Context-sensitive Tools in the UI in Word 2013

One of the biggest problems with Word has always been command discovery balanced against working efficiently. For the ten plus years spanning Word 6 through Word 2003 there were menus, toolbars for various features, as well as the possibility of creating customized toolbars with the commands you needed most. In addition, the toolbars could be positioned freely on the screen. You could also customize the right-click menu.

All of that disappeared with the advent of the Ribbon in Office 2007. Surveys had “proven” that the user didn’t like adaptive menus and things that changed and didn’t drill down through menus. So commands were to be accessed through the Ribbon and those few used regularly could be placed on the user’s QAT. The right-click menu could still be customized, but not without working through the programming interface.

In addition to the Ribbon, some task panes and the right-click menu another interface with commands was introduced: the Mini Toolbar. This is the menu that fades in when you make a selection and leave the mouse pointer in the selection. As you move the mouse pointer into the area, the Mini Toolbar becomes more opaque and the buttons can be used. The Mini Toolbar is not customizable – Microsoft puts the commands on it that it feels users need most often.

A major drawback working with the Ribbon is needing to run the mouse so far between the document area and commands required for working with it. Up until now, the set of commands available on the Mini Toolbar have been limited to font formatting, bullets and numbering. Word 2013 has expanded that palette and made it context-sensitive.

Working with text. When the selection is in text the Mini Toolbar now contains a tool for working with styles.

Context-sensitive Mini Toolbar for text selections

Working with graphics. When the selection is a graphic, an icon appears next to it. Click the icon and you get a Mini Toolbar that lets you select the wrap formatting, plus a menu point for opening the dialog box with more positioning options.

Mini Toolbar for pictures

Right-clicking the graphic gives you an additional Mini Toolbar. This provides options in the second group from the left in the context-sensitive [Graphic type]/Format tab in the Ribbon. For a Shape, for example, you get Style, Fill and Outline tools; for a picture you get Style and Crop tools.

Mini Toolbar for Shapes

Apparently, people work with graphics a lot, because that’s not the last of the new user interfaces. If you go to the [Graphic type]/Format tab in the Ribbon and click the dialog box launcher of that same group, a new, context-sensitive task pane will appear with a full range of options for Fills, Lines, Effects, Layout options and appropriate tools for the type of graphic selected. As with all task panes, this can be undocked, re-sizted and freely position on the screen.

Taskpane for working with graphics

 Working with tables. The possibilities of the new interfaces are not yet exhausted – there are also new options for working with tables. When the current selection is in a table you get only the standard font options for the text. But for the table there are now buttons for Shading and Borders, as well as big, fancy split buttons for inserting and deleting cells, columns and rows.

Mini Toolbar for tables

Not only that: if you hover the mouse pointer between two columns or two rows a big “Plus” sign appears. Click on it, and you insert a new column or row. Even better, if you’ve selected more than one column or row, the number of columns / rows you selected are inserted!


 For those of us who work intensively with document content, these new tools will increase work efficiency and help us keep our concentration where it belongs!


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