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Styles in word processors - joy or pain?

Styles in word processors - joy or pain?When authoring user manuals, IFUs, and just about anything else that needs to be written in a medical device or pharmaceutical company, we use structural elements like titles, headings, sub-heads, and picture captions to help readers make sense of the document.

Typically, we want to format each of these elements consistently. For example, we may want all the body text in a smaller lighter font and the title in a larger heavier type. We may want a lot of vertical space before all the major headings, but none before the captions under pictures.

Most word processors use "styles" to collect such formatting instructions. Styles make it easy to be consistent. And that's a good thing for the authors, the readers, and the translators.

Despite the numerous advantages to using styles, it's amazing to see how many authors don't want or don't know how to use styles. We won't tackle the "how to" item here.

"Don't want to" is easier to address because using style is a joy and save time and money. Still not convinced? Maybe this video can help:



So, for all of the translation buyers who wonder "why are there DTP numbers on my quote?", make sure that you are using styles appropriately and consistently.


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7 Comments:

  1. Bruce Poropat said...
    Styles for every visual element are critical to getting the most out of a word processor. Someone who wants to be a technical writer might get away without knowing some things about the word processor (such as indexing), but they must know how to use styles.

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    Paul Hanson said...
    I agree. When you work with HTML pages, the HTML is your content and your CSS controls what the formatting looks like. You should define your CSS and use it so that if you want your appearance to change, you can do so quickly. Separate your content from your presentation.

    That said, styles in a word processing program, such as MS Word, are just like the CSS file. Create a template, define the styles, and use them. Don't use ctrl+B / ctrl+I / ctrl+u - define a character style in Word and use that instead of manually formatting text. Then, when you are told to change from 12, Arial to 14, Arial, you make the change at the character style level and BOOMMMM!!! You are done. Otherwise you have to manually make multiple changes.

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    Scott Spinola said...
    The major problem is that word processors make it insanely easy to not use styles, and much more difficult to use them. This will now become a Microsoft Word rant.

    Word has been making it increasingly easy for authors to use direct formatting. Witness that mini, pop-up toolbar full of direct formatting that appears wherever you type.

    Add to that the insane, convoluted, and illogical way Word handles formatting in the first place (crammed into invisible marks like the paragraph and section breaks) and their reliance on external templates (so that the Normal template reformats everything if the original template is absent), and it becomes an effort in near futility to maintain consistent styles within a document.

    Word should at least provide an easy way for document managers to limit direct formatting. Furthermore, we should be able to configure Word to convert direct formatting like "Bold" or "Italics" to the "Strong" or "Emphasis" style (or whatever styles we select), just like it changes "freind" to "friend" in auto-correct.

    Do not get me wound up on how absurdly awful Word is for professional document development. Sadly, Microsoft will never change this because their only real competitor (if they even have one) is Google Docs, and that's even worse at styles than Word.

    The word processor that figures out how to make styles user-friendly and eliminates direct formatting altogether will strike gold and win me as a customer forever.

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    MBM said...
    I agree entirely with the Microsoft Word rant above and I would extend it to all WYSIWYG word processors. They are a curse in disguise.
    Helen Griffith said...
    tyles are invaluable I think - even in Word! I mostly use MapCap Flare which uses css styles which (other than a bug or two specifically in Flare in using some of the styles) are pretty simple to use after the initial effort in understanding and creating them.

    Most people in my company use Word though so I recently had to set up some templates and styles (and themes - EH?!?!?!!?). Having almost never used Word, I am still somewhat baffled by Word styles and completely understand why someone would never think to use them. However I'm desperately keen to make my colleagues use my templates and styles, wrote a simple guide for using them and will be doing my utmost to ensure they're used.

    So in answer to your question, Andres, styles CAN be an initial pain to set up, but once there, they are a joy compared with the alternative manual formatting of potentially thousands of pages of content!

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    Denise Lee said...
    As a manager over a group of tech writers, I cannot imagine NOT using styles to create documents that present a consistent look and feel to our customers across products or across information types.

    I do, however, often feel the pain of having to edit files created by those who do not understand styles and who therefore manually apply formatting. Word then creates a myriad of character styles that are then a burden to work through to come out with a file that is cleanly tagged with the appropriate styles and that can be updated in future with new content formatted consistently with the existing content. For that reason, I would like the default for Word to NOT create any new styles unless manually commanded to do so.

    I agree about Microsoft's online help, Michelle. Even if you can manage to find a topic related to the function you are using (the search results are puzzling, at best -- not a good recommendation for Bing's capabilities), the content rarely explains concepts, workflows, appropriate use of a feature, etc. It is frustrating for us power users, so I can't imagine that casual users ever find anything of help to them.

    When I need help, I look in forums and user groups (WordDocDesign group on Yahoo is a great resource, with very helpful experts who answer questions quickly and in terms you can easily understand and use); if I'm troubleshooting, I start with a Google search on the error text or menu/ribbon terms.

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    Robert Levy said...
    Hey, I'm glad you liked my little video. Styles can be such a help, and I'm always surprised to meet writers who don't bother using them.

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