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Wikipedia:How to draw a diagram with Microsoft Word

This tutorial aims to instruct a beginner on the basic principles of vector graphics. There are several important vector graphics programs about that allow you to do very fancy things but this tutorial is not going to use them. Instead you will be shown how to use the drawing tools that come with Microsoft Word (Office 98 or later).

The reason for this is expensive specialized programs such as Corel Draw are not likely to be owned by novices, whereas Microsoft Word is found on most Windows computers, at home, school or place of business. Besides which, the basic principles are the same. Once you learn how to do it in Word, you will quickly pick up how to do it in a dedicated drawing program.

Table of contents

Getting Started

The first thing to do is start up Word and make sure the drawing toolbar is visible. If it's not go to View --> toolbars and tick the Drawing checkbox. You should then see a toolbar at the bottom of the window that looks like this.

The bases of vector graphics are simple lines and shapes. Click the Autoshapes button and you will be presented with a number of possible shapes. Try a few of them out.

Notice the white little boxes at the "corners" of the shape, these are called handles and allow you to resize the shape bigger or smaller. Some shapes have a yellow box at one corner; these let you vary one of the parameters of the shape. E.g. the depth of the bezier curve on the rounded box shape or the steepness of the sloping sides on the trapezium shape.

Colouring In

Shapes can be filled with colour; there are a variety of possibilities from simple colour to gradient fill [very useful for indicating a cylindrical object as you can see from the diagram on the right]. You can also fill an object with a texture of one of the pictures you have on your hardisk. Click on the little paint pot and try a few things out to see the effect. Note that you have to select an object by clicking on it in order to fill it with colour. You can also colour in the outlines of you shapes, try the little paintbrush next to the fill paint pot. [The downwards-pointing triangles at the side of the paint pot and brush allow you to select a different fill effect or colour than the present one]

Joining Up

Simple squares and circles are very well but most diagrams that need to be drawn involve more complicated shapes than the ones that are available to you on the Autoshape palette. For these you need to be able to join simple shapes together.

A collection of objects,
each individually selected
The collection has been
grouped into a single object

Before you can join shapes together you need to select them all at once. Clicking on a shape will select it, but if you then click on another shape you will deselect the first one. To prevent this from happening hold down the shift key as you click on each of the shapes in turn. Once you have selected the shapes that you want to join together click on Draw then group.

Cutting Holes

One of the difficulties of Draw in Word is that you can't cut out parts of a shape. It is possible however to give the appearance of a cut out by overlaying the shape with another shape that is coloured with the background colour. So for example if you want a red semicircle. You draw a red circle and overlay it with a white rectangle [or a rectangle with the background colour if the background is not white].


The little green dot with the blue circling arrow on it allows you to rotate an object. Note that although you can rotate objects you cannot rotate bitmap images. This means that any fill effects will not rotate.

Ordering, aligning, and flipping objects

If you click on draw, you will be presented with a number of options for manipulating images. Word orders images on top of on another in the order that you draw them. Sometimes however you want to reverse the order of two[or more] objects. This can be done by selecting one of the objects and sending it forwards or backwards.

The flip object is self explanatory. It is often very useful to use this feature if you are drawing a symmetrical diagram. Draw the left hand side, join the individual parts together, copy and paste the image, flip horizontally, then align and join. Hey presto! A perfectly symmetrical object.


The align objects option allows you to precisely align two or more objects together.

The reason that you might need to do this is because, when you move an object by dragging it, the objects do not flow smoothly but instead snap to a grid. The grid is there so that on most occasions objects align up, but if for example you want to centre two complex objects, you may find that no suitable grid point exists and it is impossible to drag the objects into the correct position. The image above shows the effect of a snap grid. Each diamond is one grid position away from the last. As you can see it is impossible to get the diamond in the center of the rectangle.

By using the align tools however, the diamond can be correctly positioned in the true center of the rectangle.[As can be seen in the image in the right]


The little box with horizontal white lines and a capital A in the corner is the text box. You can use it to annotate a diagram. The default background colour is white with a black border. It is usually better to change to a clear background with no border. A couple of points should be noted.

  • Keep the font simple. Arial is probably the best to use because it's simple lines come out well when the image is rasterised.
  • It’s better not to use annotation to give a diagram a title. Put the diagram inside a table and use the table caption to do it. That way it can easily be changed.
  • Do not be tempted to use the WordArt[?] button next to the text button. WordArt is the feature most responsible for those terrible looking amateur posters, and ads that can be seen in corner shop windows or the advertisement board in supermarkets.

A step-by-step walk through - Drawing a test tube

fig. 1fig. 2fig. 3fig. 4fig. 5fig 6
A test tube is basically a cylinder, which has a rounded bottom and a flared out top. To get a rounded bottom a curved rectangle shape was selected from the Autoshape palette.

The curve on the bottom of the test tube was too small, so it was adjusted by grabbing the yellow handle and dragging it until the correct curve was produced.

A two-colour gradient fill was added to give the appearance that the test tube was cylindrical in shape and full of a blue liquid.

The top half of the test tube was cut away by placing a white curved rectangle over it. The reason a curved rectangle was used rather than an ordinary one was to give the appearance of a meniscus on the surface of the liquid.
The sides of the test tube had been partially obliterated by the white rectangle and so were drawn back in. The diagram now makes a pretty convincing test tube.
To finish off, the white curved rectangle was given a very pale blue grey gradient fill to give the appearance of curved glass. Two small arcs were selected from the AutoShape palette and positioned at the top and a green line was added to the liquid surface. The objects were selected then grouped together, then the image was copied and pasted into a bitmap graphics image editor (e.g. Paint Shop Pro) where it was cleaned up slightly and saved in png format.

Diagrams in Wikipedia The following list contains articles that have diagrams drawn using the very basic tools of Word. They range from very simple to quite complicated and will give you an idea of what can be done with a little effort.

See also: Wikipedia:Graphics tutorials

All Wikipedia text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

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