10 Little Known Microsoft Office Features You Should Know

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Sometimes the littlest of things make the biggest of differences.

Set the Auto Recover duration just right and you can recover an unsaved document without a flutter. Try that with a summer assignment.

Microsoft Office 2016 presents a simple front, but underneath all of it is a powerful engine with lots of cogs and nuts. Many of the Office features are hidden because we don’t know about them. And if we don’t know about them, then we can’t use them for our productivity.

This article is about that – uncovering little known Microsoft Office features. But I can’t drill into their importance without extracting their benefits for you. So, here’s my attempt to explain “strange” Microsoft Office features in the simplest way possible.

1. Tell Me

For Word 2016, Excel 2016, Outlook 2016, PowerPoint 2016, and Access 2016.

Not so little-known anymore as the brand new “Tell me what you want to do” box is perhaps the most helpful improvement in Microsoft Office 2016. The text field on the Ribbon is the fastest way to get to features you want to use or actions you want to perform. Type in a natural word or phrase that relate to what you want to do and the box responds with a dropdown menu with suggested matches. Select the feature you think is right and Office opens the right dialog to help you do it.

Microsoft-Office-Tell-Me

Think of it as a more dynamic way to get help on any Office command. You can continue to Help by clicking on Get Help on as shown in the above screenshot. That opens the traditional Help viewer.

2. Keep the Document Date and Time Current

For Word 2016 and PowerPoint 2016.

Adding the current date to your document is easy as typing and allowing Microsoft Office to auto-fill the rest. When you reuse the same document at some other date, changing the date and time is a small chore for a single date, but a big one if you have added a few more. For example — in the footer of every page.

It is also something you might forget. Microsoft has a simple feature that updates the date automatically. That is enough to save you from your forgetfulness.

Place the cursor where you want to insert the date. Then go to Ribbon > Insert > Date & Time.

Microsoft-Office-Update-Date

In the dialog, choose the date format you want to use. Enable the Update automatically checkbox to ensure the date is kept current every time you open the document.

3. Quick Parts

For Word 2016.

Quick Parts are “Building Blocks” available in Word and Outlook. Think of them as templates that haven’t grown up yet. As the name says, they are re-usable pieces of any content you want to use in Microsoft Word. They can be single or multiple paragraphs of text, text boxes, tables, lists, cover page, watermarks, bibliographies, or any other form of content. These building blocks like any re-usable template can be huge time-savers, especially in areas where formats and content are repetitive.

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In Word and Outlook, use the Quick Part Gallery to store these reusable snippets of content. Go to Ribbon > Insert tab > Text Group > Quick Parts.

Microsoft-Office-Quick-Parts01

The dropdown includes three different types of Quick Parts and the Building Block Organizer. AutoText can be immediately useful as it allows you to reuse any content again and again like a shortcut. For example, I am using “Microsoft Office” as an AutoText to avoid typing it repeatedly in this document.

To save anything to the Quick Part Gallery, select the content. Click Insert > Quick Parts, and then click Save Selection to Quick Part Gallery. Change the name and add a description if you want to. Click OK.

Microsoft-Office-Quick-Parts02

To reuse this chunk of content, place the cursor at the right location in your document, click Insert > Quick Parts, and then choose the saved selection.

Use the Building Blocks Organizer lists all the building blocks available to you in Word. You can always edit their properties, delete, and insert new buildings blocks.

Microsoft-Office-Quick-Parts03

This Microsoft Office support article explains the different types of Quick Parts in brief.

4. Watermark

For Word 2016.

Watermarks can be used to establish a brand or as a security measure. You can even use text or an image to show the status of a document. A common watermark is “Draft”.

Go to Ribbon > Design > Watermark. Use any of the four default watermarks or create your own.

Microsoft-Office-Watermark

Click Custom Watermark > Text watermark. Select one from the list or type your own text. Then, tweak the watermark by setting the font, layout, size, colors, orientation, and transparency.

Click Custom Watermark > Picture watermark and browse to an image. It automatically lightens so as not to interfere with the document text unless you uncheck the Washout box.

Microsoft-Office-Watermark02

You can save your creations to the Watermark Gallery. Do note that the Custom Watermark command is enabled in the Print view only.

Creating watermarks in Excel 2016 and PowerPoint 2016 is not so automatic as the support information shows.

5. Flesch Reading Ease

For Word 2016 and Outlook 2016.

The quickest way to make your documents and emails more readable? Use the readability score to gauge the readability level of your documents. Word and Outlook use two measures:

  1. Flesch Reading Ease test
  2. Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test

The Reading Ease test measures the average number of syllables per word and words per sentence on a 100-point scale. The higher the score, the easier it is to understand the document. Aim for the 60-70 range.

The Grade Level test benchmarks the content with U.S. school grade levels. For example, a score of 7.0 means that a seventh grader can understand the document. Aim for 7.0 to 8.0.

Readability-Stats

In Word: Go to Ribbon > File > Options and click Proofing.

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Under When correcting spelling and grammar in Word, make sure the Check grammar with spelling checkbox is selected.

