Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of non-writers such as solution architects, trainers, instructional designers, and project managers. Often it meant coaching them through technical writing tasks and fixing their Microsoft Word issues.

The experiences have given me insight into how regular folks use Microsoft Office. Even with templates in place for each major document type, there’s no way escaping the need for non-writers to have a base set of MS Word skills if writing is part of their duties.

I know the attitude out there in some corners that MS Office skills are assumed for many positions. Experience has shown me that assuming MS Office skills to a level required for producing external customer documents isn’t always the case.Here is what I consider base level MS Word skills that a document author needs to work with templates and produce technical documents:

  • Formatting text with styles. One of the base level skills any document author needs is how to use styles to format document text and other major elements. It is a productivity saver and styles can help ensure consistency across multiple documents and authors.
  • Generating and regenerating a table of contents, list of tables & list of figures. I’ve come across more than one table of contents in my time that the previous author input by hand. While the actual table of contents, list of tables, and list of figures.
  • Managing page breaks and section breaks. I always seem to field a lot of questions about section breaks wherever I go as a technical writer. While the template should be governing section breaks, I believe that authors need to understand how to create section breaks so they can fix them if they ever break. Using page breaks is helpful when an author has to paginate a document.

These skills need to be level set if an organization insists on thrusting non-writers into writing roles. My current thinking is that the base level of Word skills I outline in this post even should come before turning non-writers onto templates and the actual document authoring. Getting these skills down is right for their productivity and the sanity of those around them who may inherit their documents further down the development and review cycle.

Do non-writers tasked to work on documents need a base level of Word skills?

My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and content strategist living and working in the Washington, DC area. My current focus is thought leadership and technical marketing content. I got my start writing user guides, administrator documentation, online help, and later moved into SDLC documentation. My articles about enterprise mobility, BYOD, and other technology topics have been published by IBM Mobile Business Insights, Samsung Business Insights, TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic, and others. Follow me on Twitter: @willkelly.

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