I enjoy photography, and am lucky enough to have a good DSLR camera. However, I generally take all my photographs using the automatic settings that the camera provides. Because I haven’t put the time and effort into learning the features that the camera has and practising them on a regular basis, I let the camera decide what it thinks the best settings for each picture are. This has mixed results - often the camera takes a brilliant picture, other times it can’t cope with the light or the subject or the type of photo. So, I have enrolled in a photography course with the aim of learning more about the camera features so I can decide when to override the automatic settings and when to let the camera decide for me.
There is a strong analogy between Word styles and my camera. Most people allow Word to decide what it thinks is best for their document, and don’t take the time to learn how to override and customise the settings.
Word is the most common tool of technical writers, and so we have to know how to get the most out of it in order to create documents efficiently and effectively. To do this we need to understand the features and be able to easily customise documents for different purposes and different clients.
A style is a set of text formatting attributes. A style can specify the font, colour, size, indentation, spacing, tab positions, bullets and numbering, the list goes on. You can use Word’s built-in styles, or you can create your own.
A template is simply a set of styles. A template is useful if you need to maintain consistency of formatting across several documents or you have documents being created by more than one person.
By default, Word supplies you with a huge set of built-in styles and one template, Normal.dotx.
Using Word styles effectively has fantastic benefits for all Word users, not just technical writers. Here are my top five reasons for making the time to learn about styles.
My top five reasons for using Word styles
Spend your time creating the content, not fiddling with the look and feel. Change the formatting of your text with just one click. No need to revisit the ribbon multiple times to apply font colour, size, type, paragraph spacing and indentation.
Create consistent, uniform documents for yourself, your team or across a whole organisation.
Table of contents.
Use heading styles so Word can automatically create your table of contents for you.
Change the appearance of a whole document very quickly.
Streamline the export process.
Use Word styles to make the process of exporting your text into a desktop publishing tool such as InDesign or an authoring tool such as Author-it, as painless as possible.
In future blog posts I’ll show you how to use the Quick Styles gallery to apply styles quickly and efficiently.