Shortcut Keys and Macros

After reading Todd Sodano’s entry on shortcut keys, I thought, “Hmm…that’s easier than what I do for some things” … only to find out that, in another skirmish between MAC and PC, it ain’t so easy on PC. There is, however, more that we can do in MS Office to make our lives easier. Office allows for the use of macros to perform repetitive tasks. All recent PC versions of Office, and most recent iOS versions allow for macros. (One recent iOS version featured a MS Office suite without macros.)

There are a surprisingly large number of things that I do repetitively in MS Word. In particular, when I grade, edit or review, I find that there are mistakes that my students make frequently, resulting in comments that I make frequently. For example, in formal papers, I require my students to use formal grammar and style. Therefore, it seems like I’m always putting the following comment into papers:

Figure 1

Without macros, I would find myself using the mouse to highlight the problem, then going to the menu (or “ribbon,” to give that object its official name), clicking on Review | New Comment, and then typing in “Colloquial”… many, many times.

Fortunately, there is a better way: one can record a macro, assign it to a shortcut key, and then use the shortcut key to complete the task very quickly. The process to create a macro on a PC is as follows:

1. If you are going to do something that connects to highlighted text – e.g., change font, or highlighting, or insert a comment, remember to highlight the text first! That applies to the example here.

2. On the menu, choose “View” and then drop down (i.e., click the little downward pointing triangle) under the “Macros” button to reveal the following:


3. Choose “Record Macro” to get the following dialog box:

Figure 2

4. Type in a macro name, one that is informative. Then, make sure that “Store macro in:” is set to “All Documents (Normal.dotm).” Next, click on the “Keyboard” button, and assign a shortcut key to the macro. For example, when I created the above macro, I used the name “Colloquial.” Clicking on the Keyboard button pulled up another dialog box:

Figure 3

I pressed the “Alt” key and the “Q” key, and it showed that “Alt+Q” was “[unassigned,] i.e., not assigned as a shortcut for anything elsePress “Assign” and then “Close.” You are now ready to record the steps of the macro.

5. For this macro, I chose “Review | New Comment” and then typed “Colloquial.” In general, do whatever is needed for your task. Some other examples of things I do frequently:

a. When reviewing a paper, I find that authors frequently leave a citation out of their reference list. Hence, I have a macro named “Missing Reference” that recorded the mouse clicks: “Review | New Comment” followed by “Reference is missing in reference list.”

b. I have a macro named “Grammar” assigned to “Alt+R” which highlights in red whatever text has been selected. This macro recorded the mouse clicks for “Home | Highlight dropdown (in the “Font” section)| Red.” This is used for marking grammar/spelling mistakes.

6. When you have completed all the steps of your task, go to “View,” drop down under “Macros,” and choose “Stop Recording.”

That’s all! From then on, you can highlight text (if needed), press the shortcut key, and move on. Yes, this requires a bit of time upfront to set this up, but given the number of times I have to note that a student used a colloquialism in a formal paper, the initial couple minutes for setup has saved me hours of time.

A few final notes:

Make a cheat sheet to keep by your computer until you have done things enough times for the shortcut key to be automatic. For example, you could have something like this:

Figure 4

Important: This process stores everything in “Normal.dotm.” Without going into details, Normal.dotm is the file that MS Word uses as a template to create and/or open documents. If this document gets replaced, which has been known to happen on some networks, you will lose all your macros. I strongly suggest that you find this document, and make your own backup of it, just in case. (This backup will also allow you to easily move Normal.dotm from home to office or vice versa, so that you have your macros in both placed.)

Lastly, there’s another use for macros, outside of the context of grading or reading: From time to time, I have used macros in a consulting role by setting up MS Excel workbooks for various nonprofits who want to analyze the data that they collect. In doing this, one sheet was set up for data entry, and that sheet has a single button on it: When pressed, that button runs a macro. Hidden worksheets literally and figuratively “behind the scenes” allow for all sorts of calculations, and are all activated upon the push of the button. Usually these macros are more involved than the above, but they still aren’t incredibly hard. Using macros this way allows for many tasks to be executed without having to train people to do them. It isn’t necessarily a time saver for you, but oftentimes clients have appreciated having automatic analyses.

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3 responses

  1. really useful, Barney – thanks

  2. Keystrokes for macros can be a combination of Alt, Shift and/or Ctrl too.
    I often use Ctrl+Shift+ because those are usually assigned to M$ Word tools I do not use.

  3. My previous comment should show
    Ctrl + Shift + (Letter)

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