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Strategies for Switching from Word to Pages

Last year, when the Take Control ebook series migrated from Microsoft Word 2008 to Pages ’09, I faced the challenge of not only acquainting myself with an unfamiliar piece of software, but also of helping a group of authors make the switch, all while under time pressure to keep up with Apple’s breathless product-release schedule. (If you are curious about why we chose to switch, or about our EPUB-savvy production process, see “How Take Control Makes EPUBs in Pages,” 30 September 2011.)

Now that the commotion from the transition has died down, I want to share the strategies we used in switching from Word to Pages, along with some of my favorite Pages tips.

Look at the Bottom — A classic mistake of the long-time Word user switching to another program is to assume that if you look long enough in the menus and dialogs, you’ll encounter all the important commands available (that’s even more true if you include Word’s Customize Keyboard dialog, which lists a wealth of obscure commands). In Word, you can use the menus and dialogs as training wheels and pretty soon you’ll start using keyboard shortcuts for commands that you choose often.

This approach failed dismally in Pages. In Pages, key functions are stuck hither and thither in the user interface and there is no apparent reference that lists them all.

Important options appear at the lower left of a Pages document, in a location that is precariously close to the Dock with a full-height Pages window and a horizontal Dock. I’ll explain the three options I use, but note that there is also a checkbox in the Pages General preference pane to show the word count in this lower area; I work with that turned off.

The leftmost pop-up menu lets you change your zoom level and how many pages are showing at once. Although Pages does have a Zoom command in the View menu, it won’t let you choose a specific zoom percentage and it lacks the pop-up menu’s One-Up and Two-Up commands that control how many pages appear. I like to work at 100% with two pages showing, but many other Take Control folks prefer a higher zoom level in only a single page, so each time one of us opens the file, the zoom and display layout must be adjusted, which can be done
only from this little pop-up menu.

The Pages area in the bottom window border turns out to be clickable. Click it, and a “Go to Page” box appears where you can type the page number that you want to move to. Again, you can’t access this navigational control from any normal menu, dialog, or keyboard command.

The Scroll To triangles and associated gear menu that appear next are incredibly valuable. You use the gear menu to set what the triangles do. For instance, they can advance you to the next comment in the document, or the next hyperlink. If you want to flip through all the comments in a document quickly, this is where to work.

Reveal Hidden Track Changes Toolbar — Another popular chunk of interface real estate for a group of people working on a document is the Track Changes toolbar, which you can bring up by choosing Edit > Track Changes or by clicking the Track Changes button on the main toolbar. The Track Changes button isn’t present on the main toolbar by default, but you can customize the toolbar with View > Customize Toolbar or by Control-clicking it and choosing Customize Toolbar, just like in other Apple applications.

The Track Changes toolbar has two pop-up menus on its right side that most Take Control people failed to spot on their first few rounds of writing or editing. The View Markup menu controls the extent of tracked changes that you can see, which is essential for hiding your tracked deletions (you might think you could hide them using the Deleted Text menu in the General preference pane, but you’d be wrong). The gear menu gives you commands to accept or reject changes wholesale, and it is useful for picking the
color of your change-tracked text. (I have a great deal of fun monkeying with the colors; the second figure below shows Adam editing in purple and me editing in green; comments are always in yellow.)


To establish a comfortable workflow with the commands available only in the Track Changes toolbar, I had to extend myself outside the confines of Pages because I needed keyboard shortcuts for some of its functions, particularly for accepting changes and for toggling track changes
on and off, both functions that I might invoke hundreds of times in a typical day. I finally turned to Keyboard Maestro to create macros that give me keyboard shortcuts for those actions.

One warning. It’s not uncommon in a workgroup situation to end up with two copies of a file, each with marked changes. There is, unfortunately, no way in Pages to copy text between files and retain marked changes, or to compare two documents to identify changes between them.

Inspect the Inspector — The Inspector is a panel that comes up if you choose View > Inspector (Command-Option-I) or click the Inspector button on the toolbar. Many Pages options are available only from the Inspector, and the Inspector has a bank of tiny buttons at its top, which you click to switch between the different panes of options. I find working with the Inspector easy now, but for the first month it felt slow and cumbersome.


Frustratingly, each of the Inspector panes is a different size. I like to keep the Inspector open, for faster access, but it seems that as soon as I get it in the right spot on my screen, I switch panes and it becomes the wrong size for that spot. Some authors get around this by opening multiple copies of the Inspector with View > New Inspector. Personally, I wish the Inspector would open to one size and then lock onto an edge of the Pages window in a neat way, as palettes in InDesign do, since all too often I wind up
with it in the way of something else. (Word has a similar problem with its Formatting Palette, but since most of its functions are available in other ways, you can keep it closed most of the time.)

Rummage around in the Styles Drawer — Another exciting chunk of Pages real estate is the Styles drawer, which can be opened from the View menu, with a keyboard shortcut, from a button on the Format bar, or with a non-default toolbar button. Within the Styles drawer, it took me a while to realize that an accurate hover over the right of a style name would reveal a tiny triangle pop-up menu and it also took a while to be able to click that minuscule menu reliably on the first click. It all seems easy now, but at first it required persistence.

