Eric Baker

Hints & tips
Word processing

v7.4  29 November 2019  © Eric Baker

Which word processor?

Microsoft Office Word was the standard for years and I used good old Word 2003 until Microsoft cheated me out of it. Changing to a new PC, I uninstalled it from the old one but on installing my 3rd copy on the new PC it falsely claimed I had 3 installs already and they'd withdrawn the phone service for failed installs. They'd also withdrawn security fix support. I know loads of Word keyboard shortcuts (eg Alt AIB to add a row to a table) so I looked into buying the latest. But they are really pushing Office 365 variants that need a yearly subscription. Of course the latest Word has that ribbon squatting on lots of your screen space. It doesn't tempt me at current prices.

The obvious alternative is Libre Office, free. I've used Open Office then Libre Office for years. Libre is quite similar to Office 2003 in use and will read and write Word formats, doc and docx, as well as the new odt standard. The main incompatibility I've found is having to change the anchoring options for a text box holding address details in letters. It's also not perfect at adjusting formuli when you insert a new line in a spreadsheet. Libre Office does include a pretty good drawing program - Microsoft's Visio is an expensive extra. Here's a chunk from a drawing I assembled within 15 minutes (try doing that in MS Word):


There are also some online word processors but I could never see the point. Even nowadays we are sometimes somewhere where there's no internet connection. There are also WP apps for your tablet. I downloaded Kingsoft but we generally just use OneNote on them for writing because it synchs to our other devices.

Anything I publish that has to have a good layout tends now to be html, part of a website, so I'm not that bothered about layout in WP documents any more.

How do I do bullets, justify text etc?

The rest of this guide is geared towards people using Libre Office but should also be useful if you use an older version of Word.

Styles are the proper way to do bullets but for smaller documents it's fine to just use the toolbar icons for alignment, bullets etc. Just experiment until you get the effect you want. You can also use the format painter to copy an effect to other parts of a document. In Libre Office if you double click the format painter icon it will stay active until next clicked.

So for simpler documents just use the toolbar buttons:
Libre toolbar
Libre toolbar

How do I get my head around styles?

WP styles They are rather over complicated (Ami Pro, many years ago, did it much better than anything since). But for long documents, using styles makes things much easier, mainly because if you change the characteristics of a style (eg body text or Heading 3) then you instantly change everything with that style, throughout the document. Just like the websites I create - most of the layout is held centrally in one or more css stylesheets so changes apply to the whole site instantly.

So it's well worth learning to use styles if you create and maintain long, complex documents. The detail of how it works will vary depending on which WP package you use.

If you do nothing else with styles you should at least use Text body for your bulk paragraphs of normal text. That puts a half line as a spacer between paragraphs which looks much neater than having a full line.

Akin to styles are templates. I was getting really annoyed at Libre ignoring my country (UK) for documents I'd created by right click new in File Explorer. I'd have huge margins, Letter paper (some weird short, fat format from somewhere West - excuse me, A4 should be the default if in doubt)! And spelling would be set to accept 'antagonize' and reject 'antagonise'! So now I've set up my own default template with A4, UK spelling, narrower margins etc and that's what I get if I create a new document by first launching Libre Office.

Libre format painter icon

How do I insert pictures into a document and make text flow round them?

You pull images into a document via Insert, Image in Libre Office. You can also paste them if they've previously been copied into memory.

To get text to flow around images, right click on the image and experiment with the Wrap, Anchor, Alignment and Arrange options, sliding the picture around as required).

If you put lots of big images into a Libre Office document the layout can go haywire. In that case don't forget Ctrl Z (undo).

How do I move & copy text around?

Edit, Copy/Cut/Paste (Ctrl C/X/V) are the usual methods and will very often work even between different types of document, eg text and even images from a web page can be copied into a Word document. First you have to select the area to copy; just hold down the left mouse button at the top left of the area to copy and move it to the bottom right then let go. Anything then highlighted can be copied into memory and can then be Edit, Pasted somewhere else. You can also click at the start then use Shift with your arrow keys in most cases.

Within a document if you want to move rather than copy text, select it then Edit, Cut (Ctrl X) it to make it disappear into memory ready to be pasted elsewhere. Note that only the last item copied or cut is kept in memory in most cases.
Libre wrap options

How do I use tables?

I use WP tables lots, because they are much easier to make look attractive than lists in a spreadsheet.

First you insert a table, then get roughly the right column widths. I mostly use the Libre Office Table contents style withing tables rather than Text body, to make them more compact.

It speeds things up greatly if you can learn keyboard shortcuts, eg in Libre Office Alt AIB for insert a row below and Alt ADR for delete row. That was the same in Word 2003 and even Word 2007 still responded OK to these.

How to create a Table of Contents?

A table of contents which can easily be updated to reflect changes is great for longer documents and it's difficult enough to impress a lot of people!

How you create one differs wildly between different packages. Generally the way to do it is first use a style, eg Contents Heading in Libre Office, purely for entries you want in your table of contents. Then create the TOC from the menu and set it to look for and list just that style.

Libre Office table

How do I stop text just overflowing to the next page?

You could just reword and shorten paragraphs that just go onto an extra line or switch from 12 to 11 point text. But the easiest way is to reduce the page margins.

How do I get characters not on my keyboard?

WP symbols In Libre Office it's Insert, Special Character. Then just choose what you want and click Insert to put it into your document. You can also put them into any application via the well hidden Windows Character Map. In Windows 10 it's under Windows accessories in All apps.

If there's a special character you use a lot, eg emailing Renée, and you have a full sized keyboard you can learn its code, eg é is Alt 0233 (must be done on the numeric keypad at the right of a full keyboard). ½ is Alt 0189 and so on. If you're on a tablet, good luck!
WP margins