Book Review: Microsoft Word 2010 for Medical and Technical Writers, 2nd Ed

Microsoft Word 2010 for Medical and Technical Writers, 2nd edition, by email hidden; JavaScript is required, PhD and email hidden; JavaScript is required, PhD.

ISBN: 978-1-890586-24-9
eISBN: 978-1-890586-25-6
Publisher: Piedmont Medical Writers LLC; 2 edition (March 13, 2013)

General overview

Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . .. . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . XI
Chapter 1: Setting Word Options to Avoid Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Chapter 2: Working with Styles and Formatting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Chapter 3: Understanding Page Breaks, Document Sections, and Headers/Footers
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
Chapter 4: Working with Fields and TOCs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63
Chapter 5: Using Cross-References and Automatic Numbering . . . . . . . . . . . . 89
Chapter 6: Working with Tables . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 107
Chapter 7: Understanding and Using Templates . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139
Chapter 8: Additional Topics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .151
Chapter 9: Techniques—the Good the Bad and the Ugly. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 181
Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 191

An alternate title for this book could be, Writer Learns How to Manage Microsoft Word and is Thereby Able to Retain Sanity and Write Another Day.

I have worked as a technical writer for about a decade and before that was a typical (read naive), user of Microsoft Word, using it to write office memos, letters, resumes and other relatively unsophisticated documents. For several early years of using Word I was clueless in that I had no solid awareness of the can of worms under the hood that await the more ambitious professional writer.

Book cover for Word 2010 for Medical and Technical Writers -- Second Edition

Only when I started earning a living as a technical writer did I come to the realization that Word has so much more going on. Word has features galore, many of which are silently tucked away and only surface when the sophisticated user runs into an issue and starts digging/delving into all the dialog boxes submerged in the application. Peter G. Aitken and Maxine M. Okazaki put forth a book that attempts to save you from learning stuff the hard way. They identify numerous things to avoid and then define best practices when using Word.

When I came to write this review I thought hurray! There are earth people who have managed to tame this beast and they will share their silver bullets of survival and success for all us struggling humans now using Word. They have put forth a valiant effort.

The book states that there are features of Word that have unintended or undesired consequences or that work in unintuitive ways. I have to say I entirely relate to this evaluation and find it a real pain at times to have to massage a document to get it to behave. Life is challenging enough most days working with and managing people so I’d rather not have to expend a huge amount of precious energy wrestling with a document. Still, even the best technical writers likely spend time doing this on occasion.

Basically this book points out the imperfections of Word and ways to cope with many of them. Frankly, I find these authors graciously forgiving of this ubiquitous word processing application that has taken over the office everywhere I’ve been employed. One example of their generosity is this:

Chapter 1: Setting Word Options to Avoid Problems

Aitken and Okazaki recommend that when you, the professional writer, receive back a large document that someone has gone through with Track Changes on and made their edits/feedback, the professional writer is better off going back to their ORIGINAL document and manually incorporating these changes into it. Though I recognize how someone arrives at this preference (as this is a safer approach) to me it is maddening that we have a world where such a basic feature as Track Changes is so problematic as to be rendered Best To Avoid and the technical / medical writer is reduced to doing manual editing. I find this level of forgiveness accommodating for such a large and successful operation as Microsoft and I still long for a word processing application that has more stable features that one can use with confidence.

The book starts at an admirable spot—offering immediate relief to those who need to begin using the application and would like to get stuff established at the gate to circumvent the drama and tantrums Word is able to deliver. I entirely concur that technical writers want to (need to) have complete control over their documents and therefore the more choices you can define that put the writer in the driver’s seat the better.

The book has a good number of screen shots of dialog boxes that are critical in a book of this nature.

The authors have identified what they believe are the most salient (i.e., prone to bring you to the brink of agitance) parts of Word for a technical / medical writer and they are

  1. Styles *
  2. Page breaks
  3. Document sections
  4. Headers and footers *
  5. Fields
  6. Table of contents
  7. Cross references
  8. Automatic numbering *
  9. Tables *
  10. Templates *

This is a competent selection of naughty features in Word. I have placed an asterisk after those above topics I personally have found problematic until I managed to figure out the method behind the scene.

