Converting Word documents to online outputs

Neil Woolley
by Neil Woolley

As we all know, one of the defining features of humans is our ability to use tools; such as driving cars and writing content using Microsoft Word.

Another lesser-known human attribute is how we over-estimate our abilities. Citing transport researcher M. Moharrer: ‘The human factor has the major share in causing road accidents. One of the possible consequences of inadequate driving skill and/or behaviour is overconfidence (OC). OC refers to drivers’ inflated assessment of their own skill and/or behaviour above actual level’.

Word is a tool used throughout most organisations. Team members are expected to write material for internal and, sometimes, external audiences. We often receive Word documents containing content that the project sponsor wants put on their Intranet (internal web portal). They recognise some of the benefits of online content include:

  • information is easy to find and use
  • there are no printing costs
  • users have the latest version, to meet their Australian standards obligations.

Focusing on the use of the Word tool only, most Word documents we receive have significant formatting issues. For example, where a tab stop will do (or even better, a one-click indented style), some writers indent text by pressing the space bar numerous times until the text is aligned by eye. This creates work, unseen by the sponsor.

It’s worth mentioning that we appreciate the original writer’s efforts; ‘all help gratefully received’. Subject matter experts (SMEs) have much to contribute – they often have many calls on their time but don’t have time to learn the latest Word version or attend advanced Word courses.

Some of the steps we use to prepare a Word document to put online are:

  1. Update the Word template that we use for an organisation. Some organisations update their templates periodically and we need to use the latest versions to output Word and PDF documents to accompany the online help. Of most importance are the styles that are used:
    • paragraph styles, such as the ‘list bullet’ style used for this sentence
    • character styles, such as the bold style, used to add emphasis to individual words or small sections of text.
  2. Make a copy of the original document; it’s sometimes handy to check back to see what the writer originally intended with their formatting.
  3. Display paragraph marks and other hidden formatting symbols.
  4. Apply the latest Word template to the document; this automatically updates the formatting of the existing styles to match the organisation’s. We use the Developer tab that is not displayed by default.
  5. Display the Styles toolbar beside the content; this shows all styles and local formatting in the document.
  6. Identify content with Normal style; a writer may have formatted locally in the document rather than applying a style. We apply the style that best suits the content.
  7. Identify content with non-standard styles; some writers create their own styles rather than using the built-in styles. Again, we apply the style that best suits the content.
  8. Identify incorrectly used formatting characters; a writer may have used several carriage returns to force a heading onto the next page. In this case, we will remove the carriage returns and apply a heading with page break instead.
  9. Each writer has their own signature of using styles, local formatting and formatting characters. It is an iterative process to work through individual issues to prepare the document.
  10. Save the changes to the document every few seconds. On a regular basis, we may also save as another document with today’s date and the latest time; one of the worst things that can happen is the writer’s Word document crashes the tool. The backup copy from 20 minutes earlier can be a lifesaver.
  11. Import the Word document into our authoring tool; this can handle many remaining formatting issues.
  12. Review the imported topics and book in our authoring tool. Sometimes we need to rewrite the content or recapture a screen to resolve the final formatting issues.

Fortunately, the consequences of sponsors having too much faith in their writers’ abilities have minimal consequences when compared with overrated driving abilities. Ever increasing computerisation of cars has reduced serious injuries and fatalities: Auto Emergency Braking (AEB), Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and Antilock Braking System (ABS). Our use of advanced Word techniques and our authoring tool enables us to deliver a smoother ride for the end users too.

In my next article, I’ll look at some of the steps to prepare the content, so we can output Word/PDF versions as well as the online content.

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