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It’s fashionable to be rude about (and to) Microsoft Word, but in many ways it’s a very good tool.

If and only if it’s configured right, that is.

I have been working with a set of finely honed templates for so many years that it’s been a while since I have even tried to work without them. But Word out-of-the-box is like a mail order guitar, that is it likely to be impossible to play well, and it will cut your fingers into little crevasses. Needs to be set-up.

Today, working with a colleague on a proposal, I brought up a Word document on the Mac, and tried a bit of editing. The document had heading styles with an outline, which is good, and the rest was Normal with a sprinkling of bullets, which is normal. I wanted to number some paragraphs so I clicked what looked like the numbering button (I’d normally do this using styles). I was rewarded with a

4. Heading 1 containing all my text

What? I hovered over the button, and it was indeed the Numbering button. Put it back in Normal style and the number went. Same thing in another paragraph, so I gave up and used bullets. I suppose I’ll have to go in an find out what was going on there, but I’m guessing some layers of auto-bloody-pilot that added the number then looked at the document outline and helpfully worked out that I MUST be trying to type a heading.

This is so badly broken and unusable that I don’t even want to look. Makes me feel queasy. What would it do to an tentative novice user? Most likely they’d use the font formatting to turn the heading back into some kind of approximation of the rest of the text. And wouldn’t that be fun when it came time to add a table of contents?

Not sure if this is peculiar to the Mac version of Word or not, but either way it points out the efficiency and health benefits of having corporate templates, and some pre-configuration of Word to turn of the evil bits, and easily available training in how to use the beast. You want numbering? Here use these styles.

And the health benefits of templates? Well, as I said, my experience sans templates made me queasy. I may need to take tomorrow off to recover.


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