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Posts from the ‘Word Processing’ Category

Leading Zeros

Have you ever tried to enter a number that begins with zero in an Excel spreadsheet? It seems impossible; the leading zero always disappears.
Perhaps this does not matter. But if you are entering a zip code, a social security number, or a four-digit phone number — or you just need a consistent number of digits — the leading zero is crucial.
Here’s how you get the zero to stay:
  • Highlight the cells, rows, columns, or areas that need leading zeros (the cells can be blank or already have your numbers in them)
  • Right-click on the area (control-click on a Mac)
  • Click “Format Cells”
    • For zip codes, phone numbers, or social security numbers, click “Special” and choose the appropriate format.
    • For all other instances, choose “Custom.” Click the “0” (the second option in the list) and, in the cell labeled “type,” enter one zero for each digit you want in your cell: for a four digit number to appear in your cell, type “0000.”
  • Click “OK.”
Note that if you just put a zero in a cell by itself, it will stay there. But, if you put any other number in the cell after it, the zero will disappear unless you change the format to include the leading zeros.
I hope this saves you some frustration!

Shift Into Control

Here’s a weird thing that almost cost one of my clients a lot of work.

She had just started typing Chapter 5 of her latest novel and looked up from her keyboard to find that the only thing on her screen was the last sentence she had typed. Chapters 1 through 4 had disappeared.

If my assessment of what happened is what actually happened, this could easily happen to any of us.

I believe that the last sentence she typed started with a capital “A.” Instead of pressing the “Shift” key and then the letter “A,” she inadvertently pressed the “Control” (Ctrl) key — which is right below the Shift” key on Windows keyboards  — and the letter “A.” Rather than getting a capital A, she selected all the text in the document; “Control” plus the letter “A” is the keyboard shortcut for “Select All.”

If she did select all the text, whatever she typed next replaced everything that was selected. In this case, her whole document!

Fortunately, this is reversible if you recognize what happened right away. Click  “Undo” to undo the last action and keep clicking “Undo” until you walk back your steps to the step before you selected all of your text. Then re-type the sentence you meant to type, starting with a real capital “A.”

Unfortunately, my client didn’t know to do this. She panicked at the thought of having lost her work and thought if she closed the document and re-opened it, the previous version would re-appear. And it would have, if she had clicked “No” when asked if she wanted to save the changes. But she clicked “Yes” — telling the computer to save the most recent actions — and the first four chapters were gone.

Fortunately, she had dutifully backed up her file and was able to find the latest backed-up version and add back the newest changes. Phew!

I never realized how the proximity of the “Shift” and “Control” keys could so easily cause such a drastic consequence. I guess you need to keep one eye on the keyboard and one eye on the screen at all times. Good luck with that!


“Default” Defined

I wrote this a few years ago but still find that many remain uneasy about the word “default.” 

A “default” sounds like a bad thing. And for good reason. Many of its definitions are about failure:

  • Failure to act; inaction or neglect.
  • Failure to meet financial obligations. 
  • Law. Failure to perform an act or obligation legally required, especially to appear in court or to plead at a time assigned. 
  • Sports. Failure to arrive in time for, participate in, or complete a scheduled match. 

But the computing definition of “default” isn’t about failure at all:

  • The preset selection of an option offered by a system, which will always be followed except when explicitly altered 
  • (as modifier) : Default setting


The default settings in your computer are the settings that the computer programmers decided are your most typical choices. If you don’t like those choices, you can create new default settings.
For example:

  • On your printer, the “default” settings are the ones most of your documents require: “one copy, 8.5″ x 11″ paper, portrait orientation, and single sided.”
  • New Word documents, are set to an easy-to-read font (usually Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman) and to a readable size (11pt or 12pt). The “default” color is black.
  • The “default” setting for the clock is the 12-hour format (AM and PM). If you prefer 24-hour military time, you can change the setting.
  • Your computer’s Task Bar (Windows) or Dock (Mac) is positioned by “default” along the bottom of your screen. If you prefer it along either side instead, you can change the setting.

Now when you hear the term “default” in reference to your computer, you will not think you have failed it. For once, it is not “de-fault” of the user. How refreshing!


Reset to 100%

Did you ever look at your computer screen and see that the text is suddenly really really large or really really small? Surprise!

If the text is too large, you can read the words but you can see very few of them. You may even need to scroll sideways (egad!) to read a sentence. If the text is too small, you can see a lot of words on the screen, but reading them is almost impossible.

Neither size is practical.

Here’s how get your screen back to a more user-friendly magnification:

  • Windows computers: hold down the Control (Ctrl) key while you press the Zero key.
  • Mac computers: hold down the Command key while you press the Zero key.

This easy keyboard shortcut will bring your screen back to 100% magnification.

If you want the text larger than 100%, hold down the Control/Command key while you press the plus sign (“+”). Each time you press the plus key, the magnification increases 10%.

If you want the text smaller than 100%, hold down the Control/Command key while you press the minus sign (“-“). Each time you press the minus key, the magnification decreases 10%.

Try it. See what it does.

Open Recent

One of the most convenient features of software programs like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint is the “Open Recent” feature. Once you create and save a file, you can open it later by finding it under “File” and “Open Recent.”

Unless … you moved the file since you last opened it.

If you try to open a file from “Open Recent” and you get a scary-looking error message saying the file is “inaccessible,” don’t panic.

Your computer is trying to find the document in its old location and it is stumped because the file no longer lives there.

