Moving to MS WORD

Why Move to Microsoft Word?

Why would anyone now using WordPerfect or some other perfectly good word processor move to Microsoft Word? By fair means or foul, Microsoft Office, the suite that includes Microsoft Word, has taken the business world by storm. Here are some reasons for making the switch:

  • Clients may want to be able to exchange word processing documents easily with their lawyers, adding their own corrections and insertions.
  • Makers of special purpose software programs usually design them to work with Microsoft Word; many do not work with WordPerfect.
  • The various owners of WordPerfect have struggled to make it profitable, so some buyers wonder whether it will be well supported and updated in the future.
  • Microsoft makes a number of well-reviewed, popular products that share the same look and feel with Microsoft Word and that work well with it. Among them are Microsoft Outlook (Email), Excel (spreadsheet), Access (database), Internet Explorer (web browsing) and FrontPage (web page creation).
  • Finally, Microsoft Word offers some features that are superior to the counterparts in WordPerfect.

The purpose here is not to claim that Microsoft Word is better than WordPerfect. Rather, you can learn about some of the best features of MS Word and about some of the difficulties you may face in converting to and using the latest word processor from Microsoft.

Favorite Features of Microsoft Word

Special features in MS Word make it an attractive upgrade for people who have become aware of the limitations of other word processors. Here are some of the features that other products have a hard time matching.

Help in Many Places

In years past, the information available from software Help menus was less than helpful. Useless statements about obvious functions or incomplete, confusing computerese alienated people who tried using Help. They became discouraged and now consciously avoid it in newer programs, too. But the situation has changed.

Word Assistant. The animated character, or Word Assistant, now offers real help. Too bad that a fair number of people find the Assistant distracting or unprofessional. However you react, do not overlook the value that this Word Assistant has to offer. If you find it annoying, close the Word Assistant window. It is easily summoned back by pressing the F1 key or clicking on the first item in the Help menu. When it appears, ask the Assistant for help. You can type:

  • A few keywords relating to a feature or problem
  • For example: "mail merge" or "shortcut keys"
  • A phrase or sentence in plain English
  • For example: "How to print an address on an envelope"
  • Pressing Enter will bring up several Help topics. Usually one or more will be relevant and helpful.

In addition to getting assistance, you have one of the few opportunities, when working with a computer, to ask for something in your own words. If you happen to be in a bad mood and type in something rude, you may be amused by the curious reaction of the Paperclip. For example, telling it to "Go take a hike" motivates the clip to help you "Learn about creating graphics with transparent areas."

The Word Assistant offers more than mere text windows talking about what to do. "Show me" buttons may appear in Help windows to take you step-by-step through a process. The real windows you need will appear and you, or the Assistant, can make selections and complete an operation.

On-Line Manual and Index. For people who like books, MS Word contains the equivalent of a thick manual. Its Table of Contents has chapters, sections and pages. Click on the Help menu and choose Contents and Index. Double-click on a book icon to expand a chapter or section of interest. Scan the topics and pick the ones that may be helpful.

If you like going to the back of a reference book to find locate a useful section, click on the Index tab for an alphabetic index of the Help topics. The Index is much more complete than those found in many other software products.

The What's This Cursor. Help is available throughout many MS Word windows in the form of the What's This cursor. It is found just to the left of the Close Window (X) button. Clicking on it adds a question mark to the cursor. Use the What's This cursor to click on an option or a button you want to know more about. A window will appear offering an explanation and sometimes a link into other Help features.

Undo and Redo – One Hundred Levels

A surprising number of expert Word users fail to take full advantage of Undo and Redo. In MS Word, approximately over a hundred actions can be undone. That means you can go step-by-step backwards through the typing, editing and formatting you have done. You can insert, delete, and move text at will to see how your writing will look. Then you can rapidly return to the exact wording you started out with by repeatedly clicking the Undo button, or pressing the shortcut key combination, Ctrl-Z.

If you decide you like changes after you have Undone them, you can restore them. Click forward through your changes using the Redo button or key combination, Ctrl-Y.

Warning: After you close a document, the "undo stack" disappears. You can only use the Undo function on things you have done while your document is open.

Styles – The Secret to Organizing and Formatting Documents

Styles in MS Word have the power to transform the process of creating and using documents in electronic form. They can save an enormous amount of time and tedium. But the vast majority of people who use MS Word do not exploit the potential of styles. Why not?

  1. Styles were hard to learn and to use in the earlier versions of Microsoft Word. Creators of long, heavily formatted documents had an incentive to master their intricacies, but most average people who tried them found they were too much trouble.
  2. Manuals and courses on Microsoft Word relegate Styles to the advanced sections. Most do a very poor job of teaching how to use Styles and what they can do. Learning how to "sort of " use Styles can be frustrating and disastrous. Formatting does not stick, or it changes in places you have not touched.

But it really is well worth taking the time to learn at least the basics of Styles.

Styles have the power to let you brainstorm, unconcerned about the appearance of headings, indentation of paragraphs and lists, page breaks and the like. You can pour your thoughts onto the screen, then you or your assistant can use fast, powerful techniques to transform the appearance of the document with Styles.

