10 OpenOffice Tips and Tricks to Improve Productivity

Open Office

Apache OpenOffice is a free, open-source office suite that supports user privacy and stores all your work in OpenDocument format (ODF). The software is compatible with popular closed-source office alternatives, such as Microsoft Office, and covers word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics and database applications. Here’s a list of OpenOffice tips that you need to know.

1. Get Acquainted With Extensions

If there are features you’d like to use that OpenOffice doesn’t have by default, consider installing an extension for added functionality. Follow the steps below to access the OpenOffice’s extension library from Writer.

Note: some of these extensions haven’t received updates in a while, so they might not be compatible with the latest version of OpenOffice.

  1. Go to “Tools -> Extension Manager.”
Open Office Tips Extension Manager
  1. From the pop-up window that shows up, click the “Get more extensions online” option.
Open Office Tips Extension
  1. You’ll be taken to the OpenOffice extension library/ where you can search for various extensions using keywords. Alternatively, you can simply browse.

If you don’t know what to download first, we have a few suggestions:

  • Professional Template Pack: with the Pro Template Pack, you get access to a library of professional templates that cover everything from business documents and presentations to posters and press releases. It’s really useful to have around.
  • BasicCommentHelper: enable the comments functionality in OpenOffice with the BasicCommentHelper extension. Once installed, add your observations throughout a document, just as you would in Microsoft Word.
  • Language Libraries: OpenOffice comes with a large collection of dictionaries that allows you to add more languages so that you can type in your native language.

2. Change the UI Language in OpenOffice

OpenOffice comes with English as its default UI language. However, you can change it to your native language very easily.

  1. Go to the OpenOffice download page and select your language pack from the drop-down menu. Press “Download language pack.”
Open Office Tips Tricks Language Pack
  1. Install it on your device.
  1. Navigate to “Tools -> Options.”
Oo 1
  1. From the left side menu, select “Language Settings -> Languages.”
Oo Uilang New
  1. Select another UI language from the “User interface” drop-down menu on the right.
  2. Restart the Apache OpenOffice software to have the UI language changed.

3. Enable Writing Aids

If you’re not using your native language in OpenOffice, you might need spellcheck, hyphenation, a thesaurus and other similar features to help you with your writing.

  1. Navigate to “Tools -> Options -> Language Settings -> Writing Aids” for a list of available language modules.
Oo 2
  1. Click the top  Edit button for “Available language modules” to see which tools are installed for the current language.
  2. Use the drop-down list to see which languages are installed.
Oo 3
  1. If you’re not seeing your language, click “Get more dictionaries online.”

4. Customize Keyboard Shortcuts

OpenOffice offers a wide range of predefined keyboard shortcuts, but you can also make your own. Assign different keys for different functionalities and get the job done without touching the mouse.

  1. Open a document in OpenOffice.
  2. Navigate to “Tools -> Customize.”
  3. Switch to the “Keyboard” tab at the top to find a list of shortcuts.
Oo Keyboardcustom
  1. Select individual software such as Writer or apply it globally using the OpenOffice option at the top.
  2. To change what a key combination does, find it in the list and press the “Modify” button.
Open Office Keyboard
  1. From the “Functions” section select what the key combination will trigger instead. For instance, you can have Shift + 8 trigger the creation of an HTML document.

5. Create a Table of Contents

If you’re working on a lengthy document, having a table of contents may come in handy, as it will allow readers to skim through the document quickly. Using OpenOffice, you can create a table of contents with a click of a button.

Before creating a table of contents, add some headings to your document to create a structure.

  1. Locate heading styles by going to “Format -> Styles and Formatting.”
Open Office Style Format
  1. Double-click on one of the options that appear in the pop-up window to add your headings.
Open Office Formatting
  1. Click where you want the table of contents to appear.
  2. Navigate to the “Insert -> Indexes and Tables” option.
Oo Toc
  1. On the “Insert Index/Table” page, set the number of levels (or heading numbers) you want to include. Change the “Evaluate up to level” setting if you do not want all of them.
Open Office Tips Tricks Toc Style
  1. Ensure that the “Outline” checkbox is marked and click the “…” button next to it. If the button appears grayed out, check the “Additional Styles” option.
Oo 4
  1. Select one of the various styles to customize your table of contents.
  2. Click “OK” in the main tab, and your table of contents should appear in your document.
  3. If you decide to add new content to your document later, the table of contents won’t update automatically. To update it, right-click on your table of contents and select the “Update Index/Table” option. The new headings should populate your table.

6. Write Formulas and Expressions

OpenOffice has very robust support for writing special characters and formulas, and inserting them into a document is very simple.