Because of the limits in scope this book undertakes, none of these ten categories listed above are covered in the depth some readers might prefer.

Chapter 2: Working with Styles and Formatting

Word has five style types:

  1. Paragraph styles
  2. Character styles
  3. Linked styles
  4. Table styles
  5. List styles

Every technical writer needs to understand the distinctions of these styles so that they are applied in the manner in which they preform to your expectation. Normal is the base built-in Word style and is treated differently from other styles. Writers are advised to NOT base their styles on Normal. Wrong style assignments are the source of many formatting problems so the book demos how to view all styles used by setting the Style Area Width option to a value greater than the default of zero.

A style is a set of formatting that can be defined and applied to text in a document. Styles include font choices, indents, line spacing, borders, background shading, custom tabs and more.

It is important to know how to define and use a new style. This book leads the reader to make good choices to arrive at the desired result. A common definition (choice) of a style would be BodyText used for regular paragraphs in a typical document. When chosen, the writer also needs to choose the font and size of this style designation. The book recommends that when creating your new style, the style you designate is not based on an existing style nor do you want to base your new style on the Normal style. Aitken and Okazaki point out that “most aspects of style definitions are accessed via the Format button in the ‘create new style’ or ‘create new style from formatting’ dialog box.”

Did you know Word supports five kinds of tab stops? The book explains each.

Chapter 3: Understanding Page Breaks, Document sections, and Headers/Footers

Technical and medical writers find out that as a document becomes more complex (and lengthens) knowing how these features work and are related is necessary for a happy ending. Word’s default is to insert an automatic page break wherever they are needed. But writers can use a manual page break at any location. Page breaks and section breaks are under the Page Layout tab. Keep in mind, once you use a manual page break you will always get a page break at that location even if you move stuff around and a page break that once made sense no longer is appropriate. Often times a section break is the best choice when you are considering entering a manual page break.

Proper use of section breaks (of which there are four types to choose from) enables the document to accommodate certain things you want to do and still remain a cohesive whole.

Each section of your document can have these aspects defined as a new and independent part of the other document sections: page margins/paper size, orientation, and source/page borders/vertical alignment/headers and footers/columns/page and line numbering and footnotes and endnotes.

Chapter 4: Working with Fields and TOCs

Writers should understand how fields work or things can get messy on you. Fields are generally used to represent information in your document that is likely to change (date, TOC, pages). Fields do not update automatically (except for page numbers). Fields can be updated in several ways:

  1. Right-click and select Update or click the field and press F9.
  2. Select a block of text, right click, and select Update Field.
  3. Press Ctrl+A to select ALL text in the document, then press F9. This will NOT update fields in headers/footers.
  4. When you print the document, all fields are updated, but only if the Update Fields option is selected in the print category of the options dialog box.

Throughout the book are shaded boxes with lessons learned insights where the authors give tips that can keep your writing life more peaceful. Here is one: when you have a document where you are using Track Changes it is recommended you turn this OFF before updating your fields. Reason—a field update is treated as a deletion of the former field value and an insertion of the new one, and Track Changes will note each and every one, likely not something you would want done.

It is advised to have Field viewing be set to ‘Always’ which means All Fields are always shaded to enable awareness of where fields are in the document.

Document Properties

I had a job once where the boss was really big on having this information included so I’d recommend technical writers understand this area. There are two parts to document properties:

  1. Basic properties – a panel appears on the ribbon that enables the insertion/naming of the most commonly used document properties to include: Author, Title, Subject, keywords, category, status and comments.
  2. Advanced properties– a dialog box displays providing access to all document properties. Here you can define Custom Properties using the Custom tab. These are additional document properties one can identify: created by/client/date completed/Dept./destination/disposition/Division/document number/editor/forward to/group/language/mailstop/matter/office/owner/project/publisher/purpose/received from/recorded by/recorded date/reference/source/status/telephone number/typist.

Chapter 4 goes into a good deal of detail on table of contents including troubleshooting errors in a TOC.

Chapter 5: Using Cross-References and Automatic Numbering

Cross references have never been problematic for me but numbering can be tricky and ugly until you master it.