Styles combined with Word's outline view allow you to approach your writing from the top down, outlining your points and subpoints they way you may have been taught in high school English.

Styles let you rearrange your argument, presentation or other work, reordering major topics and moving subtopics around.

Styles may be applied to reformat a document of any size instantly, changing its look from formal to modern or making its formatting identical to that of another set of documents.

Styles make it possible to generate and regenerate a Table of Contents, complete with correctly formatted page numbers, without going through a tedious process of tagging all the heading that need to be included.

And Styles allow a person reading or revising a MS Word document to move quickly and easily over scores of pages, clicking from one topic to another and back again.

In recent versions of MS Word, Styles have been given a facelift so that they are easier to learn and easier to work with. Still the manuals and courses on MS Word don't teach Styles as a fundamental tool for saving time and producing impressive, accessible documents. Watch for practical information on MS Word Styles from this author in future publications and technology conference presentations.


Two Different Perspectives: WordPerfect and Microsoft Word

Most legal professionals who use a word processor learned the WordPerfect approach. When they start to use Microsoft Word, they tend to approach it from the WordPerfect perspective. That approach can make MS Word appear to be uncooperative and obtuse.

Jim Eidelman, a lawyer and technology expert unmatched in area of automating the creation of documents in law offices, has explained the fundamental difference in the way that MS Word and WordPerfect work with documents. WordPerfect was originally developed for the daisy-wheel printer. It needed to send codes that turned text formatting on and off so that characters could be printed one at a time in the correct format. Microsoft Word was originally developed to exploit the laser printer which formats an entire page at one time.

People using WordPerfect get used to the idea of turning things off and on. They have a great deal of control over the word processor. Many learn to go "under the hood" using Reveal Codes to precisely remove or move codes that are the source of a formatting problem.

Microsoft Word can format text a character or a word at a time, but it is built to deal with documents in larger pieces: paragraphs, sections, and entire documents. This approach allows for sweeping changes that instantly affect large parts of a document, including text not visible on the screen. For people used to controlling appearance in a linear manner, starting here and ending precisely there, Microsoft Word can be most unsettling.

When moving to MS Word, there is no substitute for a good series of training classes. First users need to be comfortable with the mouse and with MS Windows. It helps if they are familiar with Windows techniques and shortcut keys such as Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V for Copy and Paste..Then they must make the change from the old way of approaching documents to the new way.

Templates and Macros

Templates serve as electronic form documents. They can set up much of a document's formatting, including margins, fonts, headers and footers, and spacing, yielding time savings whenever someone starts a document. Macros can automate the process of entering boilerplate text and variable information routinely included in documents. One of the big headaches for offices moving to MS Word stems from having to recreate form documents and macros.

Because WordPerfect and MS Word operate very differently under the hood, most templates and macros must be recreated one at a time. Then the office staff must learn the new ways that they work in MS Word. While this is an opportunity to fix what was wrong, or nonexistent, in the old system, it can require a large amount of work and relearning in offices of every size.

Conversion of Documents

Large collections of documents representing hours of meticulous work build up in a law office's computer system over time. To move to MS Word, the office needs to be able to access and reuse that work product. A number of software products can convert large batches of documents from an old word processing format to MS Word format. And MS Word can open and use documents from many older word processors. In the process, all of the words in the body of an old document are accurately converted. But rarely does the document look exactly the same after conversion.

Ironically, firms that have taken best advantage of the advanced features of their old word processors face greater difficulties when converting to MS Word. Automatically numbered paragraphs do not translate. Headers and footers may lose formatting and page numbers. Manually cleaning up converted documents is tedious and may continue long after the changeover to MS Word.

Other conversion headaches can arise out of the incompatibilities of various versions of Microsoft Word. Corel WordPerfect uses the same file format as in earlier versions. People using the new Corel version can send files directly to those who use one of the last two versions. But some newer MS Word documents are garbage to people using older version of Word. Before sending a word processing file, you may want to create a copy of it in an older Word format to be sure the recipient will be able to read it.

Software Bugs and Document Problems

No large, modern software product is entirely free of bugs. Defects and problems may arise entirely within an individual document, within the word processing program, or between the word processing program and some other program. MS Word has its share of these problems.

Software problems are not all caused by software bugs. When something goes wrong, there is a natural tendency to blame the tool being used. The golf equipment business thrives on this tendency. With computers, we tend to blame the machine or the software. But a surprising number of problems that arise in specific documents result from one of two causes:

  • The person working on the document has not received adequate training.
  • The document was first created using a different software package or version.

In both instances, the person working on the document is not familiar with how it is formatted. In an effort to make a problem go away, he or she may try various desperate, ill-conceived "solutions." How often have you heard, "I tried everything and it only got worse." That is an understandable reaction. But a better approach that works over the long term is:

  • Invest in the creation of good templates that save time and promote predictability;
  • Provide good, sufficient training.

A fair criticism of MS Word is that it should be designed so that it is hard for a person using it to get into trouble. Even well-trained MS Word experts occasionally run into intractable dilemmas. Ironically, perhaps the best incentive for Microsoft to make needed "usability" improvements is the continued existence of healthy competition from Corel WordPerfect. So should you move to MS Word?