Managing mangled styles in word.
January 28, 2008 10:30 AM   Subscribe

I need help simplifying the styling of Word Documents that I receive from other people. Are there any specific addons that might help me accomplish these goals?

I often receive horrifically formatted documents from the engineers above me. Although they are good writers, and good WYSIWYG page formatters the styling of their document is plain awful and not very usable. These particular people do not understand how to use Word's style features and I don't expect that they will learn any time soon.

To make the documents more maintainable, especially amongst the young engineers who know how to use these features, I normally condense the documents down to about 5 or 6 styles. 3 levels of headers, a paragraph format, a numbered paragraph format, and a picture caption.

In some cases I have to resort to starting a new document and copy-pasting information into the document while managing the style formatting. This is tedious but I'm not sure if there is an easier way to do this.

Sometimes this is all in vain, because I'll send my revised document back to the origination or a different engineer and it will come back to me in a mess all over again.

lol, after it is returned to me, and spanning over 30-100 pages and re-mangled I'm often asked to generate a table of contents for the report. *rolleyes* would have been a piece of cake with my original styling. Good grief.

Any tips would be helpful. If there were an addon in Word that would simplify the document in a particular automatic way and I could just run through it changing mostly "clear formatted" as oppose to "overly micro-formatted" then that would be my ideal solution and I would be willing to pay money for something like that.

Using Word 2003 here. Thanks!
posted by nickerbocker to Technology (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Something I find immensely helpful in restyling documents is that you can abbreviate styles. Instead of making your header style called "Header 3," call it "h3,Header 3." Then changing the style is as simple as Ctrl+Shift+S, h3, Enter.

I'm presuming you already know about the feature to select all text with a particular format on the Style task pane? Using this it is pretty easy to go through all of the unstyled formatted bits and style them.
posted by grouse at 10:37 AM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

grouse, thank you for your reply. I did not know about that particular short cut and will use it.

My main problem comes from "numbered lists." Any maybe I can extend this question a little.

First of all, we "number" our document within sections. It isn't exactly a numbered list, but it is similar. There can be multiple paragraphs under a particular number, for instance, but generally there is just one number next to each paragraph. Like verses in the bible, or whatever.

Currently, from page to page this formatting is slightly different. Like the spacing between the number and the paragraph, or the indentation. It is just a mess.
posted by nickerbocker at 10:46 AM on January 28, 2008

You can lock down Word's Styles & Formatting lists through the Protect Document function, discussed for Word 2003 here. If you go this route, be sure you define character formats such as italics and bold, because locking the styles disables everything: the bold, italic, and underline buttons, the bullet and numbering buttons (so they're forced to use your defined bullet and numbering styles), and even the highlighter.

Also, do you have auto-numbering built into your headers? You can use the Bullets & Numbering function to ensure your headers are all numbered the same way (see here for Word 2003).

However, there isn't a way to prevent people from inserting extra manual line breaks.
posted by korres at 11:06 AM on January 28, 2008

I used to struggle with this all the time. In the end we opted for a solution that wasn't Word. I ran the pilot program for it in my firm, and am not paid by this company, but am simply an enthusiastic convert. It's good for working on large submissions with multiple users in different locations.

Might be an expensive solution to what you want to do, but I give you Xait Porter, takes the formatting away from the user and simply lets them focus on the content, which the application then flashes the template over.

Cut the editing of documents by over 80% in our case. Feel free to MeFi mail me if you have questions.
posted by arcticseal at 11:35 AM on January 28, 2008

"ListFixer converts automatic numbers and bullets into fixed numbers and bullets . . . . It also applies fixed numbers and bullets to selected paragraphs, so you can number lists with real numbers in a flash. If you're tearing your hair out over automatic lists, you need ListFixer!"

Haven't tried it myself. Other interesting Add-ins for Microsoft Word at The Editorium.
posted by Dave 9 at 1:18 PM on January 28, 2008

I don't know if this is enough of a solution for the level of mangling you're encountering, but have you tried working with the styles & formatting window in the Task Pane? (View|Task Pane). Hover over one of the "bad" formatting styles (created by the kludging of your coworkers). Click on the menu arrow that appears next to it. Now you can select all text formatted with that style, and click on one of the "correct" styles to automatically change all of the bad text to the correct style.

BTW, awesome shortcut, grouse - been working with styles for years and it never occurred to me that they could be so keyboard-accessible!
posted by shelbaroo at 7:24 PM on January 28, 2008

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