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Yet Another "Use Styles" Verbal Beating!

by Dian Chapman, MVP, MOS
Skill rating level 2.

I provide a lot of user group support and recently I was doing my perpetual "use styles or your life will be miserable and your children will be born with warts" song and dance! The poor user I was lecturing has apparently had quite a bad experience attempting to understand how styles work in Word. But she presented a problem to the group and, in unison, several came back with the reply..."use styles." Not the answer she was hoping for.

But after some serious consideration, she promised to give it another go...once the nightmares from her last experience faded.

The truth is in the results. If you have a big project and want to have any control over the final results, you really need to learn how to use and understand what styles can do for you. Her particular problem was that she needed to generate a Table of Contents. Since Word uses styles to generate that information, and she hadn't applied them, her only recourse was either to apply the proper styles or spend a lot more time cleaning up the mess and applying custom TC fields. (TC fields are a custom alternative to styles, but take more work. They do provide an advantage to creating a customized table of contents, but are not meant to replace using styles as the main source of control when generating a TOC.)

If you feel you're sharing similar fears about styles, the bottom line as Cher would say, is "snap out of it!"

One of the first support articles I wrote, many years ago, still stands the test of time, albeit some of the commands are a bit dated. But you should definitely read my Getting Started with Styles article.

However, if that prompting isn't enough to convince you...then maybe some of this additional material will.

Not long ago, a training specialist, Kent DeCook, wrote to me and asked me if I would lend my words to his company newsletter in an effort to help convince the secretaries and powers-that-be that styles will not only make life easier, but save the company money! Cha-ching! Yup...tell the bosses it'll save money and you can bet the practice will be followed. No matter how many secretaries are dragged kicking and screaming into training classes.

So with the permission of the author, Kent, and others who contributed insight to the article, below are some additional arguments that should provide ammo to those of you who have also stood on soapboxes preaching the benefits of using styles in Word.

But before we continue, allow me to let you in on a little secret. As much as I preach about styles...I don't always use them. Gasp! True. Taking the time to create a style for each and every document you create is not a necessity. Just as I teach my VBA students that, although renaming controls to something more meaningful is vital, it's not always necessary. However, if you don't understand why you need to do something right...you won't know when it's okay to cheat and do it the lazy way.

If you will be creating a simple, one-time document that will probably never be changed much and is a simple job, you can cheat styles by using some built-in Word shortcuts, such as Ctrl/0 (zero) to add the appropriate spacing before a paragraph rather than applying that into a custom style. Word also provides a lot of built-in styles that you can use, quickly. Or you can create a nice look in one paragraph and then use the Format Painter to copy the format from one paragraph to another without excess dialog box clicking.

However, if you're embarking on a project that needs special care, such as a book or manual. Or something that will surely go through major modifications, like a contract or agreement, if you don't start the document off by taking the time to create a custom template and predefined styles for the project, you're only going to work a lot harder in the long run, than you would, had you used those styles.

Although it's easy to say that it's your time you're wasting, if you're on the company clock, your boss might have a say about how long it takes you to create/modify documents!

And if you don't want to listen to me, maybe you'll believe these other professionals:

Properly Using Styles In Word

The use of styles is essential for stable ‘well processed’ documents. The programming for Word is written so that styles are used for every paragraph. That is how a Word document is structured. So it goes way beyond whether we ‘want’ to use styles. We will be using styles whenever we are in Word, so we may as well learn to use them correctly.

Creating documents correctly using styles will save countless hours of work by secretaries and other support staff. If we continue creating documents that do not adhere to best practices of using styles correctly, our costs for dealing with these documents will be great, both in terms of the time it takes to re-style them and the time it takes to try to fix broken documents. Our cost of doing business increases with every paragraph that is directly formatted.

Document creators and editors need to use styles correctly. By directly formatting paragraphs, we are creating document time bombs, adding to the frustrations of using Word and wasting human resources.

Document viewers also need to understand that using styles is a necessity. The staff needs to be directed to use styles properly. This will save money and ease frustrations while using Word.

Many of the documents we create are used as master documents in the sense that they are used to create new documents (Save As…, Copy | Paste, etc.). All formatting techniques, proper and improper, travel to the new documents. When poor word processing techniques are used, those ‘problems’ are replicated to the new documents. Thus, traveling our DOCS Open libraries similar to a computer virus. If we choose to create documents properly, using styles, we will greatly limit our exposure to all of the problems that come up when working on directly formatted documents. And from my experience, the problems usually show up just when a deadline is approaching. A broken Word document is very frustrating to all involved.

I emailed some legal industry experts and asked them for their thoughts regarding the use of styles when creating Word documents. These people make their living by advising the use of Word in the legal industry. They know Word as well as anyone does; they know the best practices and they are dedicated to helping people use Word correctly.

