How to Use the Ribbon Toolbar in Microsoft Word

Explore the Ribbon and learn how to use it

Woman working on laptop

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The Ribbon is the toolbar that runs across the top of Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and other Microsoft Office 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.

Instructions in this article apply to Word 2019, Word 2016, Word 2013, and Word for Office 365.

Explore View Options for the Ribbon

Screenshot showing Ribbon Display Options icon

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.

Select the Ribbon Display Options icon in the upper-right corner, which is a small box with an upward-pointing arrow inside.

If the Ribbon is currently hidden, you will see three dots in the upper-right corner of the Word window.

  1. Select Auto-Hide Ribbon to hide the ribbon. Select the bar at the top of the window to access the ribbon in this view.
  2. Select Show Tabs to display ribbon tabs only. Choose a tab to access commands in this view.
  3. Select Show Tabs and Ribbon to display ribbon tabs and commands at all times.

Any time you want to collapse the ribbon to see more of a document, double-click any of the ribbon tabs or press CTRL+F1. Double-click any of the ribbon tabs or press CTRL+F1 again, the ribbon will expand.

Use the Ribbon

Screenshot of Shapes menu on Insert tab in Word

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

Many tools work differently if you have text or an object 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

Screenshot showing Customize Quick Access Toolbar menu

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

Customize the Ribbon

Screenshot of Customize Ribbon tab in Word Options

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.

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. Select File, and then click Options. The Word Options window will open.
  2. Choose 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. Select the command.
    4. Select 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.