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Reduce visual clutter in Microsoft Word

TJ Luoma, @tjluoma

I know a lot of people who hate Microsoft Word. The two complaints that I hear most often are that it's slow to launch and extremely cluttered. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to make it better. I'll walk you through the steps that I take whenever I'm setting up Word on a new computer.

Take a look at the image above, and you'll see how Word looks when you first launch it. Yikes. Ok, let's start pruning.

Step One: Cut the ribbon

The "ribbon" is Microsoft's attempt to make it easier to find the settings that you need, rather than having them buried in menus. It takes up a lot of space.

Under Preferences » Ribbon you will find two options:

  1. Turn on the ribbon
  2. Expand ribbon when document opens

I suggest turning both of them off, but at the very least, don't have the ribbon expand when you start a new document.

That's a good start.

Step Two: Toolbars Off

Next, go to View » Toolbars » Standard

and make sure that it is unchecked.

Step Three: Ruler Off

While you are there, go to View » Ruler and uncheck that too:

Now that we have made all of those changes, here's what we're left with:

I think we'd all agree that looks a lot nicer.

Note: thanks to Byron807 for mentioning in the comments that you can turn off the status bar by going into Preferences » View:

I was looking for it in the Toolbars menu, where you can toggle other toolbars on/off.

Startup Speedup

By default, Microsoft Word will show you the "Document Gallery" when it starts. This shows you all of the different kind of files that you can make with Word. But most of the time, you probably just want to make a regular Word document, and the gallery can be quite slow to load, so why not turn off the automatic gallery?

Once I have that turned off, MSWord launches as fast as a basic text editor. (Note: after the initial installation, the very first launch will take a bit longer as the font cache is built, but after that, it's downright speedy.)

If you ever do need the Document Gallery, use File » New From Template... to have it shown.

Since we're tweaking anyway...

While you're fixing things in Word, you might as well make a few more changes too.

Change default folder for new files:

Do you use Dropbox? If so, you might want to tell Word to save your documents in Dropbox instead of ~/Documents/. You can do that by going to Preferences » Personal Settings » File Locations:

Decrease Auto-Recovery Time:

Did you know Microsoft Word can automatically save your changes? Go to Preferences » Save

While you are there, you might want to change the default file format from '.docx' to '.doc' since more programs can read/edit '.doc' files than '.docx.

Fullscreen Mode

A lot of writing apps now have "distraction free" modes, but I bet most people don't know that Word has one too.

Go to View » Full Screen and you'll get a white field for writing and a black background. There is a toolbar which will appear at first, but it will go away when you start typing. If you want a wider area to use for your words, click the Zoom drop down menu and choose "Page Width."

And if you want a real throw-back look, go to Preferences » General and choose "Blue background, white text" and you can get this:

which will probably remind many of you of WordPerfect for DOS from "back in the day" as the kids say.

Perfect? No. Better? Yes.

Of course these changes are just cosmetic. There are still plenty of things about Microsoft Word I don't like, but there are times when I am required to use it, so I want to make it as enjoyable as possible. Hopefully this will give you some ideas of how to customize Word more to your liking.

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