite text editor, BBEdit, as a glorified word processor.)

But a big part of owning a tool is knowing how to use it effectively. So if you ever use Word, Pages, or Google Docs, you owe it to yourself to know how to do a few essential things with it. Here are the ten of the most essential.

1. Use Keyboard Shortcuts

When Im in the flow of writing, theres nothing worse than having to lift my fingers from the keyboard, grab the mouse, and click to select, copy, cut, paste, or format text, or to save or print a document. But in most cases, my hands never actually need to leave the keys to take care of these things. I use keyboard shortcuts instead.

Every Mac application offers some keyboard shortcuts. The beauty of word processing apps is that these shortcuts tend to be consistent from app to app. Emphasis on tend, however: For example, take note of the Redo option in the Edit menus of Google Docs, Pages, and Word: Word and Google Docs use Command-Y, while Pages uses another Command-Shift-Z.

You dont have to memorize all these commands, but its smart to memorize the ones you use most often. Following are a few youre likely to use every day, and they almost all work in Word, Pages, and Google Docs:

Command-A selects all the text in your document.

Command-B bolds text.

Command-I italicizes text.

Command-N creates a new document (not in Google Docs).

Command-P prints your document.

Command-S saves your document.

Command-U underlines text.

Command-V pastes text at the cursor.

Command-X cuts selected text.

2. Create and Manage Lists

Word and Pages make it easy to create lists; sometimes they do so whether you like it or not. (See Turn Off Automatic Numbered Lists below.) Begin any paragraph with the number 1 followed by a period in either of these applications, and itll assume you want to create a numbered list, so each subsequent paragraph will start with the next number in the sequence.

When creating lists, the Tab key is your friend. When you create a new list item, pressing Tab indents the line and changes the numbering sequence to a different one, indicating a new level of organization.

Google Docs behaves a bit differently. Simply typing a number and a period wont work. To create lists, you click the Numbered List or Bulleted List button in the Google Docs toolbar. The Tab key wont work here either. Instead, youll need to click the Increase Indent or Decrease Indent button to change your lists sequencing.

All three applications default to a basic numbered list, although Word offers more sophisticated list-formatting options than do Pages and Google Docs. Google Docs and Word let you change list formatting using the list tools in the toolbar. Click and hold on any of them, and youll get several list options to choose from; Word also offers an option for creating your own custom list formats.

To change list formatting in Pages, select all the paragraphs in your list and use the Bullets & Lists section of the Format sidebar to adjust your list settings.

3. Turn Off Automatic Numbered Lists

Hate automatically numbered lists? Turn them off, keeping in mind that to create lists in the future you will need to use the list buttons in the toolbar.

Word: Open the Tools menu and select AutoCorrect. When the AutoCorrect settings window opens, click the AutoFormat As You Type tab and uncheck the boxes next to Automatic Bulleted Lists and Automatic Numbered Lists.

Pages: Open the Pages menu, click the General button and in the Editing section uncheck the box that says Automatically Detect Lists.

Google Docs: It doesnt offer an automatic lists option.

4. Find and Replace Text

Oh, I know youve done it: Written an entire document and then realized youve misspelled someones name. How do you fix your error? By using find and replace. The three apps provide slightly different options for replacing your found text with new text. But in each case, you have the option to use Replace or Replace All. Replace only replaces the currently selected instance of the word while Replace All changes every instance in the document in one fell swoop.

Word: Click the Edit menu, select Find and then Replace. (Or press Command-Shift-H.) A small sidebar will appear next to your document with two fields. In the Search Document field, type the name of the word or phrase you want to find. (You should see a list with every instance of that word below, and in the document itself every instance should be highlighted.) In the Replace With field, type the word or phrase that is to replace what youve typed in the search field.

Pages: Open the Edit menu and select Find > Find (or press Command-F), then select Find & Replace from the gear menu on the left. Enter your search term in the field that says Find The Word Or Phrase You Want To Replace It With in the Replace field.

Google Docs: Open the Edit menu and select Find and Replace (or press Command-Shift-H).

5. Insert a Table

Adding a table to your documents is a simple task in all three apps.

Word: Select the Tables tab, then click the New button at the left of the toolbar. Word will display a ten-by-eight grid from which you can create your table. If you need something bigger, click the Insert Table menu that appears below the grid. When you do, a new window will appear giving you the option to create a table the size you want.

Pages: When you click the Table tool in the toolbar, Pages offers a menu of pre-formatted tables, all of which are four columns wide by five high. Selecting one of these tables inserts it into your document. To add more rows and columns, click the small button at the end of the row and column headings. Once clicked, it displays a menu you can use to add or remove cells.

Google Docs: Click the Insert menu, then select Table. Another smaller menu will appear with a five-by-five grid. Select the table size you want by dragging over the grid. It will expand as you drag down and to the left, to a maximum size of 20-by-20, and what you select will be inserted into the document.

6. Format a Table

Once you have your table inserted, its time to make it pretty. Because table formatting can be complicated, these applications offer separate formatting options for entire tables, for individual cells, and for the text that appears within your tables. (The keyboard shortcuts mentioned earlier for text formatting work on table text quite well.)

