Lately, I’ve been trying to force myself to use Word 2003. Up until recently, I’ve been using Word 2000. I had Word XP and used it briefly, until it blew up, corrupted a document, and I nuked it off the system in disgust.
But everyone says that Word 2003 is “so much better” and in an effort not to be a Luddite, I’m attempting to learn it. The problem is that all the new “usability features” make me want to scream.
If you’ve been using older versions of Word for years, things like the Task Pane just get in the way. Yes it’s supposed to be easier, but I don’t like something clogging up half my screen (and I have a 21-inch monitor, for heaven’s sake). So this article is my completely biased discussion on how to make Word 2003 actually work. Or at least work more like it used to anyway.
Goodbye Task Pain
As noted, the first thing I wanted to ditch was the Task Pane (or Task Pain as a friend calls it). The first step is to change the option for it so it doesn’t appear at start up. Choose Tools|Options and in the View tab, remove the checkmark next to Startup Task Pane. Now you see the familiar blank screen when you open Word.
Get the New Dialog Back
But wait, if you want to create a new document, or (gasp!) actually create a document from a different template, the dreaded Task Pane reappears when you choose File|New. So you need to get the old New dialog box back. To do that, you need to get the old command back on your menu.
Choose Tools|Customize. Click the Commands tab and under Categories, scroll down and click All Commands. Click and drag the FileNewDialog command onto your File menu.
You’ll notice that after you get it on the menu, Word calls it Other…, which is a little dorky. If you want the menu to look like it used to, you’ll need to change the name of the current New command to something else and then change your new FileNewDialog command menu item to New. So right-click the (old) New… menu item and next to Name change it to something else like &TaskPaneNew…. Now you can right-click and change your new FileNewDialog menu command to &New…. The ampersand tells Word, which letter is the accelerator key, so Alt+F, N will open your dialog box, just like in the old days. Close the Customize dialog box and try it out — the New dialog box is BACK and you can select from all your templates.
Restore Styles and Mail Merge
If you hate the Task Pane, you need to restore two other commands onto your menus because if you try and do anything with styles or mail merge, you will start cursing the Task Pane again because the old commands are nowhere to be found.
If you attempt to work with styles, you’ll see that the old command has been replaced by Styles and Formatting, which opens the Styles and Formatting Task Pane. Similarly, the old Mail Merge Helper that has been around for years is gone. Instead you go to Tools|Letters and Mailings|Mail Merge, which brings up a Task Pane with an unhelpful wizard. If you’ve got old mail merges you’ve been using for years, this wizard is no time saver.
To get your old mail merge back on the menu, choose Tools|Customize again. Make sure you are in the Commands tab. Under Categories, click All Commands. Under Commands click MailMergeHelper and drag to the Tools menu where it used to be.
Adding the old style dialog box works the same way. Under All Commands, click the FormatStyle command and drag it over to the Format menu where it used to be. When you’re done, click the Close button in the Customize dialog box.
Understand the Style Mess
Once you have the mail merge command back, mail merges work the same way they always have. Unfortunately, Microsoft did a lot more damage to styles than just taking the command off the menu.
Given how important styles are to working with Word, I would have thought that the Style pane would be better. It does have some useful elements. For example, you can see the formatting in a style and how it looks which can be helpful. If you can stand to wade through it, it’s visually appealing I guess. However, it’s also generally cluttered with every piece of formatted text you’ve done. Throwing in local formatting in the Style Task Pain is stupid if you ask me, since local formatting by definition, is not a style. Fortunately, you can turn that display off. Choose Tools|Options and click the Edit tab. Remove the checkmark next to Keep track of formatting.
But worse than that, my main objection to what has been done to styles is how Microsoft has screwed up the difference between Paragraph and Character styles. It used to be that if you wanted to set the formatting attributes for an entire paragraph, you’d create a paragraph style. If you just want to format a span of text, you’d use a character style. Pretty straightforward, huh?
The Dreaded Char Char Problem
Now it’s possible to end up with a whole bunch of weird “hybrid” styles. In Word XP and Word 2003, you can apply a paragraph style to only part of a paragraph. This technique can legitimately be useful if you are creating side heads, but if you don’t know what you are doing and you haven’t updated Word to the latest service patches, you can end up with a mutant sort of paragraph style that’s also sort of a character style. If you see something like Heading 1 Char or Heading 1 Char Char in your style list, that’s what happened. Gross.
Apparently this problem has been fixed in more recent versions, but to avoid mutant styles, when you are applying a style, you have to be really careful to select the entire paragraph including the paragraph marker at the end. Or just place your cursor in the paragraph without highlighting ANY text. Then apply your style
Getting rid of the mutant Char Char styles (as I think of them) is a huge pain, although possible. You need to redefine the style and rid yourself of the extra formatting. Even if you have attached a template to documents and told them to automatically update from the template, every time you open a new document, the Char Char styles reappear until you’ve deleted every instance of every last one. It’s awful. (Yes, I had to work on a document with this problem, in case you couldn’t tell.)
A Better Way
If you ask me, a better way to deal with styles is to get some of the old commands back and avoid the Task Pane completely. So it’s time to customize again. Choose Tools|Customize and in the Format category drag, Style by Example, Modify Style, Rename Style, and Redefine Style to a menu or toolbar.
With Style by Example, you can format some text, click the menu item or button and create a new style based on your formatted text. (This technique works a lot like the old trick of creating styles by typing a new style name in the Style toolbar window.) Word creates a style called Style 1, so you can use the Rename Style command to change it to something more interesting. The Modify Style command is much like the Modify button in the old Style dialog box. Go in; make your changes; get out.
The Redefine Style command is great if you are tweaking an existing style. Make the changes to a paragraph, so it’s just the way you want and click Redefine Style. The changes are applied to the style.
Questions to Be Asked
Although some things are improved in Word 2003, I have to say that it really bugs me that Microsoft is essentially catering to people that have no clue how to use their product. Apparently styles are “too hard” for many people to deal with so rather then focusing their attention on making Word more stable and clarifying how things work, they just make features like styles more cryptic by obscuring them in the Task Pane morass.
It’s becoming apparent that Word is too large and too cumbersome. When that happened to Photoshop, Adobe came up with Elements, which is essentially Photoshop Lite. I think rather than destroying core features, Microsoft should consider creating a new product that is something in between Word and Word Pad, along the lines of the word processor that came with Works.
And then they can leave my styles alone!