In an effort to pretend that new versions of MS Word are improvements, Microsoft continues to foist meaningless, annoying changes on their users. In the version of Word 2010 installed on my new laptop, for instance, Control-F no longer brings up the Find box. Instead, it opens a “Navigation” pane. To a writer or copyeditor who has used Control-F hundreds of times a day for decades, it doesn’t really matter whether this is a genuine improvement or not: we hate it. (Fortunately, it’s not difficult to reassign Control-F to the Find function, once you figure out that the mischief-loving folks at Word have also renamed the Find function EditFind.)
A drawback of my new laptop that I can’t blame on Microsoft is that it lacks a numeric keypad, so it’s impossible to type an en dash or em dash in Word in the way I’m used to. I know there are other ways. I know that typing two hyphens will automate the creation of an em dash, for instance. But I work on a full-size keyboard at the office, and I want my home keyboard to behave the same way. I want to type Control-hyphen for an en dash and Control-Alt-hyphen for an em dash. Anything else will slow me down.
Enter the macro! In just a few easy steps, I can teach Word to do these things using a fun but powerful feature that lets nontechies combine a series of steps into a single command without knowing a Ø from a 1. If you’ve never used the macro-recording tool in Word, this simple exercise will introduce you to your new favorite plaything:
Here’s how to make an en dash appear every time you type Control-hyphen:
- In a Word document click on Record Macro on the Developer ribbon.*
- Type a name for your macro (without spaces: EnDash).
- Since we’re going to create a keyboard command for our dash, click on Keyboard.**
- In the new box, put your cursor under Press New Shortcut Key and hit Control-hyphen.***
- Assign and Close.
- In the Insert menu, choose Symbol, then More Symbols.
- Under the Symbols tab (normal text) choose the General Punctuation subset.
- Click on the en dash, then Insert and Close
- Stop Recording.
Done! Now whenever you type Control-hyphen, an en dash will appear. If you mess up in the middle of making a macro, simply stop recording. Delete the name of the macro you messed up by clicking on the Macros icon in the Developer tab, which will take you to your list.
Now that you’ve made one macro, I just know you’re going to turn into a macro-making maniac. Macros are great for automating cleanup routines. You can put as many search-and-replacements as you like into a single recording, such as clearing out double spaces and extra hard returns or adding html tags around searchable formats. Just keep recording until you’re done. From then on, you can accomplish the same series of moves with a single command.
A word of caution: any kind of automated editing has the potential to seriously ruin your day. After you run a macro, you can use Word’s Undo command to undo it step by step in reverse order, but it’s a good idea to test your macro before using it on anything important.
*If you don’t see the Developer tab, in Word 2007 go to Options > Popular > Top Options > Show Developer Tab; In Word 2010 go to Options > Customize Ribbon > Customize the Ribbon (again) > Developer checkbox.
**Creating a keyboard command is optional. If you prefer, every time you need the macro you can go to the Macros list and click on it and then click Run. Or you can choose the Button option, which will create an icon for that macro in the Quick Access Toolbar. Those choices may be fine for a task you perform only occasionally, but not for typing en dashes.
***You might prefer to choose the hyphen on your keypad, since Control-Hyphen on the main keyboard is already assigned to creating an optional space. If you never need to type an optional space, it doesn't matter which you choose.