The Munge Factor: Good online intro resources on MS Word formatting?
April 13, 2012 8:44 AM   Subscribe

The Munge Factor: Good online intro resources on MS Word formatting?

Looking for some basic info / tutorials on how to NOT munge my Word (2007) docs beyond repair / keep it maintainable & updateable when attempting to make it more professional looking (think proposals and feasibility studies).

Styles, Multilevel Lists, Bullets, Paragraphs, Columns, Picture Insertion, Text Alignment, Tables of Contents, etc.

My past experiences with Word formatting have been extremely painful; perhaps due to my lack of initiative / time to learn it properly. Where can I find a good set of easily-absorbed, nuts-and-bolts Rules of Combat? Thanks!
posted by ZenMasterThis to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: There is only one rule: Do all your formatting using Styles. No, really, all of it. If you can't do it with Styles, don't do it.

Then when you're done creating the content, you can do the 'make it pretty' part by just editing the Styles (and not touching the document content at all.) And then you can reuse that appearance in other documents (since you used the built-in style names which will persist across documents rather than defining your own names.)

Styles are to Word what CSS is to HTML: they are the tool you use to separate your presentation from your content.

Personal bias: early in my career I had a job that consisted almost entirely of reformatting Word docs into the house style for only-god-and-middle-management-know-what-reason. The rare and precious documents written by the rare and precious authors who knew what the Styles menu was for were rare. And precious.
posted by ook at 9:20 AM on April 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: "Do it all with styles" includes putting spaces between paragraphs. Don't do that by inserting blank paragraphs. Do it by adding Space Before or Space After attributes to the styles applied to those paragraphs.

To that end, learn the difference between the keystrokes for paragraph mark (Enter) and forced line break (Shift-Enter).

It also includes page breaks. Don't insert manual page breaks or (worse! much worse!) insert repeated empty paragraphs to get to the next page. Add Page Break Before attributes to the appropriate heading styles instead.
posted by flabdablet at 9:49 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are only two rules:

1. Do all your formatting using Styles.

2. Lock the template by restricting access to styles and not allowing styles to be changed by the user without a password (come up with a generic password). Then no one else can mess them up, either.

I took several courses in Word, but that was basically what it boiled down to - creating character and paragraph styles for what I needed, and locking it down. I keep a "cheat sheet" at my desk that names the styles and what they do and why they do it (for visitors who ask).

If you nose around college campus book stores, you can find some books in the discard pile (or online for cheap) about using Word 2007 in a friendly grow-with-it format. Otherwise, any of the "work your way through it" books at the bookstore are good. I'm using 2010, so I have the 2010 Word Bible by Wiley/Tyson but I've also been doing this since the late 1980s (AppleWrite!). For online resources, this one or this one can get you started pretty well.

As for specific formatting - try it out, see what works. Determine how your doc is to be read - online? Offline? Bound? (need larger margins, and perhaps left and right facing margin work) Unbound? Will you need to accommodate inserted images that force a landscape rotation?

Determine the working "style" you'll need your docs to do and make room for it. For example, I work with images, large and small, and have two "paragraph" types for each - Flush Image / Flush Caption and Indented Image / Indented Caption. For major sections, Header 1 levels, I have Page Break and non Page break versions. For readability, I use space before and after paragraphs (it's a setting on para formatting) to visually break up paragraphs (and I use larger spaces on bullet lists) as well as a default setting of 1.5 line spacing.

Leave room to grow - and keep your style list handy and updated; will make it easier to update older documents as changes need to be made.
posted by tilde at 9:53 AM on April 13, 2012

Clarification: I've also been doing this since the late 1980s (AppleWrite!) They didn't have styles back then but I had to make myself formatting cheat sheets.
posted by tilde at 10:00 AM on April 13, 2012

Best answer: (One more tip: it's handy to keep a style set the redefines all your standard styles as very faint gray, 9pt comic sans, zero margin, etc. Then you can reality-check your document by switching to that set temporarily; anything you've accidentally formatted using something other than Styles will then stand out and you can go back and fix it.)
posted by ook at 10:06 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: That's cute, ook, never thought of that. I'll keep that in mind for future templating.

One other thing I meant to add - the other reason for locking the templates in my case is not merely for handing off to other editors, but for locking out Word itself. The overrides it tries to implement and the renumbering/reformatting situations it's put me in since I switched over from WordPrefect has been extremely time-wasting.

Further on the topic of collaboration, I often also create a Character format to backlight text that acts as a highlighter to clue further revisionists to things I've added without delving into the "track changes" carnival.

Speaking of looking before you link, I meant AppleWriter. Though teacher who taught AppleWriter also taught basic typery classes, it was more a hold over to keep a visible style list handy from her way of doing things that saved me time/effort.
posted by tilde at 11:34 AM on April 13, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. I think I'm off to an excellent start!
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:01 PM on April 13, 2012

Best answer: There is an excellent introduction to using Word Styles on the Microsoft Office web site. You don't need a book.
I tend to use two or three different sets of styles: one with close-spaced lines, one with spaces between the lines (4 pt spacing makes for a more elegant look and saves paper when you need to print), and one with indented paragraphs for when I need those. You can save different styles as a Quick Style set, so you don't need to reformat the styles each time you want a different layout.
Also, if you go into the Recommend tab in the Manage Styles dialog box (opened by clicking the right-hand button at the bottom of the Styles task pane), you can assign different values to the styles you use most. That changes the order in which they are displayed in the style gallery (low numbered values first) and also set some styles to always display in the gallery. This proves useful if you use some styles more frequently than others - and ensures that styles like Heading 3 and Heading 4 are displayed when you need them.
posted by Susurration at 8:53 PM on April 13, 2012

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