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rev: 01 Apr 2006.
Tips and resources for Microsoft World.
Microsoft Word is a beast . Word is an evolved
creation, the bastard offspring of marketing, some original thoughts on how to create a
word processor, and generations of Ziff-Davis (PC Magazine) induced rapid mutation to fit
someone's distorted checklist. It is to software as the Irish Elk was to mammals. It is an
inherently incurable mass of contradictory impulses, which are fully evident in Word's
formatting model. It is the single most miserable piece of software that I absolutely must
This web page contains my personal notes on attempting to live with the beast.
This document borrows extensive from the material listed in Links. Over time it will be
all my own writing, but at this point some is cut and pasted from the real experts who are
acknowledged in the Links section. It began with this usenet
I must add that despite my personal dislike of Microsoft Word I am grateful to the
experts who've responded to my questions on microsoft.public.word.formatting.longdocs.
They fight a noble war with the Beast. Lastly, I'm interested in suggestions on alternative word processors.
I tried following the expert (tech writers) recommendations
for some time, but I gave up. It was too hard to make Word behave. As noted above you
can't safely mix Word's convenient "formatting" widgets and the style sheet
models. So, having given up on the right way to do things, I switched over to the built in
formatting tools and I ignore the style sheets completely.
I use built in Word bullets and numbering, I leave the styles as "normal", I
work with normal.dot .. and .... I use macros to set formatting for 3 levels of
header. The macros aren't perfect (I'm no guru), but they structure my document
headings quickly and consistently. They assign headings outline levels, so I can
collapse/expand in outline view and navigate using the document Map feature. (The macros
won't work, however, in outline view. Word is like that.)
- alt-0: clear outline level and remove all formatting
- alt-1: outline level one, larger size text
- alt-2: outline level two, medium sized text
- alt-3: outline level three, italics.
That's all I do. It turns out to be enough to make my documents navigable and
If you know a bit about Word macros, you can view
my macros and copy and paste them into the word macro editor.
- Word's "outliner" (not what most of us understand as an Outliner) view is indispensable. As horrid as it is,
essentially every document must use it. Work in the Outline view. Define heading styles
- Word's styles and templates cannot be avoided, but
you cannot use any that Microsoft provides - especially not the Normal.dot
standard template. (You cannot control the contents of the Normal template, on
your computer or on anyone else's.) Create a template (.DOT) that is empty. Use the
style organizer to put styles, shortcuts and anything else one would want into it. Put it
in a safe place away from Word. Keep backups. Consider write protecting it. Use this as
the source of truth and copy things from it using the Style Organizer to document
- Learn to use a different template for each document type.
- Do not have anything in your form documents formatted as "Normal." If
you want to change paragraph formatting, create a new style for the new format. In talking
about form documents here, Im talking about templates, as well as Word
"forms." A fine look at styles is in Microsoft's Legal Users Guide to Microsoft
- create all your headings use Word's built-in Heading Styles (which you can redefine to
look the way you want) using Heading 1 for your Chapter headings, Heading 2 for
subheadings and so on.
- [jf note: Documents attached to the Normal template may (I'm not positive) reformat
themselves each time they are opened or passed to a different machine if the user of the
new machine has changed their Normal template. I think whether this occurs depends on
Word's settings with respect to template updating.]
- Remove all of Word's bullet and numbering and sizing and direct formatting tools. Avoid
Word's List Numbering (under Format | Bullets and numbering) unless you're sure you know
what you're doing. Manual numbering works; so do SEQ fields. But Word's automated list
numbering contains more bugs than a compost heap. All must be done via styles. This is
terrible but true.
What Everyone Agrees On
- Make sure Allow fast saves is switched off (under Tools | Options | Save).
- Never use Master Documents, Versions, or the Document Map. Outline View is safe to use.
- Select Tools | AutoCorrect, and on the Autoformat as you type and
Autoformat tabs, de-select most of the options.
- Tools:Options:Save: check prompt to save template. If you leave this unchecked then the
Normal Template will be altered without warning every time you save and document,
potentially altering every future document you view or work on.
- Tools:Templates and AddIns: Make sure "Automatically update document styles"
is unchecked. The only known way to use this safely is to create a macro
that toggles this setting, and manually activate it only when you want to update styles in
a document to match those in the document template. The Style Organizer is another way to
do this. See this
- Be wary of Section Breaks. In some mysterious way Word keeps a lot of formatting for a
document section in the section break that follows it. Likewise Word
keeps a lot of formatting information in paragraph breaks.
- In Options:View set style width to 1", this will let you quickly see what style
applies to a paragraph.
- In Options:Edit disable "click and type".
- Never save to a floppy; this is also a very frequent cause of file corruptions. If you
must use a floppy, copy the file to it using Windows Explorer or select Send
to, which you can do even from Word's File | Open and File | Save dialogs
rather than using File | Save As. And perform a full format on the floppy first. When you
save a Word file, a large temporary file is created, and if this is too large to fit on
the floppy a corruption is likely to result. See MSKB article Q89247, How Word for
Windows Uses Temporary Files, for more information on this.
- If you paste text and and see odd things happen try:
- paste as plain text or
- insert a section break first, then paste. Styles are bound up with section breaks, you
can use them to keep things straight.
HTML editors and most word processors see a document as a stream of text that you do
things to. You turn on Bold and everything from then on is Bold until you turn it off.
Likewise with changing margins or tabs. Word Perfect inserts unseen codes (like printer
codes in ASCII text files of old) to turn things on and off. You can see these codes by
selecting "reveal codes." Word sees documents as built up of compartments, one
inside of the other.