Word: Word offers a multitude of table-formatting options, all of which you manage using the Tables tab in Words toolbar. In fact, Words table tool offers nearly the same set of formatting features available in Excel.

Using the toolbars Table Options, you can manage the way your table displays headers and footers, add a Total row at the bottom of a table, change the tables color scheme using predefined table styles, and even draw your own borders around tables and cells.

Additionally, Word offers Table Layout tools you can use to add, remove, or otherwise adjust the cells within your table. You can easily add or remove a single cell or entire rows and columns by selecting a row or column and clicking a single button. But be warned: Words tools can get complicated, and its easy to find yourself in the weeds once you start digging around.

Pages: The Format sidebar provides a number of options for quickly changing the look of your entire table or a single cell. Click anywhere on your table, and the Format sidebar will change to a set of table tools. Four tabs appear at the top: Table, Cell, Text, and Arrange.

Click Table and youll see six table styles. Click one and it will change the entire table to match the style youve selected. With Table selected you can also manage the way the tables headers and footers appear; make global changes to the tables font sizes; hide, display, and change the tables outline and the way the table grid looks; and adjust cell colors and sizes.

Select the formatting sidebars Cell tab, and youll find options for formatting the data within cells. So, for example, if you want the data in a cell to always be treated as text, even if its a number, you can specify that here.

Use the Text tab to change the way text appears within table cells. You can change fonts, adjust text alignment, create lists within cells, and do just about anything else you can in the body of a word processing doc.

The Arrange tab lets you fine-tune the location of the table within your document. In most cases, youll drag and drop your table where you want it, but you can use this tool when you want to change the way text wraps around your table or when you want to tweak its location by a couple of pixels in your document.

Google Docs: Select your table, a selection of cells, or a single cell; click the Table menu; then choose Table Properties.

You can then change a tables border color, change the cell backgrounds, set column width and height to a specific number, change the way the table appears inline in the body text of your document, and alter the way text aligns vertically within a cell.

7. Insert a Chart

For many people, myself included, a table full of numbers is enough to make your your eyes glaze over. A graphic chart, on the other hand, can make cold, hard numbers easier to understand. Adding charts to your documents in all but Google Docs is a simple process.

Word: Click the toolbars Chart tab and youll see a set of tools for creating and formatting charts. Selecting the chart you want inserts it into your document and opens an Excel spreadsheet with a default data set. Changing this data changes how your chart looks in the document.

If you need to change your chart, Control-click (or right-click) your chart and select the Edit Data menu. This will reopen both Excel and the table containing your chart data.

Pages: Of the three applications, Pages makes it easiest to add charts. Click the chart tool in the toolbar, and youll see a menu with a three chart options: 2D, 3D, and Interactive. In addition to chart types, Pages also offers a number of color themes, which you can navigate using the left and right arrow buttons in the menu.

Selecting a chart places it in your Pages document with a default set of data. Click the Edit Chart Data button and a table will open displaying the current chart data. Replace the default data with your own data, and the chart will change to reflect your data. If you need to change the data in your chart again, just click the chart and click the Edit Chart Data button again.

Google Docs: Google Docs offers no way to directly add and update a chart in your document. Instead, you need to create a chart in Google Spreadsheet, publish an image of the chart to the Web, and then insert the images URL into your document.

First, create a new Google spreadsheet by opening Google Drive, clicking the Create button and selecting Spreadsheet. In the resulting spreadsheet, enter your chart data. Select the data by clicking the first cell containing your data, and then Shift-click the last cell of data you want to include in your chart.

Next, click the Insert Chart button that appears on the left side of the Google Spreadsheet toolbar. That opens the Chart Editor. If you dont see the type of chart you want, click the Charts tab or click the More link that appears next to Recommended Charts. Once youve selected your chart, click Insert.

To add the chart to your document, click near the top of the chart, look for and click the small Edit Menu arrow in the upper-right corner, then select Publish chart. In the next window, open the Publish Format menu and select image. The window will change displaying a few lines of HTML text. Select and copy only the text that appears between the quotation marks. This text will start with https:// and end with a series of text characters.

In your document, open the Insert menu, select Image, then choose By URL and paste your images URL into the URL field. Your chart should appear in the window. If it doesnt, make sure the URL is correct. When youre done, click the Select button and your chart will appear in your document.

Note: Because this chart is an image, it doesnt change if you change your table data. If you update the data driving your chart, you will have to republish the chart and insert the new URL into your document.

8. Interact With Graphics

In addition to charts, you may also want to add pictures or other graphical objects to your document and then gussy them up so people take notice.

Word: Click the Insert menu and select Photo. Youll see two options: Photo Browser and Picture From File. The former allows you to select images from your iPhoto or Aperture libraries; the latter, an image from the Finder. From the browser, select the image you want to use and drag it into your document.

To make changes to the document, select the image in your document, then click the Format Picture tab in the toolbar. By default Word inserts your image inline with the text, which means it cannot initially be dragged where you want it on the page. To change this, click the Wrap Text button and choose one of the wrapping options, then drag your picture where you want it.

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