Thanks to some clever office watchers, Microsoft Word has a way of connecting shapes with lines or arrows that stay connected when moved. we will explain the trick and why it is needed in word and outlook, but not in other office applications.
as we already explained, in excel, powerpoint and publisher, you can connect shapes with lines or arrows that change when you move the shapes. but in word and outlook that doesn’t happen by default.
Reading: How to connect lines in word
the word has connected forms
The trick with word and outlook for windows is to add a drawing canvas before inserting shapes, lines or arrows.
don’t blame the messenger: word and outlook for mac do not have the drawing canvas and therefore no shape connectors are available. the mac versions of excel and powerpoint have connectors, as do the windows versions of the applications.
go to insert | the shapes then way down at the bottom is ‘new drawing canvas’. you may have to scroll down to see it…
A drawing canvas is a special region in a document that contains shapes and other drawing objects. a drawing canvas is transparent and borderless by default, but that can be changed from the shape format tab. the usual text wrapping options are also available. If you’re familiar with text boxes, drawing canvases are much the same.
Within a word/outlook drawing canvas, shapes can be connected. when you add a line/arrow inside a drawing canvas, the telltale gray connection points appear (office for windows).
attach the line or arrow to one of the connection points and the line will stick to that point if you move the shape.
change the default insert shapes for the drawing canvas
word defaults to inserting shapes without a drawing canvas, but that can be changed.
go to file | options | advanced | editing and search for “automatically create a drawing canvas when inserting autoshapes”.
Turn that option on and you’ll get a drawing canvas every time a shape is added and therefore connections are available.
There are advantages and disadvantages to allowing that option. it’s faster if you need connected shapes and it keeps all the shapes together inside the canvas. but a drawing canvas will automatically fill the entire width of the page, no matter what size you need.
word/outlook adding a shape with an auto-draw canvas that occupies the page width and additional height.
Without the drawing canvas, the shapes only take up the space they need.
the drawing canvas can be resized and fit changes
copy/paste from other office applications
if you have connected shapes in excel, powerpoint, or publisher, they can be copied into word or outlook email, but only if you paste them onto a drawing canvas.
pasting directly into a document or email only partially works. all shapes are pasted but connections are lost.
why is the drawing canvas necessary?
good question… as close as we can tell, the short answer is “history”.
In the dim and dark past of Microsoft Word, you needed a drawing canvas to add any kind of shape.
then microsoft changed word so forms could be inserted directly into a document or email. Later forms were added to excel, publisher, and powerpoint, including connections by default, but the same feature was not installed in word.
directly inserting shapes is what word and outlook users have done for many years with the almost forgotten drawing canvas.
many thanks to ron s. and James C. who have a better memory of the word history than we do! both reminded us of the archaic drawing canvas and its usefulness.
why can’t words connect shapes? connecting shapes in the office with lines or arrows