Characters fit into paragraphs which fit into sections which fit into documents.
Formatting changes change only the compartment to which they are applied. If you change
the tab settings on one paragraph, the paragraphs that follow aren't changed (if those
paragraphs exist when you make the change). Changes made in one paragraph will carry
through in subsequent paragraphs which are created from that paragraph.
Word keeps most of its formatting in the pilcrows (paragraph marks).
This is why it is recommended that you switch your viewing options in page layout view and
normal view to "view paragraph marks."
To reveal the formatting of a part of a document, press Shift-F1 (or select What's
This? on the Help menu). This will give you a large arrow pointer with a question mark.
Point it at the part of the text that is giving you trouble and it will tell you what
style formatting is applied and what direct formatting is applied to that text. To see
margins and tab settings, display the ruler.
See also What I do (Aug, 2003)
Show me the Function Keys! (Word 2000 +)
You can get the function keys to display in a special toolbar at the bottom of the
screen if you want (something like pressing F3 twice in WP 5.1). The following macro will
Commandbars("Function Key Display").Visible = True
The following macro would toggle this display:
With Commandbars("Function Key Display") .Visible = Not .Visible
See also MORE for a perspective on outliners and on the
passing of great software.
Updated 8/05: I do as little as possible on my PC these days. I use Word a lot and try
not to cry (it's not all bad, the grammar tools are very impressive once one learns how to
optimize them). Happily OS X has 3 promising applications (Mellel is omitted because it
uses a closed file format, TeXShop is on my future list.)
(OS X): Very template driven, strong style sheets. XML file format but it's completely
proprietary. Owned by Apple.
- Nisus Express (OS X): It's getting there. It
may be a small company, but it's persistent. "read/write documents in Unicode, RTF,
RTFD, plain text format and Microsoft Word (.doc) ... AppleScript and Perl macros;
noncontiguous selection; keyboard shortcuts .... three-level Find and Replace including
Regular Expressions (GREP); multiple editable Clipboard" RTF as native file format.
They implement a DRM scheme that requires a family license if you install on more than one
machine -- the 3 machine license is $110. (As of 3/06 I expect I'll pay the family license
and get this.)
- TextEdit (OS X): The secret wordprocessor in OS X. RTF is the native file format, it
saves as Word .doc an Word XML. Opens and saves HTML. Styles. Very powerful font controls.
- OmniOutliner Pro
(OS X): The latest release ought to be a good document tool, but I've been disappointed
with who they implement inheritance of styles. I may be missing something, but it's not as
good as I'd hoped it would be.
and LaTeX: LaTeX has been around for years; it's a markup and programming language for
the creation of highly structured documents. I'd love to see a wordprocessor like
application managed a LaTeX, TeXShop may be a step in that direction. I've gotten several
emails encouraging me to take a look at Lyx, this one from Jim S. was particularly good:
- Lately for large structured documents I have gone to LyX which is a WYSIWYG (sort of)
version of LaTeX. You mentioned that you might be interested in LaTeX. This is a tool that
lets you create documents in LaTeX, but you don't need a knowledge LaTeX to use it. You
can be blissfully ignorant of LaTeX and still produce documents in it and have it then
create nice PDF's.
Look here .. see the Mac
OS X section. You can get prebuilt binaries and the installation page shows you how to
install it. This isn't the simplest thing but just follow the instructions and it goes
I have been lucky to work with a LyX expert and he has given me access to other tools
that do some nice things like add PDF active table of contents and pretty fancy document
LyX has an excellent tutorial which shows why it is NOT a word processor but rather a
tool to create documents. The distinction is important and once you get used to it the
tool is nice to use and most important it DOES NOT DO ODD THINGS to your text.
- NeoOffice/J (OS X): OpenOffice for OS/X:
"NeoOffice/J uses a combination of Carbon and Java to make a truly native open source
office suite. It has all of the features of OpenOffice.org 1.1 X11 and more! NeoOffice/J
features Aqua menus in the 1.1 release, with more native controls still to come."
- OpenOffice (Win): StarOffice is Sun's commercial version of this
software, which is descended from StarWrite.File format is Open Document -- the only
real-world open document format. (Practically speaking RTF is reasonably open, even though
Microsoft owns the spec.)
- 602Pro: too much like Word. It's a very faithful clone, to the point of replicating
Word's horrid style sheet model. Might as well use Word! (I think this is defunct.)
- WordPerfect: reputation of being very unreliable. Very rarely used..
- AppleWorks (OS X): a carbon app. Klunky and pretty limited.
- Mellel: Prorprietary file format.
- SmartSuite: Proprietary native file format, very weird IBM marketing, very expensive
"upgrades" that are primarily bug fixes. I love the functionality of this
descendant of AmiPro, but I think IBM is the wrong owner for a wordprocessor. (Lord knows,
they've destroyed a number of them.)
- NisusWriter: Full Classic version was excellent, newer version For OS X is interesting.
- Lyx: optimized for UNIX/Linux, Mac and Windows clients
Styles, Templates, and Formatting
- April 2006:
- August 2005: I finally mention LaTeX and add quite a few OS X
- July 2005: some minor updates. It's amazing how little has changed in 3
- Aug 2003: gave up on style sheets, my macros
- Feb 2002: initial version.
||I'm told by true experts that until Word 6/Word
95 it was actually not a bad wordprocessor. It really went bad with Word 97 onwards. This
parallels my experience with the old Macintosh version of Word 4 and 5; they were quite
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Author: John G. Faughnan.
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