Software Reference

Helping you make the most of your computer

Author: Matthew Strawbridge
ISBN: 978 0 9554614 1 5
Pages: 640

Summary: "This extensive reference manual covers the whole of Microsoft Office Word 2007 in exquisite detail: every dialog box is illustrated and every command (whether or not it is available through the Ribbon) is described and fully cross-referenced.

This is not a ‘how to’ guide, but a serious reference for power users for whom the online help is not detailed enough.

Buy this book if you need quick answers to tricky questions about Word 2007.

Word 2007 is both a powerful and an exceptionally annoying word processor. Its huge range of features combined with an eccentric user interface make it hard work - even for a long-time Word user like me - to find half the things you are looking for. Add into this mix the odd inscrutable bug and you have a recipe for confusion. Things might be better if it came with a decent manual - but it doesn't, so I guess you just have to grin and bear it.

Alternatively, you could buy a copy of Matthew Strawbridge's 'Essential Reference' to Word. This is a book that lives up to its title. It is a massive and compendious reference to Word - printed on A4 paper spanning more than 600 pages and weighing over 3 and a half pounds! Suffice to say this is not a book that you can carry around in your pocket. It is a book that you may want to keep open on your desk, however.

In the course of twelve chapters and six appendices, Strawbridge covers all aspects of Word 2007 starting with its basic concepts, moving on to a detailed description of the new interface - the Office Button, the Ribbon and the numerous editing features to which they provide access, plus information on some of the more egregious bugs and how to avoid, or recover from, them. The features are described, illustrated with screenshots and, where appropriate, cross-referenced. There are also many tables listing Word options and keyboard shortcuts. And, just in case you get lost, there is also an excellent Index spanning 25 pages.

This is a book like no other. Let me be clear that if you are a newcomer to Word and are looking for a simple 'how to' guide, this is not for you. But if you are a regular and serious Word user and you want a quick and efficient guide to all of Word's features, then this is the book you need. All in all, a terrific reference work.

Huw Collingbourne
Bitwise Magazine

A different kind of book about Microsoft Word

Amazon rating: *****

Some software books try to be all things to all users, but Matthew Strawbridge's book on Microsoft Word 2007 has a much narrower focus. It has no aspirations to serve as a tutorial, and it has no aspirations to serve the needs of new users. Instead, it proclaims itself an essential reference for power users.

The book is organized around the elements of Word's user interface, which makes it very easy to find the section most likely to contain the information you're looking for. For example, there's an entire chapter on the new Microsoft Office button, a chapter on "permanent" ribbon tabs, a chapter on contextual ribbon tabs, and a chapter on task panes. There's a chapter on dialog boxes (a very long chapter!) that covers 328 different dialog boxes. There's a chapter on the Options dialog and another on the Trust Center. Separate chapters are also devoted to Word commands, keyboard shortcuts, field codes, and symbol font character sets. Additional information is presented in a series of seven appendices.
The book's title page includes the following quotation, attributed to "Anonymous": "I didn't write this; a very complex macro did." Indeed, and the book's strengths and its weaknesses derive therefrom.
The book's strengths include the following:

  • The contents are very navigable for anyone familiar with Word's user interface.
  • The contents are very authoritative insofar as they are harvested from Word's screentips and help system and from its user interface elements.
  • The contents are liberally illustrated with screen snapshots.
  • The contents seem exhaustive (and, like Word itself on occasion, exhausting).
  • Wherever possible, information is presented in tables and lists for faster reference.
  • Tips and other notes are sprinked liberally throughout the text.

The book's weaknesses include the following:

  • Much of the information has been harvested directly from Word, which is perfectly consistent with the book's "reference" mission, but this means that independent insights are mostly limited to the tips and other notes sprinkled throughout the text.
  • There is very little discussion of document structure or of relationships among the various elements found in Word documents. This is not the result of negligence, but of a deliberate effort to limit coverage to reference rather than tutorial topics.

This book has a completely different feel from any other book about Microsoft Word. It goes about its business in a very determined fashion. There are no quips or clever cartoons, just page after page, snapshot after snapshot, table after table, list after list of options, functions, descriptions.
If there's an ideal reader for this book, it is probably someone who has reached an impasse of some kind. A user confronted by an unfamiliar dialog box, for example, could quickly look up that dialog box and find a comprehensive table describing the options and functions for that dialog box. A help desk worker trying to help such a user could also benefit from the book. A true power user might prefer an online resource to a printed manual, but a power user who cracks open the book will be both entertained by and surprised at the wealth of information between its covers.

Bill Coan (Microsoft MVP and developer of the DataPrompter add-in for Word)
Reviewed in The Word MVP Site and on

I have to admit that my first reaction when I saw Microsoft Office Word 2007: Essential Reference for Power Users was "Wow, who needs this?" Then I started looking at what was in the book, and I quickly changed my mind.

The Essential Reference is a big book - 640 pages on A4 paper, with a heft ot match. The author, Matthew Strawbridge says:

This book is the first attempt ever to catalog and describe all of Word's features. The whole of the user interface is displayed graphically and explained, together with cross-references to the commands, which are found alphabetically later in the book.