Types of cross-references:

  • A heading: Any paragraph formatted with one of Word’s built-in heading styles
  • A numbered item
  • A bookmark: Any text that has been defined as a bookmark
  • A footnote or endnote
  • A caption for a figure, table or equation that was created with the insert caption command.

Numbering is not for the faint of heart. Aitken and Okazaki write, “Word has powerful but often confusing numbering tools.” This is more polite than I’d rank the experience of getting numbering to work in a complex document, but it can be done. It is recommended that the writer create a paragraph style for numbered lists and use this style in place of Word’s default lists. The book proceeds to walk you through 12 steps that will accomplish a paragraph style for a numbered list.

Numbered Heading Levels are covered. This is alternatively known as outline numbered headings.

Assigning Outline Numbering to heading styles is an option for those who want it their way. The book lists steps to accomplish this approach.

How to number chapters in a book is discussed.

Chapter 6: Working with Tables

Aitken and Okazaki award this area of Word as the numero uno headache! Pages 107 through 138 attempt to relieve your angst from reading the proceeding sentence.

Covered here are: Table Fundamentals, Creating a Table, Navigating in Tables, Adding/Deleting Table rows and columns, Column width and row height, table options, merging and splitting cells, merging and splitting tables, formatting tables, table captions, working with Multipage tables, tables and page breaks, Pasting tables into Word and ending with Troubleshooting tables. In my experience this pretty much covers how to conquer tables, but I could be wrong as Word sometimes has a mind of its own.

Chapter 7: Understanding and Using Templates

Templates are discussed in Chapter 7 though not in the detail I was hoping for.

As with many aspects of Word management by a writer, styles are closely connected to Word templates so it behooves the writer to get informed about what a template really is and when and how to use them.

A basic skill of a technical writer is to know the workings of using templates. Every Word document is based on a template. The default template is the Normal template which contains only a few basic styles. It is advised to avoid basing any technical documents on the Normal template because it will prove to be too limited for your ultimate needs. A good template can make work smoother. These are the elements found in a template:

  1. Styles
  2. Boilerplate text
  3. Custom toolbars
  4. Macros
  5. Shortcut key definitions
  6. Auto text entries
  7. Margins and other page setup options

Life can begin to resemble of bowl of rotten cherries when you are given a template from a client that was done without the requisite skills to create a working, viable template. You may find yourself morphing such a template to get it to perform as advertised. Aitken and Okazaki say that all that is required to create a good template is planning, care, experience and a thorough knowledge of Word. It is this last item that does make the creation of a Good template no minor feat. Some good caveats are put forth when working with templates.

Chapter 8: Additional Topics

Chapter 8 contains pearls of wisdom that just didn’t fit elsewhere in book: Pages 151 to 180. Covered in this chapter:

  1. Customizing Word
  2. Working with Track Changes
  3. Using special characters and symbols
  4. Inserting symbols
  5. Linking to external data
  6. Understanding Paste Special
  7. Inserting data from Excel
  8. Inserting and positioning Graphics

All are useful to understand these topics better and after reading this chapter you will know more and perform stronger with the application.

Chapter 9: Techniques—the Good the Bad and the Ugly

Chapter 9 concludes the book. It includes

  1. Dos and Don’ts – I always find these kinds of lists fun to read
  2. Being Smart about Backups – this is Very Important—remember that day you lost a document!!!!
  3. Minimizing Problems – Yes, please enable me to minimize problems!!!!
  4. Handy Keystrokes – who doesn’t like to save time and impress someone with a keystroke the other guy has never seen.
  5. Ordering Information – how to get a copy of this book and the formats available to choose from Print/Kindle/Nook or as a PDF.

It is my wish that your work as a technical writer will be enhanced and improved after this book has entered your collection.

© 2013 Peggy A Lucero. Noncommercial reprint rights granted with inclusion of copyright notice. Reprint rights available upon request.

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Peggy Lucero

Peggy Lucero has been working as a technical writer/business analyst for a decade. Before this Peggy was a departmental manager at law firms on the East and West coasts where she did complex IP research on a wide range of technical matters.