Microsoft Word–a powerful tool ignored

Yes, I know the number of users of MS Word probably blows away the numbers who use all other word processors combined. I’m not saying people don’t use Word, I’m just saying people don’t make use of the powerful tools in Word. They type text in it, and do all sorts of other weird things in it, but with a lack of understanding of the extremely handy styling tools and templates that would make everyone’s job easier.

I bring this up because I’m frustrated by the total lack of planning that goes into the average manuscript submitted to a designer for layout. I do layout in InDesign, which supports MS Word documents, but the sad truth is that I’d be just as happy to import unformatted text documents. The reason? The formatting in the average Word document is so messed up that many times it’s easier to strip it out and start from nothing, then to unravel the mess into a usable structure.

So here are some pointers that would make everyone’s life easier:

  1. Use Word’s styles. If you want to customize them, change the style, not the text. It’s a designer’s nightmare to get an entire document with various local changes made to “Normal.” Please note that Word comes with styles for headings and lists and other functional items that can make your document look quite nice if you’d just use them.
  2. Don’t manually space with tabs, enters, and spaces. If you want space between paragraphs, add space before or after to the paragraph style instead of hitting enter twice (and please do not use forced line returns (enter or shift enter) at the ends of lines). If you want every first line indented, add a first line indent to the paragraph style, don’t tab it (and please, I beg you, don’t space it). If you want tabbed items to line up, change the tab spacing (in the style, once again) and use only one tab between items.
  3. Don’t manually create leaders by typing periods across an entire line. That’s what the leader tab is for. You create the tab in the styles, or you can, if you really can’t stand styles, do it from the ruler. Incidentally, you can do the same thing with the underscore to create lines of defined length–a magical little tool that practically every MS user ignores.

That’s all it takes to make a clean and usable file. Beyond that, if you are going to be eventually submitting your file to be laid out by a designer, here are some additional pointers:

  1. Leave out the pictures. If you want defined pictures to be placed in specific places, just put a text tag (with a character style, please) that gives the name of the desired image in the approximate location that you want it. The designer will then place the picture as close as possible to that location and delete the tag. MS Word, as nice as it is as a Word Processor, destroys images. Designers would rather get them as separate files.
  2. It doesn’t have to be pretty. You may think you are helping out the designer by formatting everything to look like how you want it, but most of the time, you’re only going to make our job harder, especially if you don’t use styles. Don’t pull text out into little text boxes; leave off the fancy borders and lines; don’t divide sections with typed lines (a couple asterisks is fine); and please use the footnotes and endnotes correctly (and consistently). If you want to submit layout ideas, work them up separately from the text, or doctor up a separate file, but leave the copy for layout clean and unadorned.
  3. If you’ve made use of Track Changes during the production and/or editing of the document, please accept the changes that you want and discard what you don’t want and turn off the Track Changes before submitting your file to the designer. Believe me, you don’t want the designer making those choices for you because we’re just going to “accept all” to get rid of all the mess.
  4. Last but not least, USE STYLES. Oh, did I say that already? It’s the most overlooked tool in MS Word and it really does make life easier. If you need a tutorial on how to use Word’s styles, go to: “>Add Balance tutorial or Shaunakelly tutorial

That’s it. Take a little time to learn your tool. Why pay for it, if you’re not going to use all its functionality? As the second tutorial above mentions quite succinctly “Word is not a typewriter.” Please don’t use it like one.


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