Reading in the New Word

Posted by sumeethevans on August 8 2012, 3:27 PM. Posted in Office.

One of the things Word has always excelled at is content authoring, but there’s more to a document than just writing, reviewing and collaborating. Historically, many documents were received and read in a paper form, but the increasing ubiquity of digital devices has led to a world in which many documents never even reach a printer. Word has long had tools tailored for reading, but this release of Word we wanted to go even further to improve the modern consumption experience.
As we worked on the new reading experience, there were a few high level design themes that emerged:

  • Incorporate the goodness from traditional paper reading
  • Embrace technology where it improves the experience
  • Keep a laser focus on the core scenario

With those ideas in mind, let’s take a look at what we built.

A new layout for the digital world 

The first problem we had to tackle was layout. What does it mean to read on a digital device and how does it compare to the traditional paper experience? Being the reading feature crew, it was only natural that the first thing we did was to hit the books do a bit of research.

Make it personal

We know nothing in life is ever one-size-fits-all, so we added in a bit of customization that you can set independently for each device you own. 

What about images?

By now you might’ve noticed we talk a lot about optimizing text, but most documents are far more than just a stream of text. They’re often full of images, tables, charts and so much more. With the new column layout we also reflow the figures in your document so they’ll fit within the new layout. 

Custom page colors

Another feature we added to reading mode is custom page color. After a while, black text on a bright white background can really tire out the eyes. Since our goal is to make reading easier, we added in a couple other color modes to make it easier on the eyes.  The sepia color mode is a trick we pulled from long form novels – have you ever noticed that the paper tends to be a little less bright? That subtle change makes a big difference after a few hundred pages.

Paper layout

We know this new column layout may not be for everyone or every document – sometimes you really need to read a document in its original layout. For those cases, we’ve added a paper layout into reading mode, so you can see that familiar document in a distraction free environment. Just go up to the View tab, and choose Paper Layout from the Layout fly out.

Special reading tools

Reading is about so much more than just the layout, though. Writing a document requires a very different set of tools than reading one. So we started over from the beginning and thought about which of our existing tools the user needs for reading, and which new features we needed to build.

Reading indicator

Navigation is a big part of the reading process, both in terms of knowing where you are and in terms of getting to the heading you want. We wanted to make sure that the navigation pane was available wherever you needed it, Reading Mode included – you can find it in the view drop down or from the page/screen number in the status bar.

Resume reading

Reading happens over time, you don’t always just sit and read a document until you are finished reading it. We knew this and we wanted to improve the transition between reading intervals and devices. You might want to read a document on your Windows phone or your Windows tablet, or maybe just on a traditional desktop or laptop. 

Look up on the go

It’s great to be able to pick up where you left off, but sometimes, the big improvement is not having to leave in the first place. One big area where folks tend to lose their place is when they come across something unfamiliar in their document.


Reading isn’t just about moving your eyes back and forth from line to line – for many documents it’s a process that involves a whole lot of note taking. If you’ve ever tried to buy a used textbook, you might know exactly what we mean. Reading a complex textbook is often a lot easier when you can highlight, add notes in the margin, and circle words.