Unraveling the Word Ribbon

December 26, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Those of you who are migrating from Word 2003 or earlier to one of the newer versions of Word (Word 2010 or Word 2007) might be somewhat intimidated by the new graphical user interface (GUI), consisting of a Ribbon with multiple “tabs.”  Don’t let the redesigned GUI throw you!

There are multiple ways to master the mysteries of the Ribbon.

First, consider the functionality of each tab.

The File tab is like the old File menu on steroids.  It contains all of the familiar commands for working with files (Open, Close, Save, Save As), even as it also gives you access to recently opened files and folders, the reconstituted Print / Print Preview command, the Word Options, and lots of other behind-the-scenes information.

The Home tab is where Microsoft put the majority of the commands you probably use most often.  Those include commands for working with fonts, paragraph formatting options, styles, find and replace, and pasting.  Keep in mind, incidentally, that many of the command groupings on the Ribbon include a dialog launcher–a diagonal arrow in the lower right-hand corner of the group–that you can click to open a traditional dialog box with full configuration choices.

Look on the Insert tab for objects you insert into a document:  tables, headers and footers (yes, Microsoft finally realized that most people expect this feature to be under Insert, a more logical location than View), pictures, charts, text boxes, bookmarks, hyperlinks, and even other files (under Object, Text from File).

Page Layout contains commands for changing page formatting in Word.  Essentially that means attributes such as page margins–as opposed to paragraph margins–plus page orientation and watermarks.  Because Word requires you to insert a section break before you change the page layout, the Break drop-down appears on this tab as well.

Think of the References tab as the location of commands that allow you to refer to another part of your document, such as footnotes, Table of Contents, and Table of Authorities.  That construct helps me differentiate between the References tab and the Review tab, which I tend to confuse.

By contrast, the Review tab is the place where you’ll find commands for features you’ll use to finalize the document before sending it outside your organization:  spell-checking, comments, Track Changes, Compare Documents.

Mailings is pretty self-evident.  That tab contains icons for envelopes and labels, as well as for starting a mailmerge.

The newer versions of Word offer context-sensitive tabs that appear only when you are performing certain tasks, such as setting up a header or footer, working in a table, or formatting an image.  The Header and Footer Tools tab, which you’ll see when your cursor is within a header or footer editing screen, is useful for–among other things–inserting a page number code (or changing the page number format).  The Table Tools tab, available only when your cursor is inside a table, is divided into two parts:  one for changing the look of the table and the other for modifying the structure (adding or deleting rows/columns, changing the row height or column width, and so forth).  In my experience, the Layout portion of the tab is the one you’ll use maybe 80% to 90% of the time.

In addition to these hints for understanding the new interface, you have at your disposal a number of other aids.  These include:

  • Mnemonics.  Sometimes called KeyTips, this nifty tool in Word 2007 and Word 2010 refers to letters that pop up in the Ribbon when you press the Alt key.  There are KeyTips for each tab as well as for commands within the tabs.  Simply press a letter, or a combination of letters, to move to a particular tab and then press another KeyTip to activate a command on that tab.[1]
  • Keyboard Shortcuts.  Power users of older versions of Word will be pleased to learn that most keyboard shortcuts from those versions still work in the newer versions of Word.
  • Pop-Up Tips.  When you position the mouse over an icon and let it hover there, you should see a tip that explains what that icon does and, in some cases, a keyboard shortcut.  Some of the tips are fairly extensive.
  • Right-Clicking.  As in earlier versions of Word, right-clicking produces a context-sensitive pop-up menu–depending on where your cursor is when you right-click–designed to help you perform specific tasks.
  • Customization of the QAT.  In both newer versions of Word, you can move the Quick Access Toolbar (QAT) below the ribbon so that it expands into a full-sized toolbar and add commands and/or groups of commands that you use regularly.  Doing so will keep your favorite icons at your fingertips, regardless of what tab is at the forefront at any given time.[2]
  • Customization of the Ribbon.  In Word 2007, you can’t customize the Ribbon without using a third-party tool or learning to edit XML.  However, in Word 2010, it’s relatively easy to add custom tabs, groups, and/or commands, as well as to hide built-in tabs you don’t use.  In fact, there are lots of ways to customize the Ribbon in Word 2010.  Start by right-clicking within the Ribbon and choosing “Customize the Ribbon.”  When the Word Options screen opens, press F1 for a Help screen that offers detailed instructions.
  • Interactive Guides, Printable Command Lists, and Tutorials.  Microsoft has made available a number of resources to help you locate commands in the newer versions of Word.  There are interactive guides, self-paced tutorials, and downloadable command lists. (The command lists are formatted as Excel spreadsheets, so after downloading, open them into Excel, not Word. Then navigate to, and click, a worksheet tab at the bottom of the spreadsheet–each tab represents a particular menu in Word 2003–to see where the commands are located in the newer version of Word.)

    For Word 2010,  go here: http://tinyurl.com/W2010Interact
    (or you can go to the Getting Started page, which also provides tutorials, by using this URL:  http://tinyurl.com/W2010GetStarted)

    For Word 2007, go here (and note the other links at the right side of the linked page):  http://tinyurl.com/W2007Interact

Although the new Ribbon interface might seem daunting at first, there are lots of ways to make it more manageable.  In particular, the tools outlined in this post can–and will–help tremendously to ease your transition from Word 2003 (or earlier) to one of the newer versions of Word.


[1]  To turn off the KeyTips, either press the Alt key again (you might need to press it more than once, depending on the situation) or press the Esc key.  

[2]  There are a couple of ways to move the QAT below the ribbon.  Either (a) right-click within the QAT and then click “Show the Quick Access Toolbar Below the Ribbon” or (b) click the drop-down at the right end of the QAT, then click “Show the Quick Access Toolbar Below the Ribbon.”  To add icons to the QAT, either (a) right-click within the QAT and then click “Customize the Quick Access Toolbar” or (b) click the drop-down at the right end of the QAT, then click “Customize the Quick Access Toolbar.”  Either method will open the Word Options.

From within the Word Options screen, change the “Choose commands from…” drop-down from “Popular” to “All commands.”  Then scroll down within the command list, click to select a feature, and click the “Add” button.  Continue until you have added all the icons you want (you can add more later if you like).  Note that you can click an icon you’ve added, then click the Up arrow to move it to the left on the QAT, or click the Down arrow to move it to the right.  When you’ve finished, be sure to click “OK” at the lower right-hand corner of the Options screen to save your changes.

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