One way I waste time working on a document is looking up words or doing research. I can find everything I need online or in the dictionary on my desk relatively quickly, but I have to leave my file, find the information in the right source (and it may not be so quick on the Internet), and then go back to my file. Total time may be just a couple of minutes. Still, wouldn’t you rather go home a couple of minutes earlier instead?

One way I get back some of that time is the Research task pane in Office 2003.

It’s available in the 2003 versions of Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Publisher, Visio, and OneNote. I highly recommend it. Without having to leave your Office programs, you can use a dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia, and other reference titles to look up words and topics and make sure you have the correct information. You can even look up stock quotes and do online searches.

I’m guessing very few people use this tool regularly. I did a little informal poll (my wife and 5 friends), and only one person knew of this task pane. In fact, one friend still uses the spelling dictionary that they used in college.. Nothing wrong with using paper references—everyone should have them. But I’ll bet you can save a couple of minutes by using the Research task pane to look up the correct spelling and use of “preganglionic,” and then copy and paste the definition into your document. Try it.

To open the Research Task Pane, do one of the following

  • On the Tools menu, click Research.
  • Press ALT and click a word in a document. 
  • Right-click a word and click Look Up or Translate, or point to Synonyms and click Thesaurus.
  • Click the Research icon on the Standard toolbar.
  • If a task pane is already open, click the Other Task Panes arrow at the top right of the task pane and click Research on the drop-down menu.

Here are some more links about how to use the Research task pane:

And kudos to those who already knew what preganglionic meant.

-- Jason Kozleski