My Word template manifesto

TEMPLATES

For reasons that continue to elude me, I’ve come across a lot of Microsoft Word template issues in my time. Some templates were so bad that what should be a simple productivity tool ends up hobbling documentation efforts. Finding template issues is a never-ending source of disappointment for me. Perhaps it’s because I usually create templates in the early stages of a project and keep the fuss to a minimum.

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My Microsoft Word template manifesto


For reasons that continue to elude me, I’ve come across a lot of Microsoft Word template issues in my time. Some templates were so bad that what should be a simple productivity tool ends up hobbling documentation efforts. Finding template issues is a never-ending source of disappointment for me. Perhaps it’s because I usually create templates in the early stages of a project and keep the fuss to a minimum.

Though along the way, my Microsoft Office experience and published writing credits on the subject got me put on some projects where I supported the rollout of Microsoft Office and saw how end users (who weren’t technical writers) used the applications and their varied levels of understanding.

These experiences got me to put together what I am calling my Microsoft Word Template Manifesto:

Templates are a productivity tool

Word templates are productivity tools. They should never be an obstacle in the way of creating and publishing documents. A proper template does the driving when it comes to document design and formatting so the author can focus on writing and editing document content. Templates should never stand in the way of author productivity.

Templates should govern styles

The Word template is in place to govern styles in a given document format. Take the time to ensure that your template also has the necessary style formats, so users don’t have to format anything in their documents manually.

Templates should be lean with few extraneous styles

Keep your templates lean with only the styles that are needed in the document. Additionally, factor in the time to maintain the templates over the long haul, so they remain a productivity tool versus

Templates should include a job aid

Using document templates isn’t second nature to everybody. I’ve long been a proponent to include a job aid or cheat sheet with templates I create so everybody is using the template styles in the manner they are intended.

Styles guides should document template usage

There can be nothing more irritating to new and grizzled document authors alike than document templates not matching up with the documentation style guide (provided your organization even has one of these!).

Templates are *dotx files and installed on the local hard drive

I’ve inherited templates of varying shaded and interpretations so I long ago came up with my own rather unoriginal and vanilla standards for template usage which first and foremost is that a template is a *.dot file that is installed locally on a hard drive.

Templates are for novice users too

It’s easy to think; it’s just Microsoft Word. I was guilty of falling into that trap because working as a technical writer means I live in Microsoft Word most days (and evenings). Templates need to be easy to use and follow so users of different Word skills can use them independently. When users get frustrated with a template, they may attempt to iron man their styles thereby introducing inconsistencies that may or may not get picked up in the editorial process or by a reader farther down the line.

Templates need love too

There needs to some ongoing maintenance and monitoring of any templates an organization uses for documentation. This ensures that no issues have cropped up and authors are correctly using the templates.


Originally published at willkelly.blog on November 12, 2017.


Hi! My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. I’ve worked with clients like NetApp, Dell, and Neustar to develop technical, training, and thought leadership content. My articles have been published by IBM Mobile Business Insights, TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic, Network World, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com, and others. Follow me on Twitter:@willkelly.

A few words about Microsoft Word and Track Changes

Review toolbar

One of the most useful – yet potentially embarrassing – features of Microsoft Word is Track Changes. Using the Track Changes feature lets you electronically markup your Word documents with edits, additions, and revisions. Think of it as an electronic red pen so to speak.

The potential embarrassment of the feature comes in when you don’t accept the Track Changes. Comments, edits, and revisions not fit for public consumption can leak out. Even if none of the comments are critical, it is just plain sloppy to have a recipient open up a document that still contains markups.

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The sheer genius of the Microsoft Visio subscription model


I’ve been a big Microsoft Visio user over various contracts as a technical writer. In fact, my history with Visio goes back so far, I remember it before Microsoft acquired it. Over the preceding years, I saw Visio become pretty much a niche application even after it got officially pulled under the Microsoft Office umbrella. Making Visio Pro for Office 365 subscription-based is sheer genius in my opinion.

Here’s why:

Joys of Microsoft Visio subscription licensing

Microsoft still sells Visio Standard 2016 and Visio Professional 2016 with standard desktop licensing.Visio Pro for Office 365 is $13.00 per month with an annual commitment or $15.50 for a monthly commitment. The new Visio subscription model allows each user to install Visio on up to five PCs running Windows 10, Windows 8, or Windows 7. You also get the latest Visio feature and security updates for the duration of the subscription. Visio Pro for Office 365 includes the same features as Visio Professional 2016.
 
 In my experience, restrictive desktop licensing one of the things that held back Visio. I saw the lack of flexible Visio licensing cause people to hesitate in using Visio diagrams. Collaboration was a No Go because the one Visio license was spread across multiple teams in some cases.
 
 When the time comes that I need Visio for a project, the subscription model is going to be too hard for me to pass up.

Collaboration and authoring options for more users

Visio for Office 365 includes co-authoring support which enables multiple users to collaborate on the same diagram without fear of breaking version control. I like co-authoring in Visio as a better way to run a technical review over diagrams. A business analyst or a technical writer can manage technical reviews electronically doing away with having to generate an Adobe Portable Document File (PDF) of a diagram or printing a hard copy to get review comments. Both the document creator and reviewer can make diagram changes in real-time electronically because of the 5-seat licensing and the technology that can make this happen.
 
 You can also secure Visio diagrams with Microsoft Information Rights Management (IRM) which can secure Visio files sent as file attachments and diagrams stored in the cloud. To date, I’ve yet to come across a Microsoft IRM implementation in the wild but like the potential of the technology for protecting sensitive corporate data.

Visio by subscription, yes, please!

The subscription model, flexibility, not to mention the collaboration and authoring options are sheer genius for Visio Pro for Office 365 because they knock out each of the pain points that has consistently held Visio adoption back in the enterprise.

Will Kelly is a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. He has worked with commercial, federal, higher education, and publishing clients to develop technical and thought leadership content. His technology articles have been published by CNET TechRepublic, Government Computer News, Federal Computer Week, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com and others. Follow Will on Twitter:@willkelly.