This week’s Roundup of the reading file is an embarrassment of riches from the usual suspects: TechRepublic’s take on the most important Microsoft Word skills, how to put time values into Microsoft Excel, Vivian Manning tackles Microsoft Word’s mail merge feature, making it easier to switch between Word documents, and how to share your Microsoft Outlook calendar. Click the “Read More” link for the details. Keep reading →
Because I’m always trying to make sure I’m posting tutorials that help as many readers as possible, I regularly check out the statistics on what current posts are getting the most eyeballs (so I can do “more like that“). Sometimes, the stats surprise me.
But it is. And don’t get me wrong: I’m glad it’s helping so many people, especially considering how much work went into it.
In fact, at the time I originally posted it six months ago, I had done a video tutorial to go with the illustrations and text. Unfortunately, I was still scaling the learning curve on my newly-purchased screencasting software, and since I couldn’t figure out how to get rid of the irritating background whine in the the audio portion of the video, I set the video aside and published the post without it.
Now, I’ve gone back and fixed the original video showing the 5 steps to formatting a large Excel spreadsheet for printing, and I’ve added it to the post. So if printing in Excel is a mystery to you, click here to check out the post and the new companion video. (There’s even a downloadable transcript of the video in case the narration’s not 100% clear — I had to talk a little faster than normal in some spots when re-recording the narration!)
The editors at Attorney at Work reached out to me for some quick tech tips for their blog this week, and I was happy to oblige. Ranging across the most popular Microsoft Office suite applications, this guest post will show you how to:
Set up your Status Bar to maximize its usefulness in every Microsoft Office application
Improve the full-justification of text in Microsoft Word
Make sure your Microsoft Excel sheets auto-calculate
Start your Microsoft Outlook each day in the folder of your choice: Inbox, Calendar, Tasks, or even the Outlook Today overview
If you’ve ever been presented with an Excel spreadsheet with a gosh-awful number of rows and/or columns in it and assigned the task of making sense of all those numbers (grouping, summarizing, or making other calculations), you need to learn about Pivot Tables.
Okay, people, I hear yawning out there! Seriously, this is a good skill to have in your back pocket, even if you only work with Excel occasionally, because it saves so much time. So to motivate you properly, here’s a fun little YouTube introduction to the whys behind Pivot Tables:
Basically, a Pivot Table is a way to summarize columns and rows in a meaningful way. Instead of your having to manipulate rows and rows of data by hand (which, depending on the size of the spreadsheet, could take hours), you can select the data to be summarized, go to the Insert tab, click Pivot Table, and tell Excel how you want those rows summarized.
For example, say your client is involved in an employment discrimination suit. The employer has produced a very large spreadsheet showing all the time entries recorded, including this information:
Description of work performed
If you’re being asked to figure out how many hours timekeeper CAL (the plaintiff) clocked in Word Code 01 during the month of June, you don’t want to have to manually add those hours. Sure, you could sort the rows and put in a summary row, but even that’s not necessary with Pivot Tables.
A pivot table allows you to take a spreadsheet that looks like this (times several hundred or thousand rows);
And turn it into a summary table that looks like this:
And it just takes a few mouse clicks. Let Excel do all the work for you!
Here’s a video demonstration:
[To view this full-screen, click the button in the lower right-hand corner]
My friend Karen has issues. No, I’m not talking about those kinds of issues. She’s got issues with Microsoft Excel.
Every time her boss gives her one of those monster Microsoft Excel spreadsheets (the kind that span 10 pages across and have 20,000 rows of data) and says, “Print this,” she panics. And then she comes to my desk and begs me to print it for her.
I can’t say I blame her. Unless you’ve worked with Microsoft Excel a fair bit, the prospect of formatting something that large for printing is pretty daunting. (I always felt the same way about Lotus 1-2-3 for DOS back in its heyday. Yes, I am that old.)
I promised her I’d break this process down for her so, in case I’m on vacation one day when she really, really needs something printed now, she’ll know how to do it herself.
Recently, a fellow reader, Jessica from Miami, asked if I would help her figure out a way to create an event timeline in a format her boss is partial to:
She had tried to find templates online, but nothing really seemed geared to a legal context.
I tried creating a solution in Word, but it was less than satisfactory. So, given that Jessica was pretty comfortable with Excel, I developed a template for her there.
Changing the orientation of text within cells (vertical, horizontal, or diagonal, as in the example above) is actually pretty easy — here, I’ll show you:
(To view in full-screen mode, click the button in the lower right-hand corner.)
There’s other formatting done here too — the cells are wrapped (the Wrap Text checkbox above), I shifted the vertical alignment to Bottom, and in some cases, to get the middle cell to look more “centered,” I added a hard return before the text (with ALT-ENTER). There’s a fair bit of eyeballing that has to be done to get it to look right, and it’s all a judgment call according to your personal preference.
What uses could you find for this trick? Let me know in the comments below.
(P.S.: Jessica seemed to be pretty happy with her new template last I heard!)
If you use Microsoft Excel to organize data (say, a list of documents being produced), you may have run across The Cell That’s Too Small For Its Data. You know, you’ve got a bunch of stuff typed into a cell (not because you’re rambling, but because you need all that information, dang it), and it just breaks out of the borders of the cell and keeps on going:
And if that’s not annoying enough, if you have to type something into the cell to the right, then you’ve just cut off the last part of that other cell:
What you want to be able to do is have the information in the first cell wrap so it appears on multiple lines within that cell. Right?
Here are a couple of different tricks to try:
Wrap text. If it really doesn’t matter where the line wraps (as long as everything stays within the same cell), then the thing to do is format the cell so that the text wraps automatically. Although the different versions of Excel (from 2002 through 2013) have various buttons and commands to do this, the one foolproof method that works in all versions is this:
Right-click your mouse inside the cell.
You’ll see a menu that looks like this:
Once you have the Format Cells dialog box open, go to the Alignment tab and check the “Wrap Text” box:
The text in that cell will now wrap automatically.
In the Ribbon-based versions of Word, this is a one-click operation. Just go to the Home tab and click on Wrap Text:
Good news: You can apply this formatting to more than one cell at a time. You can select multiple cells by holding down the CNTRL key while clicking on them, select entire columns or rows by clicking on their headers (the “A, B, C” on top of columns or the “1, 2, 3” to the left of rows), or even select the entire spreadsheet by clicking on the upper-left-hand corner (where the A and 1 meet). Once you’ve selected all your cells, then just follow the steps above.
Inserting a line break within a cell. But what if you want to control exactly where the line breaks (say, you want an address to appear like this):
Even easier! After you type each line, just press ALT-ENTER on your keyboard to insert a hard return.
Controlling vertical alignment. By default, data in cells is aligned at the bottom. This can create some readability problems if some of your cells have multiple lines:
If you have a particular preference as to whether all the data across the row lines up at the top, the bottom, or in the center, select all the cells you want to re-align, then right-click to get the menu (as we saw above), choose Format Cells, and go back to the Alignment tab.
See that drop-down menu that says “Vertical” (above)? That allows you to change the vertical alignment within the cells you have selected. If you want everything to line up across the top, then choose “Top.” If you want everything centered, choose “Center.” You get the idea, right?
What cell alignment issues do you run into in Microsoft Excel? Let me know in the comments below.
Update: Copying cells that have hard returns
Down in the comments, there’s a bit of a controversy about whether you can successfully copy a cell into which you’ve embedded hard returns to another cell. Here’s a quick guide to both “how to” and “how NOT to”: