by Jack Lyon
From the beginning, Microsoft Word used a standard menu interface that looked like this:
Click a menu item, and you’d get a list of more items:
Keep clicking, and eventually you’d activate the feature you wanted to use. All of this was straightforward. Then came Microsoft Word 2007, with its “Ribbon” interface:
According to Microsoft, the idea was to bring Word’s “most popular commands to the forefront” rather than burying them under a series of menus. For users, this took considerable getting used to, but, mostly, it worked. Unfortunately (and a little ironically), a few of the Ribbon’s features are still less than obvious, which prevents some users from understanding the full power of the features available to them.
Feature 1: Split Buttons
Most of the buttons on the Ribbon interface are just that—buttons. For example, here’s what the NoteStripper button looks like in my Microsoft Word add-in Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2014:
If you click that button, either on the pencil-sharpener icon or on the little arrow underneath it, here’s what you’ll get:
But now consider the button for FileCleaner, also included with Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2014. At first glance, it looks like the same kind of button used for NoteStripper, with a graphic icon at the top and a tiny arrow at the bottom:
Click the arrow, and here’s what you’ll get:
What many people don’t realize, however, is that the FileCleaner button is a split button. If you hover your cursor over a split button you’ll see a horizontal line splitting the button in two:
The bottom half, with the arrow, works just as before. But the top part is a different matter. If you click it, you’ll get full access to all of FileCleaner’s batch cleanup options:
Unfortunately, many people don’t realize that these options exist, which means that they’re missing much of the program’s power. This isn’t my fault, by the way; it’s a result of the way Microsoft designed the Ribbon (although possibly I should use two FileCleaner buttons, one for individual items and one for batch options). At any rate, now that you understand the problem, you can do a bit of exploring, looking for buttons that offer more than at first appears.
Feature 2: Dialog Box Launchers
At the bottom right of many of the groups on the Ribbon is a tiny box with an arrow:
Some users overlook these arrows completely, missing some of Word’s most useful features. Microsoft calls these arrows “Dialog Box Launchers,” and if you click one of them, you’ll see more options related to its particular group. Usually these options appear in a dialog box (hence the name) but sometimes in a task pane. For example, if you click the launcher in the “Paragraph” group, you’ll get the dialog box for paragraph formatting:
If you’re now saying “So that’s where that went,” I’m glad I could be of help. Again, it’s worth the effort to systematically explore all of the features that are hidden under these “launchers.”
Feature 3: Contextual Menus
Some of the items on the Ribbon are contextual — that is, they don’t appear until you’re actually working with something for which they’re needed. Tables provide a good example. If your document includes a table, and your cursor is actually in that table, you’ll see the following menu on the Ribbon:
Click it, and you’ll get this:
Wow, lots of options! But if you didn’t know about contextual menus, you might miss them. Other contextual menus appear if you’re working with any of the following:
- Headers or footers
- Text boxes
- Clip art
There are probably other items that use contextual menus, but those are the most obvious ones that come to mind. Remember, contextual menus show up only when they’re needed, so keep an eye out for them; you’ll be glad you did.
Now that you know some of the secrets of the Ribbon, would you say that Microsoft succeeded in using it to bring Word’s “most popular commands to the forefront”? Or does the Ribbon actually hide more features than it reveals? Perhaps more important, do you like the Ribbon, and if so, how do you use it to work more effectively? What do you think?
Jack Lyon (firstname.lastname@example.org) owns and operates the Editorium, which provides macros and information to help editors and publishers do mundane tasks quickly and efficiently. He is the author of Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals, Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word, and of Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word. Both books will help you learn more about macros and how to use them.
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