Lyonizing Word: Secrets of the Ribbon

by Jack Lyon

From the beginning, Microsoft Word used a standard menu interface that looked like this:

Word's Original Menu Interface

Word’s Original Menu Interface

Click a menu item, and you’d get a list of more items:

Original Menu Interface Submenus

Original Menu Interface Submenus

Keep clicking, and eventually you’d activate the feature you wanted to use. All of this was straightforward. Then came Microsoft Word 2007, with its “Ribbon” interface:

The Ribbon Interface

The Ribbon Interface

According to Microsoft, the idea was to bring Word’s “most popular commands to the forefront” rather than burying them under a series of menus. For users, this took considerable getting used to, but, mostly, it worked. Unfortunately (and a little ironically), a few of the Ribbon’s features are still less than obvious, which prevents some users from understanding the full power of the features available to them.

Feature 1: Split Buttons

Most of the buttons on the Ribbon interface are just that—buttons. For example, here’s what the NoteStripper button looks like in my Microsoft Word add-in Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2014:

Notestripper Split Button

Notestripper Split Button

If you click that button, either on the pencil-sharpener icon or on the little arrow underneath it, here’s what you’ll get:

The Notestripper Menu

The Notestripper Menu

But now consider the button for FileCleaner, also included with Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2014. At first glance, it looks like the same kind of button used for NoteStripper, with a graphic icon at the top and a tiny arrow at the bottom:

The FileCleaner Button

The FileCleaner Button

Click the arrow, and here’s what you’ll get:

The FileCleaner Menu

The FileCleaner Menu

What many people don’t realize, however, is that the FileCleaner button is a split button. If you hover your cursor over a split button you’ll see a horizontal line splitting the button in two:

Seeing the Split

Seeing the Split

The bottom half, with the arrow, works just as before. But the top part is a different matter. If you click it, you’ll get full access to all of FileCleaner’s batch cleanup options:

FileCleaner Dialog

FileCleaner Dialog

Unfortunately, many people don’t realize that these options exist, which means that they’re missing much of the program’s power. This isn’t my fault, by the way; it’s a result of the way Microsoft designed the Ribbon (although possibly I should use two FileCleaner buttons, one for individual items and one for batch options). At any rate, now that you understand the problem, you can do a bit of exploring, looking for buttons that offer more than at first appears.

Feature 2: Dialog Box Launchers

At the bottom right of many of the groups on the Ribbon is a tiny box with an arrow:

The Tiny Arrow

The Tiny Arrow

Some users overlook these arrows completely, missing some of Word’s most useful features. Microsoft calls these arrows “Dialog Box Launchers,” and if you click one of them, you’ll see more options related to its particular group. Usually these options appear in a dialog box (hence the name) but sometimes in a task pane. For example, if you click the launcher in the “Paragraph” group, you’ll get the dialog box for paragraph formatting:

Launch of the Paragraph Dialog

Launch of the Paragraph Dialog

If you’re now saying “So that’s where that went,” I’m glad I could be of help. Again, it’s worth the effort to systematically explore all of the features that are hidden under these “launchers.”

Feature 3: Contextual Menus

Some of the items on the Ribbon are contextual — that is, they don’t appear until you’re actually working with something for which they’re needed. Tables provide a good example. If your document includes a table, and your cursor is actually in that table, you’ll see the following menu on the Ribbon:

Table Tools

Table Tools

Click it, and you’ll get this:

Table Contextual Menu

Table Contextual Menu

Wow, lots of options! But if you didn’t know about contextual menus, you might miss them. Other contextual menus appear if you’re working with any of the following:

  • Headers or footers
  • Text boxes
  • Graphics
  • Clip art
  • Equations
  • Shapes
  • SmartArt
  • WordArt

There are probably other items that use contextual menus, but those are the most obvious ones that come to mind. Remember, contextual menus show up only when they’re needed, so keep an eye out for them; you’ll be glad you did.

Now that you know some of the secrets of the Ribbon, would you say that Microsoft succeeded in using it to bring Word’s “most popular commands to the forefront”? Or does the Ribbon actually hide more features than it reveals? Perhaps more important, do you like the Ribbon, and if so, how do you use it to work more effectively? What do you think?

Jack Lyon (editor@editorium.com) owns and operates the Editorium, which provides macros and information to help editors and publishers do mundane tasks quickly and efficiently. He is the author of Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals, Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word, and of Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word. Both books will help you learn more about macros and how to use them.

Looking for a Deal?

You can buy Editor’s Toolkit Plus 2014 in a package with EditTools and PerfectIt and at a special savings of $78 off the price if bought individually. To purchase the package at the special deal price, click Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.

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3 Comments

  1. Jim Hart
    Posted October 19, 2015 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    Even after using it for years I still find the ribbon irritating and not intuitive. Admittedly there are way more commands than there used to be so I guess they have to go somewhere but I disagree with their claim of putting “most popular commands to the forefront”. A couple of my pet peeves:
    – The ribbon’s layout changes if you shrink the window while you look at something else. At least with the classic menu the tabs and submenus were still there and in the same order.
    – is on the Insert ribbon which seems logical so you’d expect or to be there too but no – for some reason they are with margins and paper size.on the page layout ribbon. Huh? Page layout is stuff I mostly set only when starting a document (if at all) but a section break could happen at any time.
    – Many more but those are just two that come to mind.

    • Jim Hart
      Posted October 19, 2015 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

      My second point above should read:
      – [Insert page break] is on the Insert ribbon which seems logical so you’d expect [page break] or [column break] to be there too but no – for some reason they are with margins and paper size.on the page layout ribbon. Huh? Page layout is stuff I mostly set only when starting a document (if at all) but a section break could happen at any time.

      Some words disappeared because I put them in angle brackets. Hope the square ones work better!

  2. Posted October 21, 2015 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    Agreed – I still feel more comfortable and confident when using old pre-ribbon versions of Word; I know where to find stuff there.

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