How to Think and Write More Clearly

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Think and Write Clearly with PowerPoint and Word

After writing 27 books and a bazillion PowerPoint slides I’ve learned the best way for me to write is just to get my thoughts down as quickly as possible, reorganize them, then let the stuff simmer over night. The next morning is the best time for me to give it a strong edit, cutting as much as possible. What makes the reorganizing fun and painless is a couple of shortcut keys and a menu item you really need to know.

(Consider what your best time is for writing or for editing! They will probably be different since one task is creative and the other is judgmental.)

To clarify and organize your thinking in PowerPoint and Word you should use the Shift+Alt+arrow keys in the Windows versions of PowerPoint and Word.

Drafting ideas and outlining during online meetings would be painful without these four shortcut keys. These keys are “brain extenders.” Open Word or PowerPoint and give them a try right now.

Reorganize Paragraphs, Bullets, Numbered Lists, Outlines in Word and PowerPoint

If you are slamming out text or brainstorming ideas, I recommend getting it down as quickly as possible. Don’t start editing or refining. Go back when you are finished writing and reorganize.

In MS Word or PowerPoint use the Shift+Alt+up/down arrow keys to reorganize paragraphs, bulleted text, numbered lists, or outline headings,

1. Click in the text you want to move up or down. Select multiple paragraphs, bulleted text, or lists items if you want to move all of them together.

2. Press Shift+Alt+arrow up/down to move your selection up or down.

Changing Levels of Bullets or Numbered List Items

Once you have brainstormed a list of bullets or numbered items it’s time to raise or lower the level of a bullet or numbered list with Shift+Alt+arrow left/right. This enables you to subordinate less important bullets or list items.

1. Click in the text you want to change to a different level. Select multiple paragraphs, bulleted text, or lists items if you want to change more than one.

2. Press Shift+Alt+arrow left/right to change the selection to a higher (left) or lower sub-ordinated (right) level.

Use numbered lists for text where the sequence is important, for example, instructions on changing levels of numbered lists.

Use bullets where the sequence isn’t important, however, there might be a superior item and sub-ordinate items underneath.

Be careful. This works differently on text. Using the Shift+Alt+arrow left/right shortcut keys on text will apply a heading style used for outlines. Remove a heading style if you accidentally apply it by immediately pressing Ctrl+Z or on the Home ribbon, in the Styles group, select Normal.

Quickly Apply Outline Heading Styles in MS Word

Some people hate outlines, perhaps it is a remnant of some authoritarian teacher who took the fun out of writing. Others, like myself, love outlines as a tool to clarify thinking. Still others who like a more freestyle form and doodle or sketch, like to use the MindMap method of developing ideas.

If you are an outline thinker, or you need to build a document larger than a few pages, use outlines to structure, organize, and reorganize your content.

I like to write as fast as possible, then put in outline headings, then move content up or down into the appropriate outline heading. Use the Shift+Alt+up/down arrow from the previous section or use the Navigation Pane in the following section to restructure and move massive amounts of text in Word.

To turn a phrase into a heading,

1. Type the phrase or click in the phrase. (It must be a stand alone paragraph.)

2. Press the Shift+Alt+left/right arrow. Each press to the right moves the heading to a lower outline level. Each press to the left moves the heading higher.

To see the outline heading that is applied, look in the Home ribbon.

To return a heading to Normal, select it and click the Normal heading tool in the Home ribbon.

If you don’t like the way a heading style looks, reformat a heading that is at the level you want to change, then on the Home ribbon, in the Styles group, right-click the heading tool for the level and choose Update Heading # to Match Selection.

See and Move Entire Outline Sections in MS Word

See your entire document structure and move headings and their contents using the following technique.

Select View on the ribbon, in the Show group, select Navigation pane to display the Navigation Pane on the left side of the document. This shows all headings and the order in which they appear.

To move a heading and all the contents under it, drag the heading in the Navigation pane up or down to the location you want.

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