Understanding SmartArt

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated February 8, 2020)

SmartArt is a type of graphical tool included in the latest versions of Word. SmartArt is, basically, a way to make organized presentation art. (Some folks think that SmartArt was created as a tool primarily for PowerPoint.) It is suitable for "organizational" types of artwork, such as organization charts and process lists.

To insert a piece of SmartArt into your document, display the Insert tab of the ribbon. In the Illustrations group, click the SmartArt tool. Word displays the Choose a SmartArt Graphic dialog box. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. The Choose a SmartArt Graphic dialog box.

Notice that at the left side of the dialog box there are a number of different categories. Each category represents a number of different SmartArt layouts that you can choose from based on the desired purpose of the graphic you want to create.

  • List. If you can present your information using a list (like a bulleted list, let's say), then you'll want to choose this group.
  • Process. This category has layouts that are great for presenting information that describes a process toward a completion. For instance, a farmer may have processes such as tilling, planting, weeding, and harvesting. Each process is a portion of an entire season's crop.
  • Cycle. If a process is cyclical (one that always comes around to the beginning after ending), then the layouts in this group are helpful. Truth be told that example of the farmer in the Process group is applicable to the Cycle group.
  • Hierarchy. The classic example of a hierarchy layout is an organization chart. There are a number of things that can fit in this layout category, however—provided that a clear hierarchical relationship can be established between elements.
  • Relationship. If whatever you want to present is composed of related items, chances are that you can find a layout in this group. Here the relationships aren't as structured, as they are in the Hierarchy group.
  • Matrix. Have information that can be defined along multiple axes, such as time and money? Then you can probably put it in a matrix relationship.
  • Pyramid. If your information can be presented in a proportional manner (or reasonably proportional), then pyramid layouts may be just what you need. Think of the FDA's nutrition pyramid; that's the sort of thing that can fit in this group.

There are two additional categories available in Word 2010 and later versions of Word that aren't in Word 2007: Picture and Office.com. The Picture category is intended to help you use pictures in your SmartArt layout. The Office.com category isn't really a category, but a way to get additional layouts online.

Once you know which category you want to use, click it, and then click one of the layouts in that category. Click on OK, and Word inserts the SmartArt into your document. A text pane also opens up right next to the SmartArt. You place the information you want to appear in the artwork in this text pane.

When you are done entering the text for the artwork (what you enter or can enter depends on the type of SmartArt you are creating), click outside the SmartArt graphic, elsewhere in your document. The text pane disappears, and Word rearranges your text to fit properly in the available layout space.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (9386) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Microsoft 365.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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