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Microsoft Word - My Top 5 Rules

These days we hear terms such as 'cross-pollination', 'platform neutral' and 'product crossover'. All of this is applied to business technology, and not some apiary honey-making enterprise, just in case you were wondering.

In fact, the term 'platform' became synonymous with the Internet; meaning that published documents can be viewed on any operating system (Windows, Mac, Linux). Either as HTML or as PDF's.

It still appears that the Corporate World is still hung up on using Microsoft Office tools, despite technology having moved ahead of the game. Take Microsoft Word for instance. This veteran has survived numerous shake-up's to be the resounding leader of its class. Sure there are pretenders out there (Libre Office, Kingsoft WPS etc) but nothing can quite touch the market share that MS Word has. The application has a lot of users for sure, but I can guarantee you one thing - despite the millions of users that use it, many still don't know how to use it properly.

For many, just using one style (Normal) and clicking on the ribbon for everything else (bolds, italics, underlines, numbered lists, alpha lists etc) is about the extent of it.

We can thank the Internet for introducing the world to HTML, CSS and rigid coding practices for ensuring web documents go up online in an orderly manner. Why can't the same logic apply to Word documents? Here are my top 5 rules for working with MS Word.

1) Always use Styles to manage every part of your document. This includes adding space to your body styles (like Normal, or Body Text) so that there is no need to put in hard returns (carriage returns) between paragraphs.

2) Always switch on the Paragraph Marker tool (in MS Word, this sits immediately to the left of the Style Ribbon in the Main Window). This allows you to view many useful things in making your document tidy and error free.

3) If using styles correctly, switch the Navigation Pane on (in the View Menu). Not only does it act as an Outliner for your document, but it is also a useful quick navigation method to zoom around a large document. Also, when converting your document to a PDF, the Outliner is also carried through. So getting to structure a document with proper Heading Levels is vitally important, especially if you are working on a large document.

4) Creating a Table of Contents is a must-do if you have a large document. The TOC will be based on the use of Heading styles, so getting Headings 1, 2 and 3 correct from the outset is vital.

5) Get your Styles sorted before starting work. Sort the Headings out, create a Bullet List style, a Numbered List style (if you need to nest down to a Level 2 then create those as well). Maybe create two Body Text styles, one with a 12 point space after the end of a paragraph; another with no space. There are reasons for this, which I might explain later. Obviously, the best thing is to save your preferred styles into a document template (dotx file), so you are ready to go the next time.

One of the world authorities on using MS Word is West Australian writer Rhonda Bracey. Go to her very useful online resource Cyber Text to find out more about the art of Microsoft Word online documentation.
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