Microsoft Word – Use and Abuse
This topic of article was going to be ‘How best to use Microsoft Word to produce documentation’. But it’s instructive to flip this around by asking how Word might be used if the aim were to produce documentation that was messy, inconsistent and time-consuming to create and maintain.
So here are some suggestions for how to ensure that you produce poor quality documentation, before you have even begun to write.
Don’t train your team in Word. After all, Word is just typing, isn’t it? Failing to give your staff adequate training in Word will ensure that they waste lots of time trying, but failing, to get documents into an acceptable format, rather than concentrate on content. Staff will be free to continue with the bad Word habits they have randomly acquired in their careers to date.
Have a totally inadequate template. If there is a template, ensure that it specifies only the bare minimum of formatting – margins, header and footer, page numbering, font size and typeface for basic paragraphs and for headings. This way you can ensure that spacing, bullet points, tables, diagrams etc look different in every document, and require lots of rework if moved between documents.
Don’t make proper use of Word styles. There is huge scope for lowering the quality of your documentation here. For example:
- Don’t use the built-in Word heading styles, but define your own (e.g. ABCLifeHead1). This enables you to lose the benefits of the special features that the built-in Heading 1, Heading 2 etc possess
- Ignore the existence in Word of ‘List styles’, and construct numbered lists and headings using only paragraph styles. This ensures that at some point your headings will renumber themselves eccentrically in ways you cannot fathom or correct
- Also ignore the existence of table styles, so that everyone can make tables look however they think fit
Ignore the possibility of macros. Why would you want to insert a table using a macro that autonumbers, captions and fully formats it? And manually inserting a landscape section in a portrait document has the potential for hours of frustration and for wrecking headers and footers throughout your document.
Make the document hard to maintain. The best opportunities here are:
- Use manually added numbering for headings, tables, cross-references. This means that you can spend many enjoyable hours updating these when a document has a minor restructure or has to be updated for the current year.
- If you want to ensure that a block of text starts on a new page, insert several blank lines or a hard page break. This guarantees that when you edit the document elsewhere you will create a large blank space halfway down a page.
Put in unnecessary section breaks. This opens up the possibility of making a change to only a part of a document that you intended to apply to the whole document.
A better way?
None of us really wants to produce poor quality documentation, but Word is often used in the ways described above. All this can be turned around quickly and at a fraction of the cost of continuing to misuse Word. APR has unrivalled expertise in documentation, and has developed tools, training and ways of working with Word that take away the pain of formatting. For an initial discussion and demonstration of how we could transform the way in which you produce your documentation, please contact….