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Top Ten Word Annoyances

by Guy Hart-Davis, author of Word Annoyances
09/13/2005

How does Word annoy you? Let us count the ways: by "correcting" the already correct text you enter; by deciding unilaterally that you want a bulleted list or a table instead of what you've typed; by serving up a useless blank document each time you start it; by crashing and losing your work as a deadline surges across the calendar toward you; and in hundreds or thousands of ways in between.

You can write your own list; perhaps you already have. Here's a Top Ten list of the Word annoyances I've encountered or been asked about recently. For coverage of others, check out the book or visit Annoyances Central for new annoyances and their solutions. You can also of your own.

1. When Word Adjusts Your Capitalization

The Annoyance: Word keeps capitalizing words even though I'm trying to type them as lowercase. This makes it hard to create lists, write poetry, or use acronyms. I much prefer to make the choices myself rather than have Word make them for me.

The Fix: And make the choices yourself, you can--you just need to reclaim a little autonomy from AutoCorrect. More immediately, you can press Ctrl+Z or choose Edit -> Undo to undo any unwanted change that AutoCorrect has applied.

Choose Tools -> AutoCorrect Options (or Tools -> AutoCorrect in Word 2000) and uncheck the "Capitalize first letter of sentences" box and the "Capitalize first letter of table cells" box (in Word 2003 and Word XP, but not in Word 2000).

Related Reading

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By Guy Hart-Davis

If necessary, uncheck the "Capitalize names of days" box as well. Most people find this automatic correction unobjectionable, but your poems may disagree. Scan down the list of "Replace text as you type" entries and delete any acronyms (or indeed any other entries) that you don't want to use.

2. Escape Unwanted Copyright Symbols

The Annoyance: Every time I type (c) in my document, Word changes it to a copyright symbol. (a), (b), and (d) are fine.

The Fix: This is a built-in AutoCorrect entry intended to help you insert the copyright symbol easily. Similarly, (r) produces a registration symbol, ®, and (tm) produces a trademark symbol, ™.

To prevent Word from doing this, choose Tools -> AutoCorrect Options (or Tools -> AutoCorrect in Word 2000). On the AutoCorrect tab, click the (c) entry to load it in the Replace box and the With box, and then click the Delete button. If you need to be able to enter the copyright symbol via AutoCorrect, type your preferred entry in the Replace box (the copyright symbol will stay loaded in the With box) and click the Add button. Click the OK button to close the AutoCorrect dialog box.

3. Make Word Start Automatically When You Log On

The Annoyance: I need to use Word all the time in my work. It'd be handy to have Word start automatically when I log on.

The Fix: Click the Start menu and navigate to a Word icon, then drag it to the All Programs -> Startup submenu. Next time you log on, Word will start. If your PC doesn't have a Startup submenu on the Start menu, choose Start -> Run, type %userprofile%\start menu\programs\startup, and press Enter to open a Windows Explorer window showing your Startup folder. Drag a Word shortcut to this folder.

4. Prevent Word from Creating a Blank Document at Startup

The Annoyance: When I start Word, the last thing I need is yet another blank document based on the Normal template--I want one based on my template. Actually, what I really want is to open the document I need to work with.

The Fix: Word offers you a blank document based on the Normal template as a token of its continuing devotion, rather like your cat might lay out the occasional eviscerated rabbit for your early-morning dining delight. (Well, by now you should know better than to walk around barefoot without switching on the light, shouldn't you?)

Instead of continuing to dispose of the useless blank document by clicking the Close button and wishing you could dispose of the rabbit with similar ease, you can prevent Word from creating the document, make it create a document based on a template of your choice, or have it open a document for you. To do so, you use Word's startup switches (startup options) in the shortcut that you use to start Word.

Create a Suitable Shortcut for a Startup Switch

Depending on the version of Word and how it was set up, you may not be able to use the Word shortcut that appears on the Start menu--some of these shortcuts don't let you edit the command used to start Word. To check, right-click the Word shortcut and choose Properties, then look at the Shortcut tab. If the Target text box is grayed out, you need to create a new shortcut.

