You've all seen them. The posters, church bulletins, websites and brochures that appear to have photos of humanoid aliens on them (aka: profile pictures that have been stretched out one direction or the other, distorting them). Not everybody notices if it's subtle enough, but a designer can spot this mistake at least two miles away (if not further).
If you're not a designer, you may do a lot of your work in Microsoft Word. Before we go on, let us remember that Microsoft Word is a designer's nightmare. However, for quick tasks when you can't pay someone else to do the layout for your project, there are steps you can take to at least make sure things are looking decent. The screenshots below are taken from Microsoft Word on a Mac computer, but most applications have similar tools if they allow you to insert an image.
So you decide to add a picture of a cute kitty to your project. (Isn't she adorable? That's one of Rachel's cats.)
But it doesn't quite fill the space you wanted. So you decide to grab hold of one of the "handles" around the edge with your mouse and drag it to resize.
Unfortunately, you wind up with a tall, skinny kitty. At first glance it may look okay, but on closer inspection, it's obvious that the photo has been distorted. It could wind up horizontally distorted as well.
The first question is, what was your goal? Were you trying to fill more space, or less space? If it was the latter, cropping can be a great option. In Microsoft Word, all you need to do is right-click on the image and choose "crop." From there, you can click and drag any side to adjust it however you want.
You then wind up with a neatly cropped photo (a different size and/or shape) that is not distorted. But maybe you were trying to enlarge the image. A super cool trick is to press Shift on your keyboard, and click and hold one of the corners of the image (keep holding down Shift) and drag. Try it. The image will resize but maintain its proportions correctly. Release your mouse then let up on the Shift key.
If you're leery about doing it this way, you can also right-click on the image and choose "Size and Position." A new dialog box will give you all sorts of options. Just remember if you're resizing, to make sure the "aspect ratio" is locked - that will ensure the image will not be distorted.
There are many, many other ways to control how your images behave in Microsoft Word (and other word processors), but this one is one of the most important. Again, most applications that allow inserting images will have some kind of tools to help you out. Use them. Unless you're advertising a torture rack to stretch people out. Then you may like the distortion.