Word annoyance: Insert row/column icon appears when try to select a row/column

January 26, 2020

Update: You can now turn this off in recent versions of Word for Office 365 (possibly Word 2016, and 2019 too)! Thanks to Lene Fredborg, who commented on this post (below), the solution is File > Options > Advanced, Display section, clear the Show pop-up buttons for adding rows and tables.

I’ll leave the original post here for the workaround for those on earlier versions that don’t have this option.


Since Word 2013 (Word for Windows, not sure about Mac), you haven’t been able to select a table row or column easily from outside the row/column, without inadvertently inserting what you’re trying to select! Instead of hovering the cursor immediately to the left of the row/above the column and then clicking to select, Microsoft added these (not so) helpful tools that insert a new row/table, and you have to fiddle with the mouse a bit to move the cursor a tad further away to get table row/column select mode. I suspect they added this icon for those using touch screens, but they are more of a curse than a help to desktop users with a keyboard and mouse. More times than not, when I want to select a row/column to delete it, I end up clicking one of these ‘helpful’ icons and add a new row/column instead, which means I now have to delete two rows/columns! This is what one of these not so helpful icons looks like when you hover your cursor to the left of a row:

Outline of table with the insert row icon highlighted

A quick search of the main websites for Word issues indicates that there’s no way to turn these things off.

Possible solution

However, I did come across a way to disable them that may be useful if you have a lot of table manipulation to do, and that’s to switch to draft view, where these tools won’t appear. Switching to draft view is clumsy in itself (Microsoft inexplicably took away the Draft icon from the icons on the right of the status bar several versions ago), but it may be the solution you need if you’re fiddling with the rows/columns on a large table or on several tables:

  • To switch to draft view, go to View > Draft.
  • To switch back to print layout view, click the relevant icon in the status bar, or go to View > Print Layout.



Solved: Wireless mouse stops working

January 2, 2020

Scenario: Every time my computer did a backup to an external hard drive, my wireless mouse would stop working. I could click it and move it but there was no response on the screen. Changing the batteries didn’t help. The (wired) keyboard worked fine. The external hard drive was plugged into a USB port on the front of the computer, as was the dongle for the wireless mouse.

Solution: After Googling for solutions, I decided to try to the simplest first—move the wireless dongle for the mouse from the USB port on the front of the computer to a USB hub some distance from the computer (this hub is plugged into a USB port on the back of the computer). Once I did that, I reran a backup to test that the mouse would not be affected. It wasn’t, so problem solved! It seems that conflicts between devices—especially those plugged into the front USB ports—are common.


2019 blog statistics

December 31, 2019

In January 2019, this blog hit 13 million views then 14 million some months ago, and had just over 14.5 million views by 31 Dec 2019 (30 Dec US time when I wrote this). This is the total since I started blogging very late in 2007. Some 1.56 million views occurred just in 2019 (about 300,000 less than in 2018). These figures don’t include any visits I made to my own blog (yes, I use my own blog for stuff I can’t remember—I consider it my memory bank).

I only wrote 60 blog posts in 2019, so many of these visits were to posts I’ve written in previous years. I’ve written 1860 posts since 2008, with an average word count per post of 540.

Despite those large numbers of views, only about 740 people subscribe to this blog (you can subscribe by clicking the ‘Sign me up!’ button on the right sidebar and entering your email address to receive an email alert each time I post a new article), and I have 915 Twitter followers for @cybertext. From these figures, I have to assume most readers are ‘hit and run’ readers — those who have a problem with Word or whatever, find one of my posts via Google etc., read the post, get what they came for (or not), and leave without checking out anything else.

Where do these readers come from? Not surprisingly, because this is an English language blog, most of my visitors are from English-speaking countries, with a heavy dominance from the US (>566,000), followed by the UK, India, Australia, and Canada (all between 100,000 and 170,000). (Data and map is from WordPress-generated statistics, and based on all years they have been recording this information, not necessarily since 2008.)

