Understanding and Using the Microsoft Word Ribbon

October 6, 2010, By Christian Cawley

Microsoft Office 2010 features a new version of the ribbon menu first seen in Office 2007. If you’re new to either of these versions – for instance you might be upgrading from Office 2000, 2003 or XP – then the ribbon menu might come as something of a culture shock.

Don’t worry, however – all of the familiar tools are still there. They’re simply organised in a different way.

Microsoft envisaged the ribbon as representing a sort of “process flow” of functions and formatting controls. Due to the vast number of menus and icons available in earlier versions of applications such as Microsoft Word, the designers opted to organise these tools so that they could be found as quickly as possible.

Microsoft Word Ribbon Tabs

The first thing anyone will notice about the Microsoft Word ribbon in Office 2010 is the File tab – this replaces the Office button from the 2007 release, and is shaded blue, so you can’t really miss it.

Clicking the File tab takes you to a whole new screen where you can use the standard Save/Open/Print controls, as well as access Word options for altering default save location, file type (if you don’t wish to use the default .docx format) and much more.

Following this is the Home tab – here you will see the document window with a selection of formatting options. Whereas in previous versions of Word tools and menus sorted themselves based on frequency of use, in Microsoft Word 2010 the functions are organised based on how often they are used overall. An example might be the placement of the Font controls (for type face, font size, style and colour) which is quite dominant on the left side of the menu. Microsoft expect this to be used much more regularly than, say, the Editing section which includes the Find/Replace tool.

Page Breaks vs Symbols

Similarly, research performed by the designers of the application lead them to conclude that the Page Break function is likely to be used more often than the insertion of Symbols. If you view the Insert tab, you will see a few formatting options as well as tools for inserting images, tables and even screenshots of other open applications.

More formatting options can be found in the Page Layout tab, where Themes and Page Setup options like margins take precedence over Paragraph and Align controls.

It isn’t just the controls on the tabbed ribbon that are organised according to expected use either – the tabs themselves are organised in this way.

References, Mailings and Review

Many users can go years without employing any of the tools on the References tab – this is a particularly useful set of tools intended for anyone writing large documents such as university assignments or corporate projects.

The Mailings tab represents the single biggest change in functionality to Microsoft Word 2010 – here the Microsoft Word ribbon is dedicated to the task of creating a Mail Merge, with each of the steps required for a successful merge split across the sections Create, Start Mail Merge, Write & Insert Fields, Preview Results and Finish.

Meanwhile the Review tab features the commonly used Spelling & Grammar tools on the left in the Proofing section with the less often accessed Protect functions on the right.

Microsoft Word Ribbon View Options

Using the View tab you can access various Document Views – I regularly use the Print Layout, for instance – and in the Window tab you can arrange various open documents on your Windows desktop.

On the right-side of the ribbon menu, next to the ‘?’ Help button, you will see a small chevron. This is used to minimize the Microsoft Word ribbon, a useful option if you find it unattractive or obtrusive. The various tools can still be used by clicking the appropriate tab – this will make the ribbon reappear, but only until you click back into your document.

Whatever you think about the Microsoft Word ribbon, it has been designed to allow you to maximise your productivity and not spend time searching for the right menu item or formatting tool.

If you find yourself stuck using Word 2010, don’t forget to try the built-in Help function!

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