To do so, locate WINWORD.EXE (usually in a folder named some variation of "Office" in the Program Files folder, which you can access by choosing Start -> Run, typing %programfiles%, and pressing Enter), and create a shortcut to it wherever you find most convenient. For example, right-drag WINWORD.EXE within its parent folder and choose "Create shortcuts here," rename the shortcut from "Shortcut to WINWORD.EXE" to a snappier name, and then drag the shortcut to your Start menu, if that's where you want it.

Then right-click the new shortcut, choose Properties, and then click the Shortcut tab. The next sections discuss the switches you can use. Enter the switches on the Target line of the Shortcut tab after the double quotation marks--for example:

"D:\Program Files\Office 2003\OFFICE11\WINWORD.EXE" /n

Prevent Word from Creating a Blank Document

If all you want is to prevent Word from creating the blank document at startup, add the /n switch to the shortcut that starts Word.

Open a Document Based on Your Preferred Template

If you want to open a document based on a template other than the Normal template, use the /t switch and specify the template name:

"D:\Program Files\Office 2000\OFFICE11\WINWORD.EXE" /tMagazine.dot

If the template name contains spaces, put it in double quotation marks. You may need to include the full path.

Open a Document on the Most Recently Used List

To make Word always open one or more of the documents on its most recently used list (the list that appears at the foot of the File menu), use the /m switch, the word file, and the file number. For example, /mfile1 opens the document at the number one position on the list.

Open a Specific Document

Opening a recent document can be useful, but it'll often stick you with a document you don't need to work with. What's usually more useful is to open one or more specific documents when you start Word. To do so, enter the full path and file name of each file after the program file, with a space between each name, and all in the same line:

"D:\Program Files\Office 2000\OFFICE11\WINWORD.EXE" 
"c:\Docs\Book1.doc" "c:\Info\Notes.doc"

5. Choose Between Having One and Multiple Word Buttons on the Taskbar

The Annoyance: Having multiple Word windows and multiple Word taskbar buttons bugs me to distraction. Why can't Word behave the same way as Excel and keep all the documents in the same window?

The Fix: There's good news on this front unless you're using Word 2000: Word 2003 and Word XP let you choose whether to keep each open Word document in its own window (and with its own taskbar button) or keep all open Word documents in a single window (with a single taskbar button for the active document).

To make the switch, choose Tools -> Options and click the View tab if it's not already displayed. Uncheck the "Windows in Taskbar" box if you want to show all open documents in a single Word window that has one Taskbar button. If you check this box (the default setting), you will see a separate window for each open document, each of which has its own Taskbar button.

6. Word 2003 Runs Slowly

The Annoyance: I've upgraded from Word 2000 to Word 2003, but Word 2003 runs so slowly that I wish I hadn't upgraded.

The Fix: Word 2003 is much more demanding than Word 2000 and typically runs more slowly. Choose Tools -> Options and try the following suggestions for improving performance:

Word may also be suffering from a surfeit of fonts. If the Font drop-down list or Font dialog box includes fonts you never use, consider removing some. Choose Start -> Control Panel -> Appearance and Themes -> Fonts to open the Fonts folder, select the fonts you don't need, and drag them to another folder for temporary storage. (You can delete the surplus fonts if you prefer, but it's usually better to keep them in case you need them later.)

Warning: Don't remove any of the fonts that Windows requires for its interface: Arial, Microsoft Sans Serif, Tahoma, Marlett, Times New Roman, Courier New, Symbol, and Wingdings. Windows protects Marlett and doesn't display it in the Fonts folder.

7. Change Word's Default Folder for Saving Documents

The Annoyance: Word always wants me to save my documents in the My Documents folder. I suppose this folder makes sense for many users, but I've got other ideas.

The Fix: You can change the default folder easily. Choose Tools -> Options, click the File Locations tab, select "Documents" in the "File types" list, and click the Modify button. In the Modify Location dialog box, select the folder you want to use, and click the OK button.

Note: From the File Locations tab of the Options dialog box, you can also change the default folders for clip-art pictures, user templates, workgroup templates, AutoRecover files, tools, and startup files.

