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Word Macros: Getting Little Things Done with Scary Speed

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With a few simple steps, you can set up Word macros. Once a macro is in place, you can change formatting, resize photos, insert AutoText and timestamps, each with about a one-second time investment. Macros are surprisingly easy to create, save tons of time in any complex formatting job, and really impress your non-technical friends.
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Twelve years ago, a colleague of mine looked over my shoulder while I was formatting a document and said, "Why don't you write macros so that you can do that faster?"

"Because I don't know how," I told her.

"It's easy," she said. "I'll show you."

Her 10-minute demonstration has saved me many an hour over the years. I'd like to do the same for you.

What Are Macros?

A macro is a set of instructions rolled together and triggered by a keyboard shortcut or toolbar button. In other words, macros let you enter one instruction to execute a series of steps. Microsoft Word 2003 includes several built-in macros that may help you with all sorts of operations. In Word and other Microsoft Office products, macros are written in Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). But you don't have to be able to program in VBA to create a macro in Word. Instead, all you have to do is record a series of steps while you execute them, and Word will write the VBA code for you. Then you can replay the macro whenever you need that series of steps.

Setting up this recording process for your macros is simple, but you do need to specify a few things up front: a name for the macro, whether you want it to appear in all your documents or only some templates, and whether the macro itself will be triggered by a keyboard shortcut (like Word's automatic Ctrl+B that makes text bold) or by a button on the toolbar.

  • Keyboard macros are used most frequently for repetitive operations such as applying styles in your document, which is why I'll show you how to do just that in a bit. We're so used to whipping a cursor across the computer screen by means of a mouse that we sometimes depend on it more than we should. As useful as the device is for highlighting, selecting, and grabbing things onscreen, when you're formatting documents, the less you use the mouse, the better. Taking your hands off the keyboard to operate the mouse actually slows you down.

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    Recording a keyboard macro for formatting not only can shave off the time it takes to move your hand from the keyboard, put it on the mouse, and search a list with the cursor, but it's a bit safer to use the keyboard to apply your style choice. In any job where repetitive stress injury is a concern, keyboard macros are a good idea.

  • Do you ever wish you had a button on your toolbar that would do some common chore for you? Suppose your nonprofit organization formerly received funding from one set of grants but is this year receiving them from a different set. With macros, you could create a toolbar button that, when clicked, would replace the old with the new in any documents you needed to update. I use such toolbar macros only for the sorts of things I do only occasionally in a document—and so might forget the keyboard sequence. The watermark macro I describe shortly falls into this category.

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