How to Use the Ribbon in Microsoft Word

Explore the Ribbon and learn how to use it

A screen shot of the Microsoft Word Ribbon.
The Microsoft Word Ribbon looks like this. Joli Ballew

The Ribbon is the toolbar that runs across the top of Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, as well as other Microsoft applications. The Ribbon consists of tabs that keep their related tools organized. This makes all of the tools easily accessible no matter what kind of project or device you’re working on.

The Ribbon can be hidden completely or shown in various capacities and can be customized to meet anyone’s needs. The Ribbon became available in Microsoft Word 2007 and continues to be a part of both Microsoft Word 2013 and Microsoft Word 2016. 

Explore View Options for the Ribbon

Depending on your current settings, the Ribbon will be in one of three forms. You might not see anything at all; that’s the Auto-Hide Ribbon setting. You might only see the tabs (File, Home, Insert, Draw, Design, Layout, References, Mailings, Review, and View); that’s the Show Tabs setting. Finally, you might see both the tabs and the commands underneath; that’s the Show Tabs and Commands setting.

To move among these views:

  1. If the Ribbon:
    1. Is unavailable, click the three dots in the upper-right corner of the Word window.
    2. Shows only tabs, click the square icon with the up arrow inside it in the upper-right corner of the Word window.
    3. Shows tabs and commands, click the square icon with the up arrow inside it in the upper-right corner of the Word window.
  2. Click the view you’d like to see:
    1. Auto-Hide Ribbon – to hide the Ribbon until you need it. Click or move your mouse in the area of the Ribbon to show it.
    2. Show Only Tabs – to show Ribbon tabs only.
    3. Show Tabs and Commands – to show Ribbon tabs and commands all the time.

Note: To use the Ribbon you must be able to access the tabs, at the very least. If you can see the commands too that’s even better. If you’re new to the Ribbon, consider changing the View settings outlined above to Show Tabs and Commands.


Use the Ribbon

Each of the tabs on the Word Ribbon have commands and tools underneath them. If you have changed the view to Show Tabs and Commands you’ll see them. If your view of the Ribbon is set to Show Tabs, you’ll have to click the tab itself to see the related commands.

To use a command, you first find the command you want, and then click it. Sometimes you’ll have to do something else as well, but not always. If you aren’t sure what an icon on the Ribbon stands for, simply hover your mouse over it.

Here are a few examples:

  • To insert a picture into your Word document, click the Insert tab and then click Pictures. Browse to the picture you want to insert and click Open.
  • To start a bulleted list, click the Home tab and then click the Bullets icon.
  • To start a numbered list, click the Home tab and then click the Numbering icon.
  • To choose a design for the entire document, click the Design tab and then click the design you want to use.
  • To check spelling and grammar, click the Review tab and then click Spelling & Grammar.

Many tools work differently if you have text (or some other item) selected. You can select text by dragging your mouse over it. When text is selected, applying any text-related tool (like Bold, Italic, Underline, Text Highlight Color, or Font Color) is applied only to the selected text. Alternately, if you apply these tools without text selected, those attributes will be applied only to subsequent text you type. 

Customize the Quick Access Toolbar

You can customize the Ribbon in many ways. One option is to add or remove items to the Quick Access toolbar, which runs across the very top of the Ribbon interface. The Quick Access Toolbar offers shortcuts to the commands you use most. By default, Save is there, as is Undo and Redo. You can remove those and/or add others though, including New (for creating a new document), Print, Email, and more.

To add items to the Quick Access Toolbar:

  1. Click the down-facing arrow to the right of the last item on the Quick Access toolbar.
  2. Click any command that does not have a checkmark by it to add it.
  3. Click any command that does have a checkmark beside it to remove it.
  4. To see more commands and add the items:
    1. Click More Commands.
    2. In the left pane, click the command to add.
    3. Click Add.
    4. Click OK.
  5. Repeat as desired.

Customize the Ribbon

You can add or remove items from the Ribbon to customize it to meet your needs. You can add or remove tabs, and add or remove items you see on those tabs. While this might seem like a good idea initially, it’s actually best not to make too many changes here, at least until you are fully familiar with how the Ribbon is set up by default.

You might remove tools you’ll need later, and not remember how to find them or add them back. In addition, if you need to ask for help from a friend or tech support, they won’t be able to resolve your problem quickly if the tools that are supposed to be there aren’t.

That said, you can make changes if you still want to. Advanced users might want to add the Developer tab, and others to streamline Word so that it only shows exactly what they know they’ll use and need.

To access the options to customize the Ribbon:

  1. Click File, and then click Options.
  2. Click Customize Ribbon.
  3. To remove a tab, deselect it in the right pane.
  4. To remove a command on a tab:
    1. Expand the tab in the right pane.
    2. Locate the command (You might have to expand a section again to find it.)
    3. Click the command.
    4. Click Remove.
  5. To add a tab, select it in the right pane.

It’s also possible to add commands to existing tabs or create new tabs and add commands there. That’s somewhat complicated and is beyond our scope here. However, if you’d like to give it a try, you’ll first need to create a new tab or group from the options available on the right. That’s where your new commands will live. Following that, you can start adding those commands.