Sometimes new Microsoft Word users find that they've accidentally turned on non-printing characters. Although you may be tempted to turn off all those "weird symbols" and forget about them forever, in my opinion, leaving certain nonprinting characters turned on makes Word vastly easier to use.
Word calls anything that doesn't appear on your printout a "nonprinting character." Choose Tools|Options and click the View tab. You see a bunch of little boxes that turn the display of certain items on and off. If you turn on some of these characters, you may find a number of tasks easier.
For example, applying Styles and formatting is much easier if you display Paragraph Marks. Knowing where your paragraphs begin and end is essential to working with Styles in Word. You also can identify "empty paragraphs," which some people tend use to create blank lines between paragraphs. (As an aside, you'll generally have better luck with your formatting if you use the Space Before or After commands instead.)
If you work with tabular text, you should display the tabs as well. I've seen many tables created with 60 tabs when just 2 would have sufficed. People just keep hitting the Tab key in an effort to get the text to line up and get frustrated when it doesn't. If you "show tabs" and adjust your tab settings you can avoid problems because you can actually see what's going on.
Similarly, when you are working with fields, it helps to turn on Hidden Text and Field Codes. For example, if you need to search and replace a term that appears in a book, you must turn on hidden text so the search will find the index entries as well as the text within the document.
Here's another helpful idea for those with slow computers. If you are working with imported graphics, try turning on Picture Placeholders to reduce the amount of time Word spends redrawing the screen. When Picture Placeholders is enabled, Word hides the imported graphics and replaces them with an empty box. You can still see how large your graphic is, but you no longer have to witness the screen redraw process.
I find that the one non-printing character I don't want to turn on is the space character. When the space character is enabled, it is extremely difficult and annoying to try and proofread text on the screen. So you may want to experiment. Exploring the view options may give you a new insight into your document creation experience.