Use Microsoft Office Effectively: Choose the Best Tools for the Task

When you think of documents, do you automatically think of Microsoft Word? Word is certainly the best home for most documents that are predominantly text—usually regardless of the complexity of the layout or graphic elements you might need to include. But do you consider all of your options when you prepare to create a document? More and more, features are available across multiple programs (like new and improved picture editing tools that you’ll find in Word, PowerPoint, and Excel on both platforms).

And you’ll often benefit by using multiple programs together for the same document. But when it comes to determining where a document should live, consider not just whether you can accomplish the task, but also what will be the best tool for the task. Sure, you can do some calculations in Word, create text-heavy documents in PowerPoint, or draw diagrams in Excel, but despite their areas of overlap, each program still has its own forte. For all the ways that Microsoft Office changes from one version to the next, one key concept (and much of the functionality that supports it) remains very much the same: when you let the programs do what they do best, you will always do the least amount of work for the best results.

Word: The Organizer
A place for everything and everything in its place. This 19th-century maxim is truer for 21stcentury Word than perhaps anything to come before it. Word “likes” things to be as simple and organized as possible. In fact, if you do more work than necessary, Word just might rebel.
To “get along” with Word and keep your documents easy to manage, always use the simplest option for any task. For example, don’t use a table when a paragraph indent will do; likewise, don’t use a floating object or add a new section when a table will do.

PowerPoint: The Efficiency Expert
If you think of PowerPoint as a graphic design program, you probably don’t like it very much. Though you can surely get creative with PowerPoint, it’s not about graphic design at all. PowerPoint is a presentation program—it’s about precision, efficiency, and displaying your important information professionally. In fact, with PowerPoint, getting things perfect is always faster and easier than getting them “close enough.”
For example, use the Change Shape feature to change all the shapes in your diagram at once. No resizing, reformatting, or retyping needed. And what about the drawing guides? If the smart guides (dynamic guides) don’t get you where you need to be as you place objects, the Align and Distribute tools can help you position objects perfectly with a few precise clicks. And, when those tools won’t do what you need, use drawing guides to align with no trial and error, to measure distance, or to help lay out a slide.

Excel: The Logician
Whenever I’ve said that Excel can’t do something, I’ve been wrong. You don’t have to be a mathematician or an engineer to get more from Excel than you probably expect. Personally, I wouldn’t know what to do with an inverse hyperbolic cosine if it walked up to me and gave me a hug. But I have found functions, formulas, and assorted features that have saved me more times than I could possibly calculate. For example, here’s one of my favorite timesaving, troubleshooting miracles.
If a complex chart with hundreds of rows of data (such as a price/volume chart) gets disconnected from its data source, there’s no way to reconstruct that data from the chart itself, right? Wrong. If the chart displays the data, the chart still knows the data. A simple macro will extract that data in no time. In fact, it’s so commonly used that a macro is available with step-by-step instructions in a Microsoft Knowledge Base article—no programming experience required. That said, you don’t even need a macro for so much of what you can do with Excel. From conditional statements to concatenation to interpolation, features that might sound complicated are surprisingly quick and easy to use.

The most important advance in Office 2010 or Office 2011 is not the cloud capabilities, the interface, or any individual feature, but rather the way in which features and programs integrate more effectively.

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