April 2016 Issue  Volume 17  Number 4

Product Evaluations and Guides

The MLWordTips App from Lynette Tatum: Quick Keyboard Tips for Microsoft Word

There are few tasks more associated with using a computer on a regular basis than word processing. Whether it's jotting down a favorite recipe, making note of an important phone number, or writing a research paper, every accomplished computer user needs to become familiar with the concept of writing and editing documents. Of all the programs available for this purpose, none is more widely used than Microsoft Word, especially if you are a Windows user. Over the years, Microsoft Word has grown into a very robust, but also a very complex, piece of software. For a blind person who does not have the benefit of intuitive, visual help to figure out how to complete a task using Microsoft Word, it is necessary to learn a dizzying array of keystrokes, tips, and tricks in order to complete necessary tasks.

There are various resources for learning how to use Microsoft Office, and Microsoft Word in particular, but some of them are costly. On the other end of the spectrum, many of the free alternatives for learning to use Microsoft Word do not take the needs of the blind computer user into consideration.

Lynnette Tatum knows full well how much work is required to learn to use Microsoft Word. Knowing is one thing, but being able to do something about it is another thing entirely. In her more than 20 years as a Microsoft instructor, Tatum received praise from her students for the well-organized notes she handed out in her classes. As she began to lose her sight, she realized the importance of learning to use Microsoft Word's many keyboard commands, rather than relying on the mouse.

As a result of her many years of teaching, Tatum decided to collaborate with developer Michael Doise of iAccessibility to create an iOS app that would aid blind users of Microsoft Word in learning to use the program. The result, in fact, was an app that can be useful to any user of Microsoft Word without regard to visual acuity.

How MLWordTips Works

MLWordTips is available for the iPhone and iPad at a cost of $4.99, and consists of a series of 21 short lessons. Each lesson focuses on one aspect of using Microsoft Word, with a little humor and encouragement sprinkled throughout. When the app is launched, you are presented with a series of buttons, each of which takes you to the specified lesson. The app resembles an e-book, or perhaps a quick reference guide containing clear, concise information about how to use Microsoft Word. Headings and lists help keep all of the material found in this app orderly and easily digestible.

Main Screen

We will take a look at each of the 21 lessons provided in the app, as well as a category labeled "Essentials."

The About Screen

The About screen gives a brief description of MLWordTips and allows the user to visit Lynette Tatum's website where she has posted several blog entries on the process of developing the app. In addition to Tatum's site, the app's About screen also provides a link to iAccessibility, the website maintained by Michael Doise. Since Safari is loaded when you launch these sites from the app, it might be easiest to simply close out the web browser and go back into MLWordTips when you are ready to continue exploring the app. When I left Safari and went back into the app after visiting the two websites mentioned above, the web pages continued to be visible in the app until I activated the "Close" button to leave the About screen.

In the upper left corner of the About screen, there is a "Share" button that allows you to post a short description of the app along with its URL to social media. Along with the button that takes you to the About screen and a heading stating the app's name, the MLWordTips main screen contains the following buttons.

Introduction

This screen gives a brief description of the app's purpose, and provides an "Essentials" button at the bottom right corner of the screen. This button is visible in most every screen of the app. We will discuss "Essentials" later.

The Document Window

This lesson provides a description of Microsoft Word's main document window. Headings are provided for the various sections and subsections of this screen. In fact, this is true for all lessons within the app. Topics covered in the Document Window lesson include the title bar, the ribbon/command bar, the backstage menu, and the status bar.

Simply activate the "Back" button found in the upper left corner of the screen when you are finished with a lesson to return to the app's main screen once again.

Cursor Movement

This lesson discusses the purpose of the cursor in Microsoft Word, and provides keystrokes for moving around in a document by character, word, line, and paragraph.

Quick Editing Techniques

The very basics of editing are covered here, including how to insert and delete characters and spaces, and how to use a space character to separate two words that were previously joined together.

Saving Your Document

In this topic, only the most basic aspects of saving a document are discussed. There is no discussion of how to move to various folders on your computer to save files in specific locations. I would hope that a future version of this app would include more content in this area.

