For reasons that continue to elude me, I’ve come across a lot of Microsoft Word template issues in my time. Some templates were so bad that what should be a simple productivity tool ends up hobbling documentation efforts. Finding template issues is a never-ending source of disappointment for me. Perhaps it’s because I usually create templates in the early stages of a project and keep the fuss to a minimum.
Though along the way, my Microsoft Office experience and published writing credits on the subject got me put on some projects where I supported the rollout of Microsoft Office and saw how end users (who weren’t technical writers) used the applications and their varied levels of understanding.
These experiences got me to put together what I am calling my Microsoft Word Template Manifesto:
Templates are a productivity tool
Word templates are productivity tools. They should never be an obstacle in the way of creating and publishing documents. A proper template does the driving when it comes to document design and formatting so the author can focus on writing and editing document content. Templates should never stand in the way of author productivity.
Templates should govern styles
The Word template is in place to govern styles in a given document format. Take the time to ensure that your template also has the necessary style formats, so users don’t have to format anything in their documents manually.
Templates should be lean with few extraneous styles
Keep your templates lean with only the styles that are needed in the document. Additionally, factor in the time to maintain the templates over the long haul, so they remain a productivity tool versus
Templates should include a job aid
Using document templates isn’t second nature to everybody. I’ve long been a proponent to include a job aid or cheat sheet with templates I create so everybody is using the template styles in the manner they are intended.
Styles guides should document template usage
There can be nothing more irritating to new and grizzled document authors alike than document templates not matching up with the documentation style guide (provided your organization even has one of these!).
Templates are *dotx files and installed on the local hard drive
I’ve inherited templates of varying shaded and interpretations so I long ago came up with my own rather unoriginal and vanilla standards for template usage which first and foremost is that a template is a *.dot file that is installed locally on a hard drive.
Templates are for novice users too
It’s easy to think; it’s just Microsoft Word. I was guilty of falling into that trap because working as a technical writer means I live in Microsoft Word most days (and evenings). Templates need to be easy to use and follow so users of different Word skills can use them independently. When users get frustrated with a template, they may attempt to iron man their styles thereby introducing inconsistencies that may or may not get picked up in the editorial process or by a reader farther down the line.
Templates need love too
There needs to some ongoing maintenance and monitoring of any templates an organization uses for documentation. This ensures that no issues have cropped up and authors are correctly using the templates.