8. Create a Work Menu

The Annoyance: There are a handful of documents I need to be able to open easily. Sometimes they appear on the most recently used files list on the File menu, but I work with many other documents, so they're not always there.

The Fix: Microsoft provides a Work menu that you can add to the menu bar so that you can keep up to nine documents readily available.

To add the Work menu to the menu bar, choose Tools -> Customize, click the Commands tab, and make sure that the Save In drop-down list shows the document or template you want to affect. (Usually, Normal.dot is the best choice.) Select the Built-in Menus item, and drag the Work menu to the menu bar or a toolbar you keep open. Shift-click the File menu and choose Save All. If Word prompts you to save changes to Normal.dot, click the Yes button.

To add the current document to the Work menu, choose Work -> Add To Work Menu. To remove a document, press Ctrl+Alt+–, click the Work menu, and then click the document.

9. Save All Open Documents at Once

The Annoyance: I've got a stack of documents open. Why must I save changes to them one by one? Where's the Save All command when you need it?

The Fix: It's hiding. Shift-click the File menu, and then click Save All. Don't press Alt-Shift-F to display the File menu--that doesn't work, and the key combination might be assigned to a command or a macro.

If you find shift-clicking the File menu awkward, put the Save All command directly on a menu or toolbar. Choose Tools -> Customize, click the Commands tab, and verify that the appropriate template is selected in the "Save in" drop-down list. With the File item selected in the Categories list box, scroll down the Commands list to the Save All item, then drag it to the menu or toolbar of your choice. Shift-click the File menu and choose Save All to make sure that the changes to the template get saved.

10a. Use Microsoft Office Application Recovery to Mitigate a Crash

The Annoyance: Every now and then, Word hangs but doesn't crash. I can see my document, but I can't do anything to save my latest changes.

The Fix: Depending on the version of Word you're using, you may be able to mitigate a crash.

First, if what you can see of the document contains unsaved changes, take a picture of what's there and save it. With the focus on the Word window, press Alt+Print Screen. That copies a picture of the Word window to the Clipboard. Open Paint (Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> Paint) and press Ctrl+V to paste the picture. Press Ctrl+S and save the picture in a convenient folder. (If the Word window has gone white or is showing chunks of other applications, skip this step.)

Second, if you're using Word XP or Word 2003, launch Microsoft Office Application Recovery by choosing Start -> All Programs -> Microsoft Office 2003 -> Microsoft Office Tools -> Microsoft Office Application Recovery (for Word 2003), or Start -> All Programs -> Microsoft Office Tools -> Microsoft Office Application Recovery (for Word XP). In the Microsoft Office Application Recovery window (see Figure 1), select the entry for Word and click the Recover Application button.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Microsoft Office Application Recovery can sometimes save data even after Word has hung.

Microsoft Office Application Recovery attempts to recover the data in the open document, and then displays a dialog box offering to send an error report to Microsoft. The recovery then takes place, and Microsoft Office Application Recovery automatically restarts Word. Any recoverable documents appear in the Document Recovery pane, together with its type (Recovered or Original), details of when and how each was saved (for example, "Saved during recovery" or "Last saved by user"), and whether it has been repaired. Click a document to open it, or right-click a document and choose a command from the shortcut menu (see Figure 2).

Figure 2
Figure 2. Document recovery usually enables you to save much of the document that you were working on when Word crashed.

Choose the Show Repairs command to display the Show Repairs dialog box (see Figure 2), which lists the errors. Sort the errors by error description or by location, click the error you want to see, and click the Go To button. Check the document for damage, and then save it under another file name. If you want to restore the document to its original name, close the document in Word, open a Windows Explorer window, rename the version of the document that currently holds the name you want to use, and then rename the recovered version of the document.

Figure 3
Figure 3. The document may contain errors that Word has repaired.

If you're using Word 2000, you don't have Microsoft Office Application Recovery. Instead, right-click blank space in the taskbar or notification area, choose Task Manager from the shortcut menu, and then click the Applications tab. Click the "Microsoft Word" item, and then click the End Task button. Restart Word manually. If there's a viable AutoRecover file, Word opens it for you automatically; check it and save it under another name if it's usable. If there's no AutoRecover file or it's not usable, open the latest temporary document in the folder in which you were working, and then try to recover your document from it.

