How to learn confusing options easily

Learning all available features is necessary. But how exactly do you do it?

Here is a simple but effective process.

Estimated reading time 7 min


The problem

There are lots of menus, drop downs and dialogs. Too many options to understand and learn. There are thousands of them. If you are regular reader of this blog, you already know that although there are so many options, we should not just ignore them. We should at least try to find out what each option does, what problem it is solving and then decide if you need it or not.

I know that it is easy for me to say this. But when you try to actually understand each option, at least initially, it is not easy. You will get confused.

There are two things you need to learn quickly and without confusion.

  1. Concentration
  2. A method to understand many options quickly.


Well, I am not going to give you meditation exercises. Just remember that the learning you are doing is for YOUR GOOD … a lot of good. It is going to liberate so much time for you to utilize to your advantage. That is the reward. For that you just have to focus on learning for few minutes at a time.

I am sure you can do that easily.

Why are the options confusing

Good question. The main reason is this – we humans understand things when we read proper complete sentences. Unfortunately, in the menus and dialogs, there will almost NEVER be a full sentence written.

Why this apparent cruelty? Because of lack of space on the screen.

You may see that your screen seems to have lot of space. But remember that software must be designed for smallest available screen size. Therefore, on your screen there may appear to be lot of space, but in the original design, there was no space.

Never mind, You cannot control that. Let us focus on what we CAN control.

Example of confusing options

Here is a part of Go To Special dialog from Excel. I am not showing the whole dialog intentionally. Just read on…


Not a single sentence. All single words of short phrases. To make matters worse, these options do not seem to have anything common amongst them.

But wait. Don’t lose heart.

How to convert cryptic options to full sentences

This is not as difficult as it sounds. It is quite easy  – once you know what to do.

Just look above all the options. What is this dialog called ?

GOTO – SPECIAL – and there is a common title for all these options : SELECT


The word SELECT applies to ALL the items below. It is the COMMON element.

Now let us try to use the word SELECT with each option and try to make sense of it.

SELECT COMMENTS = Select all cells containing Comments.

SELECT Blanks = Select all blank cells

SELECT Visible Cells Only ( sentence already complete!)

You get the idea. Was that difficult?

Another example in Word

Format – Paragraph dialog – (Right click in any paragraph and choose Paragraph) – Line and Page Breaks tab.


Widow and Orphan control cannot be learnt by the method I am discussing. These are specific words used by people who designers. It basically means paragraphs which have one line on a page and remaining paragraph on the next or previous page. We will discuss it some other time.

Focus on the next three options. Perfect candidates for our method. All of them are incomplete sentences!

So look up and see what this whole dialog is about – PARAGRAPH. Now use it to complete the sentences and suddenly – you know what it means!


Interesting method – is it not?

Try it out in every dialog you go to. You will not only start understanding things – it will help you discover many hidden treasures.

Practical usage

We just “understood” three options in the format paragraph dialog in Word and GOTO special in Excel. But we have not “Learnt” them yet. Why? Because we still don’t know the practical situation when you would like to use these features.

We know the “HOW” part – not the “WHEN” part!

HOW to use + WHEN to use =
Applied Knowledge

We will cover this part in the next two articles.


3 Responses

  1. Good Morning DOC from sunny NZ (not it’s raining…again!)
    I recently had a pretty major fight trying to convert a pdf to word… needless to say I won! By applying your method of exploring…right click…. BUT do you have any handy tips on this subject please.

    many thanks

    1. Hi Stella, nice to hear from you.
      If you have Word 2013 loaded, go to file explorer, right click on a PDF file and choose Open With – Word. This way you can edit the PDF and save it back as PDF or Word.
      If the PDF is a scanned document, then open it in Acrobat Reader, choose File – Print – Choose Send To OneNote as the printer and print it to one of the notebooks. The images for each page will be added to a new OneNote page. Right click on any image and choose “Copy text from all pages”. Now you can paste the text into Word or any other application. Unfortunately, only text will be recognized. Formatting and tables will not be preserved. The accuracy of text recognition will depend upon the scan quality and font used.

      Hope this helps. I will write an article on PDF editing in Word soon.

Queries | Comments | Suggestions | Wish list