Eventually, I made that menu open enough times and absorbed its capabilities to the point where I tried the Hot Key command, which lets you assign a function key (like F3, say) to a style, so that you can apply it by pressing a key on your keyboard. However, most of the Take Control crew already have our function keys assigned to other functions. Third-party software again came to the rescue, this time in the form of AppleScripts for popular styles — each writer could install the scripts on his or her Mac and then use a macro
utility (such as Keyboard Maestro or QuicKeys) to assign a keyboard shortcut to each script. In case you’d like to try this, here’s an example:

tell application "Pages"
set mySel to (get selection of front document)
set paragraph style of mySel to "Chapter Name"
end tell

(Chapter Name is the “Heading 1” style that you must assign to your top level headings when exporting an EPUB from Pages.)

Although we read the manual and searched high and low in Pages, we’ve yet to find a way to configure a paragraph or list style by hand, by selecting the various attributes that we’d like it to include. This is sort of possible when creating (but not editing) a new character style by choosing Create New Character Style from Selection from the None character style’s pop-up menu and then expanding the Include All Character Attributes control. But there is no equivalent to the technique in Word where you choose Format > Style, then click New or Modify and select all the style details via checkboxes and menus. Instead, you must make a paragraph or list look the way you want and then redefine the existing style. Wacky.

My Kingdom for an Outline! — A great feature in Word, and one that I am sorry to have left behind, is the Navigation bar, which has been given different names in different versions of Word, all while remaining functionally the same. You open it as a left-hand bar in the Word window, and it shows the outline of your entire document, as long as you’ve used Word’s built-in heading styles (any experienced Word user will always use those built-in styles — they are Word’s crown jewels with their elegant integration with the Table of Contents feature and full, useful Outline view; Pages has a decent Table of Contents feature, but doesn’t begin to compete with Word’s
Outline view).

In Word’s Navigation bar, you can see the “forest” surrounding the “trees” of what you are reading at all times, and you can even edit the headings right in the Navigation bar. So, if you are in the middle of a chapter and deeply into a set of Heading 3 level topics, and suddenly the manuscript starts alternating between Heading 2 and Heading 4 level topics, you know you are in trouble and can adjust immediately. You can also click any line in the Navigation bar to jump to the corresponding heading.

Alas, Pages has no such organizational navigation interface, Also, because Pages has neither a Back command after clicking a link nor any other sensible way to jump back and forth between two sections of a document, we are finding it challenging to get around in longer documents.

To simulate the Navigation bar in Pages, some of us have taken to displaying the View > Page Thumbnails bar at the left, expanded as large as possible (drag its right border). It gets large enough that you can read the text in its thumbnails. I like to open it to the table of contents pages, so I can see the “outline” there, and sometimes I open another copy of the manuscript in a separate document window so that I can more fully view the outline or a second portion of a manuscript.

Unfortunately, all of these workarounds pale in comparison to Word’s Navigation bar and, frankly, the quality of the link-based user navigation in the Take Control series has decreased slightly because of this, because it is so much more difficult for authors and editors to determine where a possible link might lead.

Find the Documentation — Another classic strategy for learning a program deeply is to read the manual or some other form of documentation. I have read the entire Pages manual, and I found it frustrating because, while it does document how Pages is supposed to operate, it doesn’t clarify which features that you might expect in a word processor are not present. (To be fair, very few programs document their shortcomings.) Also, I’ve found some features to be a bit dodgy, most notably section breaks and style modifications, and I can’t figure out if it’s me or a bug in Pages; the manual doesn’t provide examples or describe common use cases.

You can find the manual by choosing Pages > Help, but if you plan to refer to it often, I suggest downloading the PDF and storing it somewhere handy.

A useful resource for ebook publishers is a short document published by Apple called “ePub Best Practices for Pages,” which you can download from a link in the Apple support note “Creating ePub files with Pages”. The document mentions the handful of styles that you need to use in a Pages document slated for EPUB export and notes the all-important fact that graphics in such a document must be inline, not floating.

It took time to learn that the best way to place a figure-sized graphic as inline is to first create a paragraph formatted so that the “Line” is “At Least” a specified line height; the “At Least” setting allows the line height to increase to the height of the graphic (open the Inspector, click the T (for Text) button, click the Text button). Once you have the proper line height format set, press Command while you drag the image file in from the Finder.

Another useful resource is the Pages Apple Support Community, which I’ve visited several times to ask questions and to try to help out by answering a few. If you have Pages questions, this is a good place to ask.

Work with Great People — Although it was fairly easy to write this article, it was not easy to learn everything that I’ve mentioned in it. It would have been all the harder had I not been part of a small working group of smart and good-spirited people who could commiserate with my woes and sometimes point out options that I’d overlooked.

I could write a great deal more about the fine points of Pages and working with change tracking, about how I had to make a macro in order to insert a comment without the timestamp being pre-highlighted (such that when you start typing the timestamp disappears, unless the first key you press is the Right arrow key), about Pages versus Word templates, and more, but I have covered the main high (and low) points for now. If you have a Pages tip to share, please let us know in the comments.

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