10b. Recover a Document After a Crash

The Annoyance: Word crashed again. Microsoft Office Application Recovery didn't do any good this time. And when I try to open the document, Word crashes again.

The Fix: This doesn't sound good, but all isn't lost yet. Here's what you should do, step-by-step:

1. Open a Windows Explorer window to the folder that contains the document and make a couple of copies of it. The easiest way to create a copy is to Ctrl-drag the document within the folder, but Copy and Paste works fine too. These copies are insurance in case your efforts to open the document turns out to trash it further. Leave the Windows Explorer window open.

2. Start Word again, choose File -> Open, select the document, click the drop-down arrow on the Open button, and choose "Open and Repair." If all goes well, Word fixes whatever is ailing the document and opens it. Choose File -> Save As and save the document under another name so that the entire document is written afresh. With the document still open, choose File -> Save As again, choose Rich Text Format in the "Save as Type" drop-down list, and save the document as a rich text file. Close the document, and copy the new document and the rich text document to a backup medium in case the problem returns.

3. If Word can't open the file, and Word is set to create backup copies of documents (if the "Always create backup copy" box on the Save tab of the Options dialog box is checked), try to open the backup file. In the Windows Explorer window, switch to Details view (View -> Details) and click the Name column heading to sort the files by name and double-click the backup file, which will be named "Backup of," the document's name, and the .wbk extension. If it opens, save it under a different name. For good measure, save it in Rich Text Format as well, as described in the previous step.

4. If Word isn't creating backup copies, look in the Windows Explorer window for a temporary file of the document. In Details view (View -> Details), click the Type column heading twice to produce a reverse sort by file type. This will put the "Word Temporary File" type near the top of the list. Identify the latest temporary file of your document by its date and file size (its file size will be nearly the same as that of your document file). Right-click the file, click "Open With," and choose the Word item (for example, Microsoft Office Word). If the document opens, save it under a different name. For good measure, save it in Rich Text Format as well, as described in step 2.

5. If you don't have a backup copy or a temporary file, try using WordPad to open the document that makes Word crash. In the Windows Explorer window, right-click the file, select Open With -> Choose Program, select WordPad, and click the OK button. WordPad understands only some of Word's formatting, so it has a better chance of not getting confused by errors in the document's formatting table. If WordPad can open the document, save it under a different file name. You'll have lost the formatting that WordPad can't read, but you should have the text of the document plus basic font formatting.

6. If WordPad can't open the document, and you're prepared to lose even the font formatting, use Word's "Recover text from any file" converter to recover the text. Choose File -> Open, select "Recover text from any file" in the "Files of type" drop-down list, select the document, and click the Open button. Save the resulting document under another file name. You'll need to manually remove extraneous information and odd characters from the document, and replace headers, footers, footnotes, and endnotes, which will appear as normal text paragraphs in the document.

7. If Word's "Recover text from any file" converter can't open the file, open it with Notepad instead. This is the last resort and will cost you all the formatting in the document, but you should be able to recover the text.

Note: If you have another word processor installed on your computer, use it to open a damaged version of the document. Word processors such as Corel WordPerfect and OpenOffice.org include text converters that can read most Word features but are fairly tolerant of document corruption, bypassing it as being features they can't interpret. Again, you're likely to lose much formatting, but you may be able to recover most of the text.

Oh, wait--you wanted me to tell you how to get rid of the Office Assistant? Right-click its current manifestation and choose Properties on the shortcut menu. On the Options tab of the Office Assistant dialog, uncheck the "Use the Office Assistant" box, and then click the OK button.

And fix problems with numbered lists? Sorry--that's a long one. See the book for details.


In June 2005, O'Reilly Media, Inc., released Word Annoyances.

Guy Hart-Davis is the author of Windows XP and Office 2003 Keyboard Shortcuts, Mac OS X and Office v.X Keyboard Shortcuts, Word 2000 Developer's Handbook, and about 30 other computer books.


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