Reading in the new Office

Editor’s note: The Word team has been hard at work on the 2013 version. Today Tristan Davis joins the blog to discuss some of the investments we’ve made in Read mode.

Tristan Davis, Senior Program Manager Lead, Word

When Word is described as a word processing application, most people think of it as an incredibly powerful tool for writing documents. And that’s true. But once those documents are written and shared, they’re read (usually by many more people than were responsible for writing it).

In fact, from our user data we know that nearly two-thirds of user sessions in Word contain no editing at all – the only things that happen once the document is opened are scrolling and zooming changes as the user reads and processes the content.

With this information in mind, the Word engineering team wanted to focus on creating a refreshed, modern reading experience for the new Word; one that optimized for the times when the user is focused on consuming, not creating, content. The goal was to create a clean and distraction-free environment that went beyond presenting an electronic equivalent of paper to create an experience that felt at home on all types of devices – from tablets to laptops to smartphones.

The result is a new reading experience in Word centered on a feature called Read Mode, which essentially turns your Word documents into an interactive digital magazine. You can try it out by participating in the Office Customer Preview, and in this post, I will provide a quick tour of the changes we’ve made.

Optimized for Reading?

People read millions of documents in Word every day, and they’re generally happy doing it. So, how do you create an experience that’s optimized for reading?

To start, the Word engineering team spent time analyzing the act of reading itself, and existing research on what made reading “better” or “worse.” From that, we learned a few things. For example:

  • Text in a specific column width (approximately 66-75 characters per line) is more comfortable to read than text in wider columns.
  • When people read, they often switch back and forth between what they’re specifically reading and related materials (e.g. you might look something up on Bing or take notes while reading this article).
  • When reading on a device with a small screen, reading comfort/speed is reduced by having to pan in two directions (back and forth across each line, then up and down through the document). Making the text small enough to avoid this problem (fitting the content to the screen) causes similar problems/frustrations.

We took all of that knowledge, combined with research about what people liked and didn’t like about reading in Print Layout, Word’s existing Full Screen Reading view, and other devices (like their smartphones, tablets, e-readers, etc.), and used it to build up a fresh, touch-optimized, modern Read Mode. In Read Mode, document contents are reflowed according to the device being used, and tools like a dictionary, translation, and integrated web search help people consume documents easily.

A Modern Read Mode

When you open a document in Read Mode, you’ll immediately notice that we’ve minimized the application UI as much as possible. When you read, the UI can be a distraction. Our goal was to eliminate distractions so the content had your full attention. Here’s an example:


We also enabled the use of Office’s new full-screen mode in this view, so you can hide all of the application UI if you prefer, and dedicate the entire screen to whatever you’re reading; however, that’s a choice you can make independently of choosing to read the document in Read Mode.

clip_image003[4]Beyond its clean look, we designed Read Mode to be a fast and fluid experience on touch devices. When reading documents on a tablet, for example, you can effortlessly pan from one screen to the next, easily navigating the document with the flick of your finger. Even tapping on the edges of the screen smoothly animates the transition from one section to the next, allowing you to comfortably hold a tablet device and read, without having to move your hand each time you want to turn the page. In addition, the Navigation pane has been optimized to ensure that you can easily use it to navigate between the various headings in your document with a single tap.

Reflowed for Your Device

One of the virtues ­(and pitfalls) of “paper” layout (i.e. 8.5×11 or A4 pages) is its rigidity – the pages are always the same size, regardless of whether those pages fit comfortably on your screen or not. And often, they don’t. We’ve watched countless times as users end up scrolling back and forth on their phone with each line that they read, forced to make an awkward tradeoff between a comfortable text size, and a size that “fits” the screen on which they’re reading.

  • Read Mode reflows the document to the constraints of the device on which you’re reading, ensuring that reading feels as comfortable on a 7” screen as a 24” one – a set of columns fit to the screen that scroll left to right. It creates these columns automatically based on three user-configurable settings: Column width preference – Prefer narrow columns? Or wide ones? By choosing your preference, Read Mode will automatically adjust the columns widths accordingly.
  • Text size – Using the slider on the status bar, you can scale the text to the size that is most comfortable for you, whether that’s the original size, or scaled up to something easier on the eyes.
  • Window size – Whatever size you make the window, or if you rotate your tablet between landscape and portrait modes, the screen will always be divided into equally sized columns that stay as close as possible to the column width you prefer.

For example, on the same screen, two different users might have very different “comfortable” reading preferences:


This adaptive layout enables us to always tune the experience to work optimally, even when the window is resized or viewed on different devices.

Once the document is laid out in columns, navigation is simple – pan right to go forward, and left to go back. For keyboard users, both left/right and up/down also move you through the document, as does the mouse scroll wheel (and a handy scrollbar at the bottom of the window).

When the document’s content is reflowed like this, pictures/charts/tables in the document are also resized to fit in the resulting columns – often, that means that they’re reduced from their original size. However, those elements can be the most information-rich part of a document (and hard to read when they’ve been shrunk down), so you can easily zoom “into” the object with a double-click or double-tap, bringing it front and center and allowing you to enjoy full focus on it at its original size.



Tools at Your Fingertips

Reading is an engrossing activity – when you’re in the middle of an interesting article, you want to stay “in the moment” as much as possible. As a result, we’ve included a set of tools within reading mode that allow you to complete common reading tasks without leaving Word, keeping that supplemental information right there in context. Those tools fall into two different categories: reference and document review.

Reference Tools

One of the most common causes of reading disruption is the need to look up additional context – for example the meaning of a word or additional background information about a concept. When in Read Mode, those tools are right there in context:

  • If you’re not sure what a word means, the Definitions callout allows you to quickly look up words in the dictionary
  • If you’re reading text that not in your native language, built-in Translation allows you to quickly translate text into the language of your choice
  • If you need more background information, you can use Search on Bing to initiate a web search directly from within the application


Each of these tools aims to get you the information needed and get you back to reading as quickly as possible.


Reviewing Tools

There’s a very common “reading” scenario in Word where you’re actually reviewing the document – providing or consuming comments and edits to content that’s still in progress. We did a bunch of work in Word 2013 to really streamline the document review experience (a simplified view of revisions called Simple Markup, using hints to show you where comments are in your document, etc.) – stay tuned for details on the Word blog – but all of that is available in Read Mode as well.

Give the New Reading Experience a Try

We designed Read Mode from the ground up with the unique aspects of reading in mind. Just as Word already helps people create and share information, the new Word makes consuming those documents on any screen a great experience.

Our goal was to create a fresh, distraction-free experience, optimized for any device and tailored to your preferences. We hope you try the Office Customer Preview and send us your feedback.