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Word workarounds

In your own Word


Like it or loathe it, sometime or other most of us will use it. In the first of this series, Margaret Aldis shows how to turn Microsoft Word into a tool you can work with.
Its not easy using Microsoft Word to produce technical documents. The software is stuffed full of features, some incompatible with each other, some undeniably buggy and many simply inappropriate for systematic document processing. As marketed and installed out of the box, a veneer of simplistic automation sits uneasily over a deep and esoteric document object model, while functions needed to create wellbehaved, maintainable documents are hidden away and difcult to use. Word may seem calculated to infuriate the professional technical communicator but you do have the option of customising its user interface and behaviour to suit the way you work. This article gives some pointers on how to go about this, either to make life easier for yourself or to impose some standards on the way Word documents are edited and maintained in your organisation. sequences or get deeper into VBA programming and custom dialogs, macros enable you to get the whip hand in some of the most awkward corners of Words behaviour. entries that dont depend on a specic document template. You can load any template as a global template from the Tools>Templates and Addins dialog or you can use Words Startup folder to have Word load templates automatically.

Understanding templates
Template les in Word dont just provide document shells they are the main mechanism for creating and storing many different aspects of customisation. They can be categorised as follows: l Normal.dot. This is the default user template. It holds customisations that apply to the current Word user, including some general options and preferences (others are stored in the Windows registry). Generally speaking, you should use this template to store your own macros and personal toolbars, but not customisations you want to share with other users or those related to specic types of documents. You can set the default font and language of the Normal style within Normal.dot if you wish but dont add any other styles or page headers and footers here. Never put the le on the network and never make it read-only. l Document templates. These are templates used to support the creation and editing of specic document types. Document templates dene the initial content, page layout and styles for documents; they can also contain toolbars, macros and AutoText entries that will be needed when those documents are edited. If you create a document template for your own use its usually best to place it in or under your local User templates folder. If you are sharing or distributing templates there are several possible approaches you can take, so youll need to look more closely at how Word handles template attachment. l Global templates. Global templates are used to provide customised toolbars, macros and AutoText

Taking control
The rst step in taming Word is to disable most if not all the AutoCorrect and AutoFormat As You Type features especially those that apply formatting. Choose Tools>AutoCorrect and use the dialog to turn off everything you dont want or dont understand. While you are about it, you may also want to disable AutoComplete on the AutoText tab (see Figure 1)). Next, youll need to check and customise the settings under Tools>Options. The options and their defaults vary between Word releases, but some key ones to watch out for in Word 97 and Word 2000 are: l General options. Always turn options for WordPerfect users off whether or not youre a WP exile. l Edit options. The option to have tabs and backspace set left indent should be off, as this is incompatible with using styles. For Word 2000 and above, you should also disable click and type. l Save options. Make sure Allow fast saves is off. Its also good practice to select Prompt to save Normal template as this will warn you if you make an accidental change. Word 2002 (Ofce XP) has added new layers of complexity to the Options dialog, so if you are using this version make sure you also check the subdialogs hidden behind buttons on some of the tabs. Its worth recording your AutoCorrect and Options settings as a macro so that you can reset them easily if you need to. If you want to be sure that these settings are made every time Word starts up, call the macro AutoExec and store

What can you customise?


The areas you are most likely to want to customise for technical communications are: l Options and preferences that control Words behaviour. In particular, youll need to disable features that are incompatible with using properly dened styles. l Document structure and layout. For anything other than the most ephemeral document, youll reap huge benets from creating your own document template les and dening styles for all your document elements. l Document automation features such as AutoText, elds and custom properties. l Toolbars, buttons and menus. You can change the standard toolbars and menus as well as adding new ones. This allows you to hide features that you dont want to use on your documents and to provide one click access to styles and other commands you use frequently. l Macros. Whether you simply record commonly used command

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Word workarounds

Figure 1 Tools>AutoCorrect dialog

Figure 2 A simple custom styles menu

Figure 3 Tools>Customize dialog

it in your Normal.dot or in an automatically loaded global template.

Sticking to styles
Creating consistent, maintainable and reusable documents in Word depends on using styles to tag the document elements and provide appropriate formatting. The problem is, Words standard user interface positively invites direct formatting, while making it much harder to use styles strictly than, say, in FrameMaker. One way of redressing the balance is to provide a menu or toolbar of the styles in a document template (see Figure 2). To do this, choose Tools>Customize. From the Toolbars tab, add a new toolbar and save it in the document template. Then on the Commands tab (see Figure 3) select the same template so that you

can see your new toolbar. You can then start building up the content by dragging items from the Customize dialog to the toolbar. Begin with the New Menu item if you want to put the styles on a menu, or simply drag them to the toolbar to create buttons. Once the items are in place, set up their names and appearance using the Modify Selection options. To set the accelerator key letter for the item, type an ampersand immediately before the letter in the item name. This letter will then appear underlined, and pressing Alt with the letter key will activate the item. Alternatively, you can set up your own shortcut key combinations from the Keyboard subdialog. Remember to include the Default Paragraph Font style or the Reset Character Formatting command so that you can remove character styles as well as apply them. If you commonly have to remove direct formatting from text edited by others, you might also want to include the Reset Para command. (You can nd both Reset Para and Reset Character Formatting commands under the Format commands category.) In a style-based template intended for other people to use, you can discourage direct formatting by removing the Format Painter from Words Standard toolbar and by hiding the Formatting toolbar (or replacing it with your own). Changes to standard toolbars and menus can be recorded in templates using the Tools>Customize method, but changes to toolbar visibility (and other view options) are best made using an AutoOpen macro in the document template. This macro will run whenever a document attached to the template is opened.

to save a nished example of the required result or by recording the command sequence as a macro. Future articles will show solutions to some common problems in more detail. Again, you can use customised toolbars to put AutoText entries and macros easily in reach. Alternatively, you can go further and write macro replacements for standard Word commands so that, for instance, Insert>Table will always give you your own table format.

Is it worth the effort?


Clearly, theres a trade-off between the time you spend customising and the benets to be had. The bigger the group of users, the more worthwhile the effort, not only in terms of time saved, but also because it can reduce variations in working practice, which are often the root of document problems. However, dont underestimate the effort involved in providing customisations for other users theres more to think about than just supplying templates. Once you move beyond sharing with your direct colleagues youll need to consider testing, usability, training, installation and maintenance issues, and the inevitable rise of expectations. Whats more, youll have to nd the time and perspective to create some user documentation.

More information
For more ideas about what you can do and whats involved, look at the customisation articles on the Microsoft Word MVP Site www.mvps.org/word/FAQs. For suggestions on how to solve individual problems, the best source is the microsoft.public.word.* newsgroups. These self-help groups have regular contributors (some of whom are professional technical communicators) who are generous with their knowledge. Search the archives from Google to see if your question has come up before; if not, post to an appropriate group.
Margaret Aldis FISTC is a technical author and publication architect working mainly in the software industry. She has 20 years experience of document processing, stretching from WordStar to XML, and has been an irreverent Word user since the mid-1990s. E-mail margaret.aldis@syntagma.co.uk
Winter 2002

Increasing efficiency
The next biggest paybacks from customisation are likely to come from automating tasks that are tedious or error prone when performed manually. Typical examples include creating tables to a standard inhouse format, inserting elds, and using different types of page layout such as a landscape page within a run of portrait pages. In these cases you can often achieve a quick win by using AutoText entries

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