Microsoft Word is a wonderful product, and I’m not joking at all. It’s easy to forget that not so long ago, back in the days of BW (“before Word”), creating documents for any purpose was a long and tiresome process. Microsoft Word has made things a lot easier for many people who produce many kinds of documents, from school homework to business letters. Microsoft Word is great many kinds of documents, but it isn’t suitable for everything.
If you do find yourself using Microsoft Word there are a few things you do well to look out for. Two of those things are called “Normal”, and my advice is to stay away from both of them.
Avoid the Normal template
When you start Microsoft Word the application launches a new blank document based on the Normal template. A template in Microsoft Word can contain styles, page layouts, text, autotexts, macros and so on. The Normal template is the “default” setting – the object that the application uses if you don’t specify anything else. The problem about using the Normal template for all your documents is that when you save a change in formatting in the Normal template, every document that uses that template may be affected next time you open it. If you want different documents to appear differently, you should have your own template for each type. For example, when I started trading as a company and needed to issue invoices, I created an Invoice template, so that all invoices looked the same. It would have been very unprofessional if they hadn’t been consistent. So I would recommend having your own templates for every type of document you create, and never using the Normal template at all.
It’s easy to create a template – you can simply save a document as a template, which has a *.dot suffix in Word 2003, and a *.dotx suffix in Word 2007. You should save the template in the default location (which is usually C:\Documents and Settings\[user name]\Application Data\Microsoft\Templates). Next time you want to start a document, open Word, ignore the document that it launches and select File>New (in Word 2003) or Office Button>New (in Word 2007), and select whichever template you want to use.
Remember that the one thing you can’t do with a Word template is apply it to an existing document. Some other applications do allow you to do this, but unfortunately, Word doesn’t.
Avoid the Normal style
The second thing called Normal that I’d advise you to keep away from is the Normal style. Once again, this is the “default” setting for all your text, unless you specify a different style. It is very important that you use styles for all your formatting, and avoid the temptation of formatting text with the toolbar (Word 2003) or the ribbon (Word 2007). Every time you change the formatting of a style, every paragraph with that style gets changed. To make sure that you are in charge of what changes get made, use your own styles.
In Word you can base styles on other styles, which can be useful. If Heading 2 is based on Heading 1 and you change the font for Heading 1 from Times New Roman to Arial, then the font for Heading 2 gets changed as well. Unfortunately, lots of styles are based on Normal, so if you change the formatting of Normal you may get some unexpected results.
Use the Modify command to make sure that styles you use frequently are based on “(no style)” unless you deliberately want to have them inherit characteristics from a “parent” style. When you create your own styles, base them on “(no style)” as well. Here are two more quick tips on styles:
- you should never select the Automatically update option in the formatting dialog
- you should never select the Keep track of formatting option in the Options dialog (on the Edit tab in Word 2003, in the Advanced section of Word options in Word 2007)
So remember when you are working with Word – don’t be Normal!