Skip to main content

Word Processing Essential Skills

For the last couple of days I have been reformatting and revising a Word document I created and then passed along to colleagues. Unfortunately the colleagues used "brute force" to alter the formatting of the document. This formatting method rendered the automatic table of contents, title page fields, and indices useless.

Brute force formatting is when you override the style of a paragraph or word to match another style's appearance. For example, instead of changing a "Normal" paragraph to "Heading 2" for a section, the editor of the document simply increased the size of the text and applied "bold-italic" font attributes. As a result, headings created this way did not appear in the table of contents.

Such formatting was applied throughout the document. In once case, a bullet list appeared in the table of contents because the style was "Heading 3" — with brute force formatting to make the text appear like the "List Paragraph" style.

I was frustrated. I cannot fathom professional writers, especially ones with tech industry contracts, not using Microsoft Word features properly.

Microsoft Word, Corel WordPerfect, Adobe InDesign, Apple Pages, and most other text-based applications use "styles" to control the visual appearance of elements and document automation features. Every HTML/XML editor makes extensive use of tag styles and classes. Not using styles reflects poor writing habits. You cannot create effective and compliant DITA, ePub, or HTML documents without understanding styles.

There are things I find (or don't find) in the documents I receive to edit that bother me. The following list are some of the more annoying "bad habits" that increase the time I must spend repairing a document:
  • Misuse of styles or missing styles to indicate chapters, sections, and subsections.
  • Spaces and tables to align text that should be positioned with tabs.
  • Manually created tables of content, page numbers, and indices.
  • Forced page breaks using blank lines instead of actual page breaks.
  • Inconsistent spacing after punctuation, even though Word can check spaces.

We should teach students to use tools properly, in addition to writing well. Some of my colleagues argue that we need to focus solely on the words, not how they appear on the page, but the document design itself is a rhetorical act. A document's appearance and accuracy affects how the document is perceived.

The skills of organizing a document "properly" for software to automatically create tables of content, indices, and other features, forces the writer to consider the organization of ideas in the document. A table of contents is an outline. The indices are forms of "idea clouds" or "tag frequency" lists. When you think about how a document functions, you are also analyzing its effectiveness.

I received a paper with page numbers out of order. That implies a lack of organization and preparation. Yes, using a typewriter or writing by hand could result in the same problem. Still, a word processor will number the pages for you — and the order is always in series (unless you did something unusually creative with the fields). Copying and pasting manually numbered pages is obvious when you forget to renumber them.

Using "carriage returns" to force page breaks leads to other problems. I've received papers from students in which the page numbers slowly drifted down the pages. By page ten or so, the number was three inches down the page. Text meant for one page carried over to the next. This happens when the writer adds content to an earlier page without realizing the extra lines "cascade" from page to page. One more reason to use page numbers in headers or footers.

Teaching automatic formatting features actually relieves writers from considering things like the drifting page number issue. When a word processor does the "grunt work" of formatting complex elements, especially contents and indices, hours and hours are saved. If you consider learning these features in light of the time they set free for thinking about the content, it is hard to argue against mastering basic word processing skills.
Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. Forced page brakes using blank lines instead of actual page breaks.

    Did you want to change the word "brakes" to breaks?

    1. The bane of dictation software: homonyms.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Slowly Rebooting in 286 Mode

The lumbar radiculopathy, which sounds too much like "ridiculously" for me, hasn't faded completely. My left leg still cramps, tingles, and hurts with sharp pains. My mind remains cloudy, too, even as I stop taking painkillers for the back pain and a recent surgery.

Efforts to reboot and get back on track intellectually, physically, and emotionally are off to a slow, grinding start. It reminds me of an old 80286 PC, the infamously confused Intel CPU that wasn't sure what it was meant to be. And this was before the "SX" fiascos, which wedded 32-bit CPU cores with 16-bit connections. The 80286 was supposed to be able to multitask, but design flaws resulted in a first-generation that was useless to operating system vendors.

My back, my knees, my ankles are each making noises like those old computers.

If I haven't already lost you as a reader, the basic problem is that my mind cannot focus on one task for long without exhaustion and multitasking seems…

MarsEdit and Blogging

MarsEdit (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Mailing posts to blogs, a practice I adopted in 2005, allows a blogger like me to store copies of draft posts within email. If Blogger, WordPress, or the blogging platform of the moment crashes or for some other reason eats my posts, at least I have the original drafts of most entries. I find having such a nicely organized archive convenient — much easier than remembering to archive posts from Blogger or WordPress to my computer.

With this post, I am testing MarsEdit from Red Sweater Software based on recent reviews, including an overview on 9to5Mac.

Composing posts an email offers a fast way to prepare draft blogs, but the email does not always work well if you want to include basic formatting, images, and links to online resources. Submitting to Blogger via Apple Mail often produced complex HTML with unnecessary font and paragraph formatting styles. Problems with rich text led me to convert blog entries to plaintext in Apple Mail and then format th…

Let’s Make a Movie: Digital Filmmaking on a Budget

Film camera collection. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
June 5, 2015 Deadline
July 2015 Issue

Every weekend a small group of filmmakers I know make at least one three-minute movie and share the short film on their YouTube channel, 3X7 Films.

Inspired by the 48-Hour Film Project (, my colleagues started to joke about entering a 48-hour contest each month. Someone suggested that it might be possible to make a three-minute movie every week. Soon, 3X7 Films was launched as a Facebook group and members started to assemble teams to make movies.

The 48-Hour Film Project, also known as 48HFP, launched in 2001 by Mark Ruppert. He convinced some colleagues in Washington, D.C., that they could make a movie in 48 hours. The idea became a friendly competition. Fifteen years later, 48HFP is an international phenomenon, with competitions in cities around the world. Regional winners compete in national and international festivals.

On a Friday night, teams gathe…