The Invisible 80% of Office – Part 2

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In part 2 of our “Invisible Office” articles, we point out another assortment of simple, yet often “invisible” features in Office.

THE INVISIBLE 80% OF OFFICE – PART 2


By Michael Barden

According to Microsoft, around 80% of the feature requests they get for Office are already currently within the applications. That’s right – the feature you might really want is hidden away or even just poorly documented, but chances are it is in there somewhere.

In the last edition of Office for Mere Mortals, we scratched the surface of the so-called “Invisible 80% of Office”. In this edition, we will point out another assortment of these simple, yet often invisible features. Some of these you may have wanted but didn’t think existed, whilst others you probably never knew existed before now but may soon find them indispensable.


QUICKLY INSERTING SAMPLE TEXT

The =rand() function is perhaps the best example of an “invisible” Word function – it is entirely undocumented in the Microsoft Office Online help file (Help | Microsoft Office Word Help). Believed by some to be an Easter egg (a secretive, harmless or “fun” bonus left in the program by a programmer), it nevertheless has a genuinely useful function that allows you to quickly insert sample text into a document to quickly test formatting techniques.

To try this function out, simply type =rand() in a Word document where you want the text to appear, and then press the “Enter” key. “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” is inserted and repeated a number of times to populate an area of sample text. For those who aren’t familiar with it, this sentence contains every letter in the English alphabet. A similar line of text is used in other language versions of Word, as we’ve talked about before in our sister newsletter, Office Watch.

In Word 2007 (at least the beta versions) the text changes to some blurb about two new features, Quick Parts and Galleries.


CHANGE THE AMOUNT OF RAND TEXT

By default, the sample text contains three paragraphs, with each paragraph containing five sentences. You can however specify how many paragraphs and sentences you want to appear by adding numbers inside the parentheses in the format =rand(2,3).

The first number is the number of paragraphs.

The second number specifies how many sentences will appear per paragraph. If you omit the second number, you will get five sentences per paragraph by default.

Typing in =rand(2,3) and pressing the “Enter” key will create two paragraphs with three “quick brown fox” sentences in each paragraph.

Typing in =rand(13) and pressing the “Enter” key will create thirteen paragraphs with five sentences in each paragraph.

The maximum number for either parameter is 200 and is said to be lower depending on the number of paragraphs and sentences specified. One of these “upper bounds” is =rand(200,99). That is, if you specify 200 paragraphs, then the maximum number of sentences per paragraph you can specify is 99.

A word of warning: Just because you CAN populate an enormous document with a simple function, doesn’t make it good idea. Using smaller numbers like =rand(20,10) should give you a sufficient amount of text to work with, without making your document enormous and unwieldy.


WHY WOULD YOU USE THIS?

It seems like just a little trick with no useful purpose but =rand() has it’s moments in the real world.

Use it to fill a page when you’re designing a template and want to see how it would look with text in the appropriate places. Some templates need different headers and footers past the first page – =rand() can give you some placeholder text to work with before finalizing the template.

If you’re trying to work out text wrapping around an object (eg picture or text box) then =rand() will give you some working text to play with.

It is also great for testing many of the formatting techniques we recommend each week in our Office for Mere Mortals articles.

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RAND IN OTHER OFFICE PROGRAMS

While we have been describing the =rand() function in Word, keep in mind that it also works in both PowerPoint and Outlook (when using Word as your email editor), and can be useful for many of the same reasons.

In a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet on the other hand, it has a seemingly more “legitimate” purpose (in keeping with your traditional Excel formulae). Typing =rand() into a cell will give you a randomly generated number between 0 and 1 (non-inclusive) with up to 9 numbers after the decimal place, like 0.057615179 or 0.97800482.

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CHANGING CASE

Changing the case formatting of a selection of text is a comparatively well-documented function. Navigating to “Format | Change Case” will bring up a dialog box of options that allow you to change the case formatting of a selection to: “Sentence case”, “lowercase”, “UPPERCASE”, “Title Case”, and “tOGGLE cASE”.

Did you also know about the SHIFT-F3 key combination that lets you toggle between the “Sentence case”, “lowercase” and “UPPERCASE” settings for a currently selected piece of text? Some people feel they have to SHOUT when communicating ideas through email or Instant Messaging programs, while others prefer to ignore the rule of placing a capital letter at the beginning of each sentence.

Should you need to include text from people like these in a document of your own (either as a quote or paraphrase) the SHIFT-F3 key combination becomes a quick way to turn their text into a more legible and acceptable format.

In Word 2007 the Change Case feature finally gets a place on the main toolbar (sorry, ribbon). In the Home ribbon, Font chunk there’s a button with three A’s of different sizes, click on that button to see a selection of the Change Case options. Strangely this button doesn’t use the Live Preview feature (at least not in Beta 2) which shows the formatting change directly in the document as you hover over some choices (like font or size selection).


CAPSLOCK WOES

Ever left the “Caps Lock” key on by mistake when copying a hand-written report into a Word document? For people who touch-type, this can be a very real frustration. To fix it, open up the “Change Case” dialog and select the “tOGGLE cASE” option. Each character’s case will be reversed, giving the intended case pattern of text including capital letters for sentence beginnings and proper-nouns.

In Word 2003 there are two AutoCorrect options which can help you. Under Tools | AutoCorrect Options | AutoCorrect there are some useful choices:

Correct TWo INitial CApitals

and

Correct accidental usage of cAPS LOCK key


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