  1. Navigate to “Insert -> Special Character.”
Open Office Tips Special Characters
  1. Find the special character you want in the small window that pops up. If you select several, you will see them all displayed at the bottom of the window, and they will all be inserted.
Oo Basic Character
  1. Writing formulas is a bit more complex than adding special characters. First, go to “Insert -> Object -> Formula.”
Open Office Tips Formula
  1. This will open an editing window at the bottom, a box where you’ll be writing your equation in the document, and the “Floating” windows where you will add your elements.
Oo Formula
  1. Select from the various items in “Elements” to add functions, multiplications, operators, and operations such as addition, subtraction or Boolean.
  2. To change the “a” and “b” variables, click on each in the equation box in the document. Once you’re finished writing your equation, click anywhere outside.

Tip: use the Formula Reference Tables to type in your equations quickly and efficiently.

Handouts can offer a quick overview of your presentation. If you print your presentation directly, each slide will take a page, which is inefficient. With handouts, however, you can get two to six slides on a page.

  1. Open a presentation and click on the “Handout” tab above the slide view.
Open Office Tips Tricks Handouts
  1. In the “Layouts” tab on the right side, choose the number of slides you want per page.
Oo Impress
  1. The default page layout is Landscape. If you want Portrait (vertical), choose “Format -> Page” and select “Portrait.”
  2. To add horizontal lines for people to take notes, you can use the line tool to draw a set of three to four lines by the first slide.
Open Office Tips Tricks Section
  1. To add a page number at the bottom of each piece of paper (not every slide), use the “Text” tool to draw a text box at the bottom of the page and type the word “Page.”
Open Office Tips Tricks Text
  1. Go to “Insert -> Fields -> Page Number” to add an automatically incrementing page number.
Oo 11

8. Search the Web

You can use OpenOffice to search for any URL and keyword from your document.

  1. Navigate to “View -> Toolbars -> Hyperlink Bar.” Click on it, and you should see a new bar appear at the top of your document.
Oo 5
  1. Whenever you want to search the Web for a certain term that appears in your document, highlight the word(s) in the text.
Open Office Tips Google
  1. Press on the binoculars icon in the toolbar and select a search engine. You only get a few options, but Google is included.
  2. This will open search results of your highlighted keyword(s) in your default browser.
  3. Alternatively, you can use the URL bar at the top to go to a site directly from OpenOffice.
Oo 6

9. Send Your Document as Email

You can use OpenOffice to send documents directly from the program. This feature will be convenient if you need to send multiple emails a day.

  1. Click on “Files -> Send.”
Oo 8
  1. You have several options, including sending “Document as e-mail” and “E-mail as OpenDocument text.”
Oo 9
  1. After clicking any of the options above, OpenOffice will open your default mail client with the document as an attachment. This technique doesn’t work if you have a web-based email client like Gmail. You must install a native email client like Thunderbird or Mailspring to solve the issue.

10. Try an Alternate Way of Inserting Tables

In OpenOffice, you can also insert tables by using a series of hyphens (-) or tabs separated by plus (+) signs. The plus signs are used to indicate column dividers, while hyphens (or tabs) are used to outline the width of a column.

To make sure this trick works, check that the function is enabled.

  1. Go to “Tools -> Autocorrect,” and in the “Options” tab, make sure the “Create table” option is checked.
Open Office Table
  1. Go to “Format -> AutoCorrect” and if “While Typing” is not enabled, click on it.
Open Office Tables
  1. Write (or copy/paste) something like this in OpenOffice: +—————–+—————+——+
Open Office Tips Create Table
  1. Press Enter and to instantly create the table.
Open Office Tips Table Final

Frequently Asked Questions

Does OpenOffice Impress support animations?

Yes. OpenOffice Impress has excellent support for element animation and page transitions. Do note that if you import a Microsoft Office presentation file, Impress may not recognize the animation.

Can OpenOffice fully replace Microsoft Office?

Depending on your needs, the OpenOffice suite might offer just enough for you to complete your tasks. However, you should keep in mind that some Microsoft Office features don’t have a substitute in OpenOffice. On the bright side, you might be able to add some of these missing options to OpenOffice via extensions.

How do I convert a Word document to OpenOffice format?

Right-click on the Word document in question and find “Open with.” Select OpenOffice to open the Word file. If the document is not formatted properly, you can format it manually. Next, click on the “File -> Save As” option, then select ODF text document (.odt) to save it as such. Alternatively, you can use one of the many online file converters, such as Convertio.

Image credit: Amy Hirschi via Unsplash. All screenshots taken by Hrishikesh Pathak.

Hrishikesh Pathak
Hrishikesh Pathak

Developer and writer. Write about linux and web.

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