3 Microsoft Word template decisions to avoid


Microsoft Word templates can be an incredible productivity tool. Templates ensure a consistent look and feel across your documents. Using a template frees you up to focus on other things about the document you are writing.

Yet, Microsoft Word templates can also be a productivity sinkhole if you aren’t careful. If you don’t put some thought into how you manage and use the template.

Here are three Microsoft Word Templates you should always avoid:

  • Don’t deviate from default style names. It’s OK to create templates from scratch but for styles like headings and others that are common across documents, I recommend not deviating from the default style names. It is ok to modify them to your heart’s content, but deviating from default style names can pose problems later when you want to update the document template like during a rebranding. Sticking to default style names whenever possible means when attaching a new template. Sticking to such style names is also helpful because they are what people are used to working with if they pay attention to style names at all.
  • Don’t forget to attach the template. Working as a technical writer puts me into contact with a lot of legacy Microsoft Office documents — often times with no sign of the original template (*.dot) — raising a number of sundry issues like styles “shifting in flight” thus appearing differently on different user’s PCs. When working with clients encountering MS Word document issues, no template attached to the document is almost always on the list.
  • Don’t “Iron Man” your document styles. One of the marks of a poorly planned document template is missing styles. causing users to make modifications to document styles manually (otherwise known as “iron man”). Such modifications can introduce inconsistencies plus stray styles into your MS Word template that will haunt writers who inherit the document for generations to come. The advice I often give to clients about Word templates is to keep them simple especially if the organization doesn’t have a full time writer dedicated to the project or the documents are being shipped around to non-writers a lot.

What are your tips for managing and using MS Word templates? Share them below.


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.

Building the Microsoft Word skills of non-writers in your organization


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.

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.

Continue reading “My Word template manifesto”

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.