The new series of Masterchef has just hit our screens and this year's competition has an added twist in the form of a qualifying round. In a move lifted straight from X-Factor, judges John and Greg sample dishes prepared in front of them and then give the contestant a yes or a no. If there is a split decision then that contestant gets the chance to sing, sorry cook, again.

As there seems to be a free-for-all on this format, I have borrowed it myself and devised a sort of Microsoft Office X-Factor, where different applications submit their finest tips to be given the thumbs up, or down, by judges, Tom and Jerry. First up it's a slide-show tip.

Let us assume you have a cool photo on your PowerPoint 2007 slide. It may look good sitting there as it is, but you can greatly enhance its visual impact with the application of reflection.

Select the photo and then click on 'Format' and select 'Picture Effects'. When you choose 'Reflection' you will see a selection of effects on offer. You might like to experiment with these, but generally a half reflection serves the purpose well. Click on this and the reflection will be applied to your picture. This adds an impressive touch to the slide, but you can make it even better.

Move your cursor onto an area of background and right click. Select 'Format Background' and go to 'Gradient Fill'. The most effective gradient for your reflective photo is probably one where the colour gets progressively lighter from the bottom up. To achieve this in the 'Type' box select Linear and in the direction box select' Linear Up'. Now choose your colours, beginning with the top of the slide, which is Stop 1. Choose a second colour for the mid-range of the background at Stop 2, and a slightly darker one for Stop 3 (you can use up to seven stops but three is usually sufficient). Once again experimentation will lead you to an effective look, but one rule of thumb is not to make the contrast between the different stops too great - subtlety works much better. When you are happy with your background, click OK and there you go, a professional looking slide.

Tom says: Yes
Jerry says: Yes

Suppose you had to write a long essay on Lake Chaubunagungamaug, which is in Massachusetts, USA. That would require a lot of key strokes and, as I expect it is an unfamiliar word to most people, careful typing to ensure it was correctly spelled.

To make life a lot easier for yourself, the first thing to do is to misspell the name of the lake. When the spell checker underlines it, right click and select AutoCorrect from the menu and then click on AutoCorrect Options. Select the AutoCorrect tab and go to the Replace box. Type in a suitable abbreviation, in this case LC would be good, and then in the 'With' box type 'Lake Chaubunagungamaug'. Click OK and then every time you need to type the name of the lake you need only type the abbreviation and Word will change it automatically, saving you time and effort.

Tom says: Yes
Jerry says: No
(Word must come back and try again)

When you have created a spreadsheet in Excel it is nice to have a headline at the top to show what the worksheet contains. A common way to do this is to leave a gap of a few rows above the data and then drag out a text box. There is a much better and easier way.

Type the heading of your spreadsheet into cell A1. Select this cell and, holding down the left mouse button, select further cells along the row, say from A1 to J1. When these cells are highlighted look on your Formatting toolbar for the Merge and Centre icon. This is a lower case letter a, with an arrow pointing away from each side. Clicking this will merge the selected range of cells and centre the text within. You can then format the text as with any other document.

If you don't have the Merge and Centre icon on your toolbar, for pre-2007 versions of Excel go to Format/Cells. Tick the 'Merge Cells' box and click OK to merge your cells into one. Click on central alignment on the Formatting toolbar.

For Excel 2007, select the cells as above and open the Home ribbon. You will find the Merge and Centre icon there.

Tom says: Yes
Jerry says: Yes

Word (second chance)
Let us say you have attached a Word document to an email and sent it to your entire mailing list. In this document you have requested feedback from everyone who received the mail.When compiling the document, you could have typed,

Please mail me with your feedback. Send mails to

When you typed your email address, Word would have automatically turned it into a hyperlink. This is made evident by the text changing colour and if you were to click on the link then you would open a New Message pane in your email program. This is fine but you needn't print your email address into the document at all, as it is quite easy to insert a hyperlink into the text itself. Here is an example of what you could have typed,

I'd love to receive your feedback, so mail me and I'll get back to you.

This does not interrupt the flow of the text with a cumbersome email address. It is easy to create a hyperlink by choosing any part of the passage. An effective link in this case would be to select the words 'mail me' and turn them into a hyperlink. You can do this simply by highlighting the words and then going to 'Insert' and choosing 'Hyperlink'. In the dialog box that appears type the email address you want the feedback to come to and click OK

Tom says: Yes
Jerry says: Yes.

So there we have it; a tip-top line up of office tricks just waiting to be explored. And there are many, many similar ones within the world of Microsoft Office, the application we all say yes to.