Three secrets in MSWord that will supercharge your productivity

So Inger, Shaun and I have just finished another book. This one is called Level Up your Essays for undergraduate writers, and is off to NewSouth publishers. We love it, and we loved writing it.

I did the final copyedit, as I always do, and I shared some of my hacks with Twitter. It turns out there are a lot of secret power tools in MS Word that people don’t know about, and they can supercharge your productivity.

In this post, I’m just going to talk about three tools that I use the most for editing: Read Aloud; Advanced Search and Replace; and the Navigation Pane. They have saved my bacon so many times, and hopefully sharing them means they will help you too!


Read Aloud

Screen Shot 2020-02-26 at 3.58.59 pm

In the Review pane of MS Word, there is a button with a big A emitting wifi-waves. For reasons I don’t understand, I can never find it via the Help tool, but if you click through, you’ll find it. Click on the button, and the computer will start to read your work out loud to you. 

I cannot tell you how much I love this tool. By the end of the book, I had already edited the whole thing multiple times. I was cross-eyed, exhausted, and bored. It was almost impossible for me to sit down and read it carefully, word for word, one last time. But I could listen to it word for word.

Reading words aloud means you will catch missing words, repeated small words, wrong words. I also catch missing commas and full stops, and sentences that are so long they don’t make sense any more.

Most people are more fluent at speaking and listening than they are at reading and writing, so regardless of whether English is a second language for you, or if you are a native English speaker who works out if the grammar is correct by whether it ‘sounds right’, you will find this tool helps polish your work.

ADDED: You might not like the default voice, but there are lots of different options. On a Mac, go to System Preferences, Accessibility, Speech. System voice, Customise. There are lots of options: for example, UK or US accents in both male and female, as well as the Australian English option I use, and lots of other languages. Make sure your language is set to ‘Australian English’ for spellchecking reasons to be certain you get the Australian voice, or whatever language setting is right for you!)


Advanced Find and Replace. 

Make sure you have gone to the View tab and ticked the Navigation Pane box first. Both of the next two tools use the pane, it’s surprisingly nifty.

Screen Shot 2020-02-26 at 4.07.45 pm

Once there, you want to go to the search icon (it looks like a cute little magnifying glass) to get the search pane. But there are TWO further layers of searching magic below that! 

If you click the gear wheel under the search bar, you will get a menu that offers you Advanced Find and Replace… but then you have to click the downward ‘v’ arrow to unlock the REAL GOLD. This is where you get the chance to search out all the weird stuff, like when your style guide demands en-dashes and you have to replace all the em-dashes… or if you decide to change all your Garamond 10 pt captions to Arial 12 pt (use the Format drop down for that).

Three people finishing a book have a lot of different quirks in their writing. We do slightly different things with punctuation, formatting, spelling and much more. Advance Find and Replace means I can go through and find every single time someone used a non-breaking space (which often happens if you copy stuff from the internet), and replace it… taking me six seconds not four hours.

Screen Shot 2020-02-26 at 4.17.05 pm


Navigation Pane

Finally, let me talk about the Navigation Pane. Instead of clicking on the magnifying glass tab of the search bar, you want to click on the thing that looks like bullet points.

Screen Shot 2020-02-26 at 3.58.59 pm

If you have used Headings styles in a logical way, then all your headings and subheadings will turn up in this view. 

Having a copy of the table of contents always in view is a massive help when you are putting a book together for the final time. You can’t just focus on the small sections, you also need to check if your signposting works back to the bigger picture.

You can click on any heading, and go straight there too. When I was checking that all our ‘In summary’ sections at the end of each chapter were consistent, I loved being able to jump straight to the relevant part of the document, rather than scrolling endlessly through hundreds of pages of book.

The navigation pane also acts as a high level ‘Reverse Outline‘. We were rearranging the structure of the book right up until the final week, so Inger and I had a telephone call where I used the Navigation Pane to see all the different sections and think about where we should move them. (Inger’s computer was dead, so being able to quickly read the headings over the phone to her was a life saver.) If I had been working on a PC, I could have used the Navigation Pane to drag and drop the sections to their new homes too. I cannot wait for this to be a feature for Macs.


I love these tools for helping me provide the most polished work possible to our publishers. A clean manuscript allows the next stages of the process to go a lot faster, and shows you understand and value the work of the editorial staff.

But I also love these tools because, at the end of a project like this, my usual practice of just reading over things one more time… simply doesn’t work. My eyes are too tired, and I’m too familiar with the work, to catch big or small errors anymore. I can read over a sentence four times, and still not see what’s wrong with it, but I can hear what’s wrong… or the computer can find the error for me.

Computers don’t get tired. For about eight hours, ‘Karen’ the cheerful Australian voice in my computer, bravely ploughed through reading every word in our book. She waited patiently as I interrupted her to edit sentences. She started back up again, every time I asked. The Find tool amazingly caught rogue ‘-ize’ forms, and every time we used ‘tutor’ instead of ‘lecturer’. The Navigation Pane never forgot what order the chapters were in, and took me straight to the section I wanted.

If you are reading through your work one last time… get the computer to help you. I hope it helps you as much as it helped me.


Succeeding in a Research Higher Degree

Doing a Research Higher Degree (like a PhD) is hard, but lots of people have succeeded and you can too. It’s easier if you understand how it works, this blog gives you the insider view.


Related Posts

On rejecting feedback

You might worry that examiners and reviewers will outright reject your work if you don’t accept every single piece of feedback, but I can tell you from experience, that is not true. I first had to learn how to reject feedback for my PhD examination, and have used the same skills to deal with journal articles, monographs and how-to books. It’s not IF you accept the feedback, it’s HOW you reject it that will matter in deciding whether the final piece is acceptable.

Read More

Get the latest blog posts