Here’s what to do:

  • Open the program in which you created the file (Word, Excel, etc.).
  • Click “File” and “Open.” Your computer’s directory will open.
  • Click your way to the file in its new location. Open it.
  • Now the new location is stored in your “Open Recent” list and you can open it later from there.

Unless you move it again.

Hidden Ribbon

The Microsoft Office programs (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) feature a toolbar of “tabs” and “ribbons” across the top of the screen. In each ribbon you’ll find the tools you need to format your document. If the ribbon — with all of its tools — disappears, you might panic.

The disappearing ribbon is not an anomaly; Microsoft includes the option to hide the ribbon to free up screen space. Nice if you want it hidden; scary if you hide it by mistake and can’t get it back.

Here’s the secret:

On a Windows computer: double-click on any tab to hide the ribbon and double-click on any tab to reveal it. (If you only single click on a tab when the ribbon is hidden, the ribbon will appear for one command but disappear again when you resume typing).

On a Mac Computer: click once on the open tab to hide the ribbon and click once on any tab to reveal it.

It’s easy to hide the ribbon (even if by mistake); thank goodness it’s just as easy to get it back. Once you know how.

Special Characters

Someday you will need to include a “special character” in a document. The Registered symbol (®), the Trademark symbol (™), the degree symbol (º), the checkmark symbol (✓), and math symbols are a few of the hundreds of characters available.

Do you know how to find them?3809fffd-5dad-4f55-a94b-82307e17fcfa

On a Mac
Click “Edit” on the Menu bar at the top of the screen and click “Emoji and Symbols” (or “Special Characters” on older Macs). Once you locate the symbol you want, double click on it to insert it into your text.

On Windows 7, 8, or 10
Type “character map” into the control panel’s search box and click “character map” from the search results. Click on the desired character, click “select,” and then click “copy.” Go to your document, place the cursor where you want the character, right-click, and then click “paste.”

On an iPad
Some special characters are “under” keys on your regular keyboard; just tap and hold down a key to find them. A full set of special characters is located on the “Emoji” keyboard, which you need to add to your keypad. Go to Settings > General > Keyboard > Add Keyboard > Emoji. Once it’s added, you will find it under the “globe” symbol on your keypad (to the left of the space bar).

Note: when working in Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint), you can insert special characters from within the program itself: Insert > Symbols.

If you want to learn more about Special Characters — including the keyboard shortcuts for the more popular ones — type “special characters” and your operating system or device into your favorite search engine. You’ll learn all you need to know … and more!

Writing A Book?

I work with a number of people who are writing: murder mysteries, biographies, autobiographies, how-to books, magazine articles. I’m in awe; manuscripts are everywhere!

Perhaps you are writing (well, typing) too.

My suggestion: concentrate on typing (including correct spelling and punctuation!), not formatting.
I have seen writers preoccupied with tweaking fonts and type sizes, adjusting margins, contemplating left vs full justification, and bolding and un-bolding chapter headings. The fact is that the choices you make may not matter; they may not be up to you.

What does matter is who might be printing your manuscript when it’s finished. If you have a publisher, have contracted with a company to print your work, or are uploading your book to Amazon for sale as an eBook, check with them. They will tell you how to format your document, and then they will apply their standards to it.

Unless you are printing your book out of your printer — in which case you will need to make formatting decisions — focus on the content.

There are plenty of people who can format your work, many fewer who can write it.

Use Your Desktop

Icons on your computer’s desktop are shortcuts to programs, files, and folders stored in your computer. Are you using yours efficiently?

To make the best use of your desktop, place icons there for

  1. Long-term use: programs, files, and folders that you use often
  2. Short-term use: programs, files, and folders that take you to a current project (when the project is over, you can remove the icon from the desktop)
  3. Temporary use: a “holding space” for organizing files and folders. Let me explain …

When you organize files and folders, you might create a new folder and then try to drag existing files into it. However, if you can’t see those files and the new folder at the same time, dragging and dropping is difficult.

Rather, create the new folder on your desktop, drag your files into it, and then drag the whole new folder where you want to store it.

To create a new folder on your desktop:

  • Place your cursor on your desktop and right-click (control-click on a Mac)
  • Click on “new” and then “folder” (or “new folder” on a Mac)
  • Name the new folder
  • Press the “return” (or “enter”) key

Use your desktop wisely!

The Best Book?

I am often asked to recommend books for learning how to use computers, smartphones, software programs, and for navigating social media.

I wish I had a specific recommendation. The fact is that when I want to learn a computer-related skill — from a simple question to a new operating system — I don’t look it up in a book, I look it up on the internet.

Helpful books do exist — and I encourage you to find one that works for you if that is how you best learn.

But before you invest in a book, try to find the answer(s) on the internet.

 Here are some helpful tips:

  • Start your search by typing the name of the program and, if applicable, the version of your program: type “Word 2010” and then your inquiry. Without the program and version, your search results might not apply to you.
  • Answers can come in the form of text, screen shots (pictures of screens), or even videos. Some videos can be extremely helpful, others .. not so much.
  • If you find the perfect set of instructions, print them so you can follow them on paper while you follow them on the screen.
  • Create a folder on your Bookmark (or Favorites) list to save your computer help pages for future reference.
  • If you click on a link and a “chat” screen pops into your computer asking if you want free help, move on. It might not turn out to be free after all. And never let anyone assume control of your screen, even just to demonstrate something.

In addition to free search results, professionally presented and comprehensive subscription-based video tutorial programs are available. These plans are best of you need to learn one program in depth or if you are curious about, well, everything!

Happy learning!

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