You may not have the option of choosing your document processing tools. The company may have mandated the use of Microsoft Office as the "Standard Desktop Applications," and refusing to comply may represent an "offense" for which you might lose your job.
Or you may disagree with my belief that Microsoft Word is a horrible, terrible thing that has been unleashed on an insufficiently suspecting world; you may prefer it to the alternatives.
You may prefer WYSIWYG to the idea of completely separating editing from presentation.
In any case, it makes sense to at least use the software well. I regularly (if not usually) see spreadsheet and word processor software being used exceedingly badly.
People use fonts in profusion
People use whitespace to manage layout
People don't use what "logical structuring" tools do exist
People use spreadsheets for things they should use word processors for, and vice versa
Here are a few tips that are likely to help produce better documents more efficiently almost irrespective of what software you are using.
If the word processor offers some sort of "style" system (any of the "big name" word processors do these days), it is highly preferable to make use of this.
This allows you to separate the process of writing the document into two phases:
Write the document, attaching logical "styles" to different components.
If the system offers an "outline" mode, this allows you to gradually "flesh out" the document by first creating section titles, subsection titles, and then filling in the text.
At this point, you want to get the ideas right. If the information is incorrect, misleading, or useless, then all the fine tuning of presentation in the world won't make it right. Garbage, even if served up on a bone china plate with gold cutlery and fine champagne served in crystal goblets is still garbage.
You don't want to worry about the page-oriented presentation in this phase; it would be silly to take an hour getting page 7 perfectly formatted, and then find that due to information changes, all this effort was wasted because a paragraph got moved to another place in the document.
It makes no sense, for instance, to put any effort into widow/orphan removal (these are the situations where a paragraph is most "naturally" split such that one line is one one page, and the remainder is on another page; it is preferable to force the "lost" line to join with the rest of the paragraph) when the pagination of the document is likely to substantially change.
In the first phase, you tried to, as much as possible, ignore the physical formatting. Emphasized text may have been emphasized, but you should not have done substantial work "making it pretty."
Now that the information in the document has been validated, it makes sense to start worrying about precise placement of text and graphics. To change a paragraph's format so that it fits better on the page. To move a picture to the right by 1.5cm so that it is better centred on the page.
A typical rule of typography is that a well typeset document should generally only use two or three fonts.
It is somewhat unfortunate that Adobe's font list has so popularized the combination of Times Roman, Helvetica, and Courier, as they are not a very good mix.
Nonetheless, it is generally sensible, in principle, to use a "highly readable" serifed font (like Times Roman) for running text, a sans serif font such as Helvetica for "display" material such as section titles, and a monospaced font such as Courier for things like screen shots. If you're not quite sure of what you're doing, having more than three font families in a document is likely to have jarring or otherwise unattractive results.
I like combining Sabon (aka "Classic Garamond") with Optima (aka "Ottawa" aka "Zapf Humanist 601"); others may have other preferred combinations.
Inserting graphic images tends to be expensive in memory and disk consumption. Do it when necessary.
It should not be necessary when grabbing a "screen shot" of a terminal session; in that case it is highly preferable to treat the information as text, and format it using a monospaced font.
Tables may be pretty, but they are often challenging to actually format nicely. If a set of information seems to be conveniently presented as a table, consider the following two alternatives to the "obvious" use of a table environment:
If a fair amount of text is attached to the information, some sort of itemized list may allow the text to flow more easily, which allows you to make the information attractive without a need to do much work tuning column sizes.
If the table is to involve numbers, calculations, or can contain other calculations or formulae, it perhaps should not be managed as text, but rather as a spreadsheet.
"John Spencer" suggests that Word's handling of footnotes may be "quite unsatisfactory".
Depending on how your version of Word copes with footnotes, you may find you need to avoid using the built-in support for them.
This opens a somewhat wider door, in that the quality of implementation of features in the "business applications" may not be uniformly wonderful. Features more needed in academic writing, such as footnotes, bibliographies, and such may not get the development attention needed to make them of acceptable quality.
A classic criticism is of things produced in "academia" not being sufficiently well developed to be usable in the "business world;" this situation suggests that the tables may occasionally be turned...
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