Select Show readability statistics.

Microsoft-Office-Readability

(In Outlook: Go to File > Options and click on Mail > Compose Message > Spelling and AutoCorrect.)

After a Spell Check, the dialog box will show the readability level of the document.

6. Simple Markup View

For Word 2016.

Office documents use Track Changes to monitor changes when a team collaborates on a document. These include indicators like content edits, formatting changes, comments, and other insertions and deletions. The more authors on a document, the more will be the visual clutter. Go to Ribbon > Review > Tracking group to fine tune the changes that are monitored.

Microsoft-Office-SimpleMarkup

If you think that the document is difficult to read, switch on Simple Markup. The visual clutter will vanish, and only a red vertical near the margin will indicate that any changes have been made. Word shows a little balloon for a comment.

Simple-Markup-Indicator

Clicking the red vertical bar (it turns into a gray vertical bar) switches the document back to the All Markup View with all tracked changes visible again. Click the gray bar to toggle it again to the Simple Markup view.

7. Signature Line

For Word 2016, Excel 2016, and PowerPoint 2016

A signature line is a simple placeholder for a document you plan to send digitally or print. But it comes with one more benefit. You can include their personal information or any other instruction for the signer you may deem necessary.

Go to Ribbon > Insert > (Text group) > Signature Line.

Microsoft-Office-SignatureLine

The Signature Line can be customized from the Signature Setup box.

Microsoft-Office-SignatureLine-Setup

The signer can use their Digital IDs to sign the document by right-clicking on the placeholder and clicking Sign.

Microsoft-Office-SignatureLine-Document

If you are not using a digital signature, you can make your own signature format and save it as a building block and re-use from Quick Parts on every document.

8. Invisible Digital Signature

For Word 2016, Excel 2016, and PowerPoint 2016.

Digital signatures are not electronic signatures. They are stronger authorization tools and are encrypted to secure your documents. You can add your own invisible digital signatures in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint to protect a document.

Get a digital ID of your own. Microsoft has partnered with a few more digital signature services apart from DocuSign.

Go to the File tab > Info > Protect Document, Protect Workbook or Protect Presentation and click Add a Digital Signature.

Microsoft-Office-Digital-Signature

In the Sign dialog box, give the reason for the signature in the Purpose box and click Sign.

After you digitally sign the document, the Signatures button appears, and the file is now read-only to prevent any modifications.

This Microsoft Support article explains the method for Outlook 2016.

9. Accessibility Checker

For Word 2016, Excel 2016, and PowerPoint 2016.

Accessibility Checker helps you create cleanly readable content for people with disabilities. It is displayed as a report of issues it finds in a document, and also explains why each issue might be a problem for someone with a disability.

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For example, a picture missing alternative text will make it difficult for a screen reader and a visually challenged person. Solutions are also provided which help you create error-free documents for everyone and not only for someone with a disability.

Go to File > Info. Any accessibility issues will be displayed as a message next to the Check for Issues button.

To run and repair the issues in your file, click Check for Issues > Check Accessibility.

Microsoft-Office-Accessibility-Issues

The Accessibility Checker task pane displays potential problems and solutions on how to fix any issues in the documents.

Microsoft-Office-Accessibility-Pane

Running a document through an accessibility check often reveals errors that can make or break a professional document. For example, missing headers or formatting issues.

10. Tagged PDF Files

For Word 2016, Excel 2016, and PowerPoint 2016.

Tagged PDF is not the same as adding “tags” to organize PDF files. A Tagged PDF is an assistive feature to create more user-friendly PDF files from Microsoft Office. Tagged PDF is also important for creating reflowable documents that work in all types of displays. In the simplest of ways, “Tags” define the structure of a PDF. Think of them as maps that explain the logical relationships between the different elements in a complex PDF document. For example: lists, tables, and images.

Microsoft explains the basics of tagged PDF files:

Tagging adds a layer of information called “semantics” to a PDF document, which indicates what types of objects are included [in] a file, for example: headings, paragraphs, images and tables. When you save your file as PDF, these semantics are identified and labeled by the Office application you are using and added to the file.

Microsoft Office automatically tags the document when it gets converted to PDF, but you should be aware of the setting that controls it.

Click File > Save As and browse to a location.

Microsoft-Office-Tagged-PDF01

In the Save As dialog box, choose PDF in the Save as type list.

Click on More options. In the Save As dialog box, again choose PDF and click on the Options button. Ensure the Document structure tags for accessibility checkbox is selected and click OK.

Microsoft-Office-Tagged-PDF02

Little Known Features Are Productivity Spurs

Think of an uncommon feature you discovered from a tip. Maybe, it was a small keyboard shortcut or something stronger like encryption or password protection. Maybe, it is the ability to publish your Office documents to Docs.com.

Each new feature brought into our personal workflows not only makes us appreciate a software, but also adds a step to our learning curve.

Now it’s your turn to tell us about the one Microsoft Office feature that is almost as important as your right hand. How many of the above features from the list above were “new” to you?

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