Frequency map of countries and the readers from them

Below are some graphs and tables for the 2019 statistics for this blog, as well as some comparative ones for ‘all time’ (‘all time’ is actually 2008 to 2019 — I started this blog very late in 2007, but didn’t really start posting until January 2008, so the 2007 statistics are too low to be significant).

Total views by month/year

Table of total view by months and years, with totals for each year (rows) and month (columns), and a grand total

Total views for all years from 2008 to 2019, charted as a bar graph with each year represented by a bar

Average daily views

Bar graph of average number of view per day for all years from 2008 to 2019

The average views per day decreased in 2019 (4280 per day) compared to 2018 (5164 per day). The graphs above and below are for the full seven days per week, though most views occur during the five business days of the working week, probably reflecting the need to find answers to Word questions and the like when people are stuck with a problem at work. Weekends and major public holidays (particularly in the US) see a noticeable drop in views, as does the December/January holiday period and the northern hemisphere summer (July).

Bar graph of the average view per day, by month, for 2019

Top 20 posts

List of 20 most-viewed posts of all time compared to the 20 most-viewed posts in 2019. 14 posts are listed in both columns (all time, and 2019)

Some posts are just more popular than others! Those highlighted in blue appear in both lists — the top 20 posts of all time (2008–2019) on the left, and 2019-only on the right. Those without highlighting only appear in one of the top 20 lists. The numbers to the right of each title are the number of total views for that post in the time period.

Long tail

As expected, there’s a significant ‘long tail’ for this blog’s views. The top 20 posts (each has more than 21,000 views) in 2019 garnered the most views, with the top 6 clearly ahead of the others (>50,000 views). Everything else was a poor cousin to these top posts.

Line graph of the top 20 posts for 2019 (based on number of times viewed)

When I extracted out the views just for the top posts for 2008–2019 (using 50,000 views as the lower limit), the long tail was very evident. The top 10 posts for all time garnered the most views, with posts 10 to 69 tailing off and flattening out. Remember, I’ve written some 1860 posts, and this graph only represents the 69 posts that have had more than 50,000 views since 2008—most posts have far fewer than that and aren’t represented in this graph. (For perspective, the least-viewed posts have had about 850 views, while the single most-viewed post has had nearly 900,000 views.)

Line graph showing the number of views received by the top 69 posts (all those with more than 50,000 views between 2008 and 2019)

So, there you have it. Twelve years of blogging, 1860 blog posts published, and almost 14.5 million views (with 1.56 million of those in the past 12 months).

I guess I must be doing something right, even though the monetary return is close to zero. I pay an annual fee to WordPress to NOT show advertisements on this blog (I wouldn’t get any return from these even if I allowed them), and I refuse to try to ‘monetize’ my blog posts by hosting them elsewhere and running ads—I don’t like ads cluttering up and getting in the way of good content and potentially trapping readers into clicking on them, and I suspect my readers don’t like them either. Instead of ads, I have an option for readers to donate to this blog’s expenses if anything I’ve written has got them out of a bind, saved them time (and therefore money), or helped them be more efficient. In 2019 I received perhaps the equivalent of one week’s worth of groceries in donations… I use that money to pay my annual bill to WordPress to keep this blog free of ads and to have the convenience of adjusting the style (CSS) of this blog.

As for 2020, I’ll continue to write posts sporadically—I still have a day job that I’m committed to, and paid work always comes before unpaid work.

See also:

[Links last checked December 2019]


And my work here is done!

December 11, 2019

One of the environmental scientist authors I work with emailed me this earlier this week:

I’m reading the book ‘Sapiens’. It is written by a scientist and littered with ‘in order to’. Great book but I feel like putting a pen through the unnecessary words. You’ve ruined it for me :-)

My work here is done!