Opening a Document

A bit more information is given here than was the case in the previous topic, including a brief mention of the Backstage menu. I would still like to see more attention given to navigating among folders and drives on one's computer, however.

Closing a Document//Starting a New Document//Exiting the MS Word Application

Starting a new Word document, closing existing documents, and exiting Microsoft Word are all covered here. It could be argued that these topics should be separated out a bit more, but the concepts are simple, and the instructions are brief, so perhaps placing all of these items under one topic makes sense.

Selecting Text in MS Word Is a Shifty Business

The title of this lesson is just one example of the humor that makes this app sparkle in a way that it otherwise might not. There are lots of good shortcut keys and tips for selecting text presented here.

Inserting the Date and Time

Adding the date and time to a document can sometimes be necessary, and this lesson walks you through the process, including how to change default date and time options.

Spellchecking Your Document

There are a number of options available in the spellcheck dialog, and this lesson provides an overview of how to make good use of the Microsoft Word spellchecker.

Formatting Your Document

Two lessons are devoted to character formatting and paragraph formatting. Perhaps these two lessons could have been combined into one, but there is no reason why they should not be separate. The basics of bolding, italicizing, underlining, etc. are covered, along with making sure that paragraphs are aligned the way they should be.

Printing Your Document

This very short lesson introduces the concept of printing a document and encourages the student to explore the print dialog box in order to discover more options.

Changing Font and Size

This section of the app introduces the concept of changing font type and size, as well as changing paragraph styles in your document. As is the case throughout all of the lessons in MLWordTips, important keystrokes are included.

Changing Case

This lesson gives an overview of the three most popular cases in Word: upper case, lower case, and initial case. This is an example of a Word feature that, although simple to use, might be hard to locate if you really needed to use it. This app contains many nuggets of information for even a fairly advanced user of Microsoft Word.

Cutting, Copying, and Pasting Text

Anyone who works with a word processor for any length of time will eventually need to move text around in a document. The concepts of cutting, copying, and pasting text are discussed briefly but thoroughly in this lesson.

Finding and Replacing Text

As with cutting, copying, and pasting text, finding and replacing text are important skills for any Microsoft Word user to have. Pretty much everything you need to know about these actions can be found in this short lesson.

Inserting Page Numbers

Inserting page numbers is not something you will need to do every day, and for that reason, you might not always remember how to do it. This section of the app is where you would go in order to refresh your memory.

Adjusting Line Spacing

Most of the time you won't need to change line spacing in a document, but if your college assignment needs to be double spaced, you can quickly find out how to make the change by consulting this lesson.

Applying Bullets and Numbers to Lists

If Microsoft Word is allowed to add bullets and numbers to lists automatically, this feature can either be a time-saver or a real headache. If you want maximum control over the process, this lesson will help you make the desired changes to your document.

Switching Among Open Documents

This very short lesson shows you how to switch between two or more open documents in Microsoft Word. It's as simple as that!

Controlling Yourself in MS Word

This section of the app provides a list of Control key and letter combinations used in Microsoft Word. Examples include Ctrl + A to select everything in a document, and Ctrl + S to save a document.

The Essentials Screen

Except for the main screen of the app, you will find a button in the bottom right corner of every MLWordTips screen labeled "Essentials." Activating this button reveals a list of three topics--cursor movement, auick editing, and selecting text. A "Close" button exits the Essentials screen. When viewing any of the three Essentials topics, the "Back" button at the top left of the screen takes you back to the main screen of the app again.

The Bottom Line

I personally like the approach taken by the creators of this app. It serves as part quick reference guide and part tutorial. I don't find the $4.99 price to be unreasonable, since I would easily pay that for a braille quick reference booklet from other sources.

Navigating the app with VoiceOver on my iPhone was very straightforward. There is a lot to cover when talking about Microsoft Word, and I hope that even more content can be added in future versions of this app. If MLWordTips never sees another update, I still feel that it is worth the price, even for someone who feels that they have a good grasp of using Microsoft Word, but would like a handy reference tool close by in case a seldom-used feature of Microsoft Word is needed.

Product Information

Product Name: MLWordTips
Operating System: iOS
Price: $4.99

Developers: Lynnette Tatum & Michael Doise

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