As you might expect from a book of this nature, it's not intended for casual users. If you're looking for a guide on how to use Word's new ribbon interface or how to set up a template, you're probably better off with one of Christine Kent's tutorial books or one of the many aftermarket replacements for the user guide that Microsoft no longer provides. So who is this book aimed at? The author says:

This book is targeted at experts and power users who need to understand how Word functions at a low level. It will be useful to teachers and trainers, helpdesk staff, technical authors writing books about Microsoft Word, and Microsoft Office programmers.

The first part of the book covers basic concepts about Word and the new Office button. Two chapters are devoted to the ribbon and one to task panes. The longest part of the book – almost 300 pages – covers all of Word's many dialog boxes. VBA programmers will appreciate the complete list of Word's commands, cross referenced to the dialog boxes, where appropriate. There's also a complete list of the default autotext entries and a section with thumbnails of all the new galleries. The index is thorough, although you may need a magnifying glass to read it.

But this book is more than just an extensive set of lists. Everything is cross-referenced; for example, the section on dialog boxes includes the VBA commands that call them, to name just one example. Usage tips are included throughout the book. And the level of detail is impressive. For example, the description of the Formula dialog, which has only four fields, is two full pages long and includes all of the possible field values as well as a page of examples, a note and a usage tip. This is typical. Every time I open this book, I find something new and interesting that I didn't know before.

Casual Word users may be deterred by the Essential Reference's rather hefty size and price, but anyone who uses Word day in and day out will find it invaluable. Technical writers who work primarily in Word, consultants who develop templates or Office-based solutions, or help desk support staff in organizations with an installed base of Word 2007 users should definitely consider buying this book.

About the only thing that I could see that would improve the book would be a colour edition, but that would drive the price to astronomical levels. A PDF edition, with colour graphics, would certainly have a wide appeal.

Appeared in the May/June 2009 edition of Editing Matters, the journal of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders

This sizeable work (think telephone directory) was self-published by our own Matthew Strawbridge, and is a labour of love – if that's the right term – if ever I saw one. Matthew has painstakingly gone down all the highways and byways, as well as the side roads and little lanes, to explore every menu, every option, every button that Word 2007 possesses, so that you don't have to.

Why would anyone do such a thing? The blurb explains that this is not a user manual but a 'serious reference for power users, for whom the online help is not detailed enough'. Power users are envisaged to be Word trainers, helpdesk support staff and Microsoft Office programmers – not you average SfEP member, then.

Having said that, there's so much to be got out of this book, if you're a serious Word user, for editing, particularly if you're confident enough to wade into the swirling waters of Visual Basic, the macro programming language. This is because the book is heavily cross-referenced to the relevant Word commands; indeed, Chapter 9 is a complete alphabetical list of built-in commands, and even includes old ones (in grey type) that should not be used in new macros.

Chapter 1, on basic concepts, is especially useful for filling in the gaps that we all have in our knowledge – I'd learnt half a dozen new things by the time I reached p5! Matthew's tips are particularly handy, and are often backed up with reference to Microsoft Knowledge Base articles. Two examples are instructions for turning off the Mini Toolbar, which appears like a ghost when your cursor hovers over selected text – irritatingly causing me to format text accidentally – and, more seriously, a warning of a bug in the Document Map feature when used in large documents.

Chapters 2–8 painstakingly list all the features and commands for the Office button, the ribbons, task panes and dialog boxes. Chapter 10 is a table of all the default keyboard shortcuts and their commands, while Chapters 11 and 12 cover field codes and fonts, respectively, including a comprehensive list of symbols. There are seven appendixes, listing, for example, all the default words that are replaced by the AutoCorrect feature and an explanation of all the puzzling shapes that your cursor can turn into when handling, for example, graphics, as well as a chart of the 'invisible characters', such as the grey square brackets that indicate a bookmark has been inserted.

Don't buy this publication if you're getting frustrated because the Tools menu has disappeared in the new ribbon interface and you can't find AutoCorrect. I wouldn't recommend this book if you are just feeling your way with Word 2007 – use Microsoft's interactive tutorial or buy a good 'how to' guide such as Word 2007: The Missing Manual (Pogue Press, 2006) if you want to learn about using wildcards or extended text, for instance – and the blurb makes it clear that this book is for experts. But if you want to save yourself some time finding out what all those ribbon and dialog options mean, and maybe incorporate them into useful macros, then this book has no equal.

  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Basic concepts
  • Chapter 2: The Microsoft Office button
  • Chapter 3: The Ribbon – permanent tabs
  • Chapter 4: The Ribbon – contextual tabs
  • Chapter 5: Task panes
  • Chapter 6: Dialogs
  • Chapter 7: The Options dialog
  • Chapter 8: Trust Center
  • Chapter 9: Commands
  • Chapter 10: Keyboard shortcuts
  • Chapter 11: Field codes
  • Chapter 12: Fonts
  • Appendix A: AutoCorrect word lists
  • Appendix B: Online resources
  • Appendix C: Command-line switches
  • Appendix D: Galleries
  • Appendix E: Option properties
  • Appendix F: Symbols and what they mean
  • Appendix G: Word annoyances and delights
  • Bibliography
  • Glossary
  • Index
  • About the author