Microsoft Office Software

What are the 5 best Microsoft Word features you’ve never used?

best Microsoft Word features
Model pro: you can drop 3D models into documents

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One lazy criticism of Microsoft Word is that it hasn’t changed in 20 years. With new features being regularly dripped into the word processor, instead of the big staging-post releases of yesteryear where a bunch of new features were added at once, it’s easy for great new features to pass you by. Here, I’ve rounded up five of the best Microsoft Word features you perhaps didn’t even realise existed. Note, these features are taken from the PC version of Word 2016 – Mac and mobile versions may not support all of these features.

1. Insert 3D models

Best Microsoft word features: 3D models

Inserting 3D models into flat pages might seem a wee bit incongruous, but this is actually one of Word’s best unknown features.

You’ll find it in the Insert tab, in between icons and Smart Art. If you choose From Online Sources from the drop-down menu, you’ll find a huge library of 3D models to choose from that includes various planets, animals, dinosaurs, muscial instruments… all sorts.

The great thing about these models is that they can be resized and rotated on the page. So, for our Brexit document above (sorry), we’ve enlarged the globe to fill the entire page and then centred it on Britain, so that it speaks to the headline.

Think of it as a clipart library with models that can be manipulated into whatever shape you want them.

2. Smart Lookup

Best Microsoft word features: smart lookup

Smart Lookup is an encylopedia that’s only a right-click away.

In my screenshot, for example, I’m editing an article that mentions the minister Margot James. I can highlight her name, right-click and select Smart Lookup. A panel then opens on the right of the document that gives me snippets of information about her collated from Wikipedia and other trusted sources.

For an editor like me, that’s invaluable, as I can check the spelling of her name, her job title and so forth without having to flick back and forth from a web browser. You can click on any of those panels and read further information on your subject from within Word.

3. Read Aloud

Best Microsoft word features: Read Aloud

Take it from someone who knows: proofing on screen is tricky. If there’s not a typo in this blog post somewhere, it will be nothing short of a miracle (and Tim’s fault for not reading it properly, obviously).

One way to combat the problem of your eye skipping over typos is to proof with your ears instead. The Read Aloud feature, found under the Review tab, will have a Hawking-alike synthesised voice read your copy back to you.

Close your eyes and listen as the text is read back to you and I guarantee you’ll hear several errors in your copy that you might otherwise miss.

Playback controls appear on the right of the screen, where you’ll also find an option to change the speed of narration. The current word being read is highlighted in grey on your document, making it easy to find where on a page an error has crept in.

4. Encrypt document with password

Best Microsoft word features: Encrypt with Password

An awful lot of sensitive stuff is produced in Word. Big businesses will likely have their own document encryption and security procedures in place, but anyone can protect a document by encrypting it with a (strong) password so that, if it’s lost on a USB stick or emailed to the wrong person, all is not lost. Just don’t include the password in the email with the document.

To password protect a document, click File, Protect Document and select Encrypt with Password from the drop-down menu (shown above).

You’ll be asked to enter a password and then re-enter the same password, just to confirm.

If you can’t think of a strong password of your own, use the Strong Random Password Generator to create one for you.

When the recipient goes to open the document, they will be prompted for the password before they’re given access.

If you’re using Word 2016 (the latest version at the time of writing), the document will be encrypted using 256-bit AES, which is plenty strong enough.

5. Remove Background (Picture Tools)

Remove Background

Word’s ability to manipulate photos is much underrated. Let’s take a photo like this, taken from one of Word’s stock CV templates. You might decide the background is a bit distracting.

If you click on the photo, the Photo Tools menu appears in the ‘Ribbon’ at the top of the screen, where one of the many options is Remove Background.

This gives you a pen tool, where you can draw on the areas of the photo you don’t want and it removes them. If the tool goes a little too far, there’s an option to bring back parts of the image you want to keep.

It’s not Photoshop, but for a basic cut-out, it’s not that bad at all, as you can see from the edited image below.

Remove background

You’ll find plenty of other useful tools in that panel. Compress Pictures is a good one if you’ve got a document stuffed with high-resolution photos and want to keep the overall file size down.

NOW READ THIS: How do I use superscript in Word?

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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