Lessons learned from a corporate report

November 30, 2019

I recently did a few editing passes on a 640+ page environmental report that was to be submitted to a federal regulatory authority. I wasn’t able to fully edit the report, but I was able to tame the formatting issues in Word (including making sure all tables had a similar look), check for inconsistencies in common terms and phrases, fix the cross-references to other sections/figures/tables/appendices, check the abbreviations/acronyms list reflected the abbreviations used in the document, ensure nonbreaking spaces were used between values and units of measure, etc. There was no corporate template or style guide to use (the company is very young), though someone had put a very basic template together—cover page, headers/footers and the like—but hadn’t set up styles, therefore the formatting of bullets, numbers, body text etc. was all over the place. Multiple authors had worked on this report, and each had done something a little different with their formatting, and varied in the terms they used and whether they capitalised or hyphenated them or not.

After I returned the document to my contact, she asked if there were some ‘lessons learned’ that she could share with her boss and others involved in the document. Here’s a summary of the email I wrote to her:

  1. Template: Get a corporate report template in place, with as many necessary styles in it and sample tables set up ready to be copy/pasted and modified. Learn how to use it and WHY you should use it.
  2. Style guide/sheet: In the absence of a full style guide, set up a corporate style sheet that lists the preferred ways of spelling/using terms (e.g. the correct spellings/hyphenations for place names, words that can trip you up – e.g. wellhead/well-head/well head, tophole/top-hole/top hole). Make your authors use it, and that you forward it to whoever edits your docs so that they can follow the decisions already made.
  3. Styles:
    • Discourage writers from using the buttons on the Word toolbar for bullets and numbers (there be dragons!) – use the relevant List Bullet and List Number styles
    • Learn how to apply styles to new text, and how to paste text from another doc and format it correctly (NEVER copy across section breaks, for example – more dragons lie there!)
    • Learn how to apply table formatting/styles – for example, in the [company] doc there’s a special button on the Table Tools > Design tab for applying the green table, but I wonder how many know how to use it and instead spend ages setting up the borders, shading etc. manually.
  4. Clickable cross-references (x-refs):
    • In the absence of a program like EndNote, learn how to do x-ref numbered citations so you don’t end up with [CorporateAuthor] 2019a, 2019b, 2019c etc. This sort of citation is a nightmare to update
    • Learn how to assign x-refs (clickable links are recommended for anything that’s going to be PDF’d and read on screen).
  5. References: Make sure authors are CONSISTENT in doing references, specifically when to apply italics, what punctuation to use, how to indicate when a URL was valid etc. (a style guide would help here). I didn’t check any for accuracy, but verifying references online is a BIG job to do after the fact—far easier for the author to grab ALL the citation details when they are writing the doc.
  6. Terms: Make sure authors are pedantic about adding initialisms/acronyms/abbrevs, units of measure etc. to the relevant terms lists—it’s easier to check if something is there or not than to create the list from scratch after writing the doc. I use software macros that can pull out some of this, but not all.
  7. Unlearn/break bad habits that work for university but not for business/corporate writing. Think like a business person with limited time and NOT like a uni researcher! The habit of writing to a word or page count has been ingrained since about Year 5 and reinforced all the way through to doctorates and, later, journal and other publications. Business reports need to be succinct, use plain language, and get to the point in as few words as possible, without losing meaning. Some examples of bad habits:
  8. Learn new habits: e.g. keyboard shortcuts for things like nonbreaking spaces (Ctrl+Shift+<spacebar>), turn on/off track changes (Ctrl+Shift+e), add a comment (Ctrl+Shift+m), change case (Shift+F3).

I also mentioned and linked to presentations I’ve given to government departments, editors groups, and conferences on plain language writing and on working more efficiently with Microsoft Word (http://cybertext.com.au/presentations.html).


Word: Find text with angled brackets and replace the text with a character style

November 2, 2019

Here’s one I heard of today, and how I solved it. The person has a Word document with various words and phrases surrounded by double angled brackets, as in <<this is my phrase>>. They want to apply a character style to any text surrounded by angle brackets, and delete those brackets.