Kent DeCook

"If a Word document has each paragraph in its appropriate Paragraph Style, editing, including major formatting revisions, are easier to do and they can be done much faster. The bottom line: using paragraph styles will save you from wasting a great deal of time, and make doing your job easier. Here is some more good news: using paragraph styles is easy. A Ph.D. in Wordology is NOT required."

Ian Levit
Vice President Levit & James, Inc.

Note! Levit & James, Inc. is also the maker of Stylizer. A Word utility which makes the application of styles in an existing document fast and easy. See http://www.levitjames.com/stylizer/stylizer.html for complete details.

“First, working with Word the way it works, makes for the most efficient and productive document. Word is not a typewriter, so ‘turn code on’ – ‘turn code off’ is not the way it works. Work with Word, not against it.

Word uses styles as a predefined collection of formatting that can be assigned to characters or paragraphs. By using styles one can easily and quickly change the appearance of an entire document by just a few changes in a style. This makes us much more efficient at document creation and modification.

Also, using styles makes a Word document more stable. If all formatting is applied directly, then the document is more complex for Word and leaves more room for corruption and instability. For example, not using a paragraph style to format 12 pts of space after a single spaced paragraph, but instead using an empty paragraph to separate the text of the document is much more complex for Word. The program stops and reads each paragraph (even empty ones) and decides what formatting should be applied. So by using empty paragraphs, you are making your document twice as complex for Word to read. It is not a typewriter.

Proof:  I created a 20 page document in Word and applied “Body Text First Indent” to all 240 paragraphs. That document size was 83 kb. I took the same paragraphs and manually indented the first line and applied an empty paragraph to separate the text, and that document’s size was 134 kb -- over one and half times the size for the same document.” (61.9% larger file)

Sheri Martinez
Manager of Application Development
Traveling Coaches

Scenario: You’ve just spent days creating this wonderful looking document, at least you think it’s wonderful. It’s 150 pages.

But just as you think it’s done, the boss comes in and tells you that it looks great…but, change the main font from Times to Century Schoolbook; the heading fonts from Arial to Century Gothic. Oh, and please get rid of those circle bullets and make them arrow bullets. And maybe change the second header to Italic rather than Bold. And please get rid of any underlining in the headers!

Say, what?

It’s Friday! It’s 4:30 and you have plans after work and need to leave at 5:00! But this is due first thing Monday morning. So you will either have to spend the next few hours fixing it or risk your job. You open the document again and start going through every page, selecting the headers, paragraphs, headings and bullets to make all the necessary changes.

By the way, I was also given this same assignment, but I know that styles can save you tons of time and make your life so much easier…once you’ve taken a little time to learn how to use them properly. So when the boss tells me to change my 150 page document, I jump into the styles taskpane, make a couple quick changes, update the document and pass him back the finished version. It’s 4:55 and I’m heading out the door. You’re on page 35 of your changes.

Sorry you’ll miss the party tonight! <evil grin>”

Dian D. Chapman
Technical Consultant &
Microsoft Word MVP, since 1995

As you can see, the experts agree that using styles is necessary. They save time and therefore money, they help us create more stable documents with smaller file sizes, and they are the way Word is designed to work.

My final word on using styles is this. I am dedicated to helping all of those that want to learn more about using styles, do so. I feel that everyone in the Firm should know how to use styles. However, I am also realistic and know that not everyone creates and/or edits documents. For those of you who do create & edit documents, correctly using styles is a necessity. The stability of our work product depends on it. My job is to help people become more efficient at using Word and other applications. I want everyone to know why the use of styles in Word is so important. Please contact me for Word style learning. I will do everything in my power to help you learn all that you want to learn about Word.

Kent DeCook is the National Training Specialist at Zelle Hofmann in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (www.zelle.com) He manages the software training for a 70 Attorney law firm. His specialty is in the MS Office suite, InterAction, and MacroSuite. Kent has been in the training field since 1995, starting with Catapult Software Training in Minneapolis and Phoenix.

Kent and his wife, Monica, live in Minneapolis, along with their four children and their golden retriever, Brandy (www.mousetrax.com/Pet_Brandy.html). In Kent's free time, which with 4 kids under 5 years old is limited, he enjoys camping, golfing, teaching snowboarding, and fishing.

The goal of this article, which appeared in the Firm's monthly ezine, was to convince the Attorneys that using styles is a necessity and that if used properly, styles will enable easier editing. His favorite saying about Word is, "Word uses styles in every paragraph, you may as well learn to use them properly."

Need further help getting your complex Word docs formatted? Join our free Word Doc Design support group! See this link for details: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Word_DocDesign/ .


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