I always like a challenge like this, so here’s my solution:

  1. Press Ctrl+H to open the Find and Replace window.
  2. Click More.
  3. Select the Use wildcards checkbox.
  4. In the Find what field, type: (\<\<)(*)(\>\>)
  5. In the Replace with field, type: \2
  6. Click Format, then select Style.
  7. Choose the character style you want to apply (character styles are indicated with a lowercase ‘a’ to their left), then click OK.
  8. The character style’s name should be listed directly underneath the Find what box—make sure that this is the case.
  9. Click Find Next, then click Replace if you are satisfied that the correct phrasal structure has been selected.
  10. Assuming that replace worked as you wanted it to, and you are confident the result looks as you expect, click Replace All. (If in doubt, keep clicking Find Next, then Replace.)

How this works:

  • The Find is broken up into three elements, each surrounded by parentheses:
    • The first element contains the opening two angled brackets.
    • The second contains an asterisk wildcard character for any character and any number of characters.
    • The third contains the closing two angled brackets.
  • In the first and third elements of the Find, the angled brackets are each preceded by a \ because an angle bracket is a special character in wildcard searches and therefore must be ‘escaped’ so that Word treats it as a normal character. The ‘escape’ character is the \
  • In the Replace, \2 tells Word to replace the second element (the text and all characters between the angled brackets) with itself (i.e. make no changes), and to apply the character style you chose to that replaced text.
  • By omitting \1 and \3 in the Replace (representing the first and third elements of the Find), Word will effectively delete the opening and closing angled brackets.

Word: Find and highlight words of two or more capitals

October 31, 2019

I previously wrote about using wildcards in Word to find abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms that used two or more capital letters, but that post didn’t address how to highlight these so that you can identify them easily when compiling a list of abbreviations. This one does.

  1. Make sure you have a highlight colour selected (Home tab, Font group) that isn’t used for anything else.
  2. Press Ctrl+H to open the Find and Replace window.
  3. Click More to show further options.
  4. Select the Use wildcards checkbox.
  5. In the Find what field, type: (<[A-Z]{2,}>)
  6. In the Replace with field, type:  \1
  7. With your cursor still in the Replace with field, click Format (bottom of the window) then Highlight. The word ‘Highlight’ should display immediately below the Replace with field.
  8. Click Find next to find the first string of two or more capitals.
  9. If this is an acronym, abbreviation, or initialism, click Replace. The term remains the same but should now be highlighted in the colour you chose in Step 1.
  10. Repeats Steps 8 and 9 to jump to and/or highlight the next string of two or more caps.
  11. Optional but not recommended: If you are confident that the only strings of capital letters in your document are acronyms etc., then click Replace All. Note: Every string of capitals will be highlighted, even those that are repeats of ones you highlighted earlier and those that aren’t acronyms etc. (e.g. document numbers, fully capped words).

How this works:

  • The opening and closing parentheses contain the Find command and allow you to reference it in the Replace.
  • The opening and closing arrow brackets (< and >) specify that you want a single whole word, not parts of a word. Without these, you would find each set of caps (e.g. in the string ABCDEF, you would find ABCDEF, then BCDEF, then CDEF, then DEF, then EF, before moving on to the next set of caps).
  • [A-Z] specifies that you want a range (the [ ] part) of caps that fall somewhere in the alphabet (A-Z). If you only wanted capped words that started with, say, H through to M, then you’d change the range to [H-M] and all other capped words starting with other letters would be ignored.
  • {2,} means you want to find capped words with at least two letters in the specified range (i.e. A-Z). If you only wanted to find two- and three-letter capped words, then you’d change this to {2,3}, and all capped word of four or more letters would be ignored. By not specifying a number after the comma, the ‘find’ will find capped words of any length containing at least two letters.
  • The \1 in the Replace and ‘Highlight’ below that field tells Word to replace what was found with itself, and to highlight it with the selected highlight colour.

Note: This technique does NOT find initialisms separated by periods or any other punctuation; it will find UNICEF but not U.N.I.C.E.F.