Carpal-Tunnel Test

Posted on August 16, 2016 By

When you use a word processor, do you press the Tab or Space key several times to center paragraphs? Do you press the Enter key twice to ensure there is space between paragraphs? Are you frequently clicking the ribbon buttons B, U, and I? If you do, you’re in danger, so read on.

Tests for Poor Word Processing Habits

Avoiding Style Bloat

Posted on December 12, 2016 By

Suppose Georgette came to you and said, “You can drive my Ferrari for as long as you want and as far as you want.” Would you go out and buy a Ferrari? No, you’d use Georgette’s Ferrari. (I don’t know anyone named Georgette and worse I don’t know anyone who owns a Ferrari, but that’s my own social limitation.) It’s the same thing with Word—it comes with piles of styles, so there’s no need for you to go out and create your own. (more…)

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Best Practices for Your Tesla and Your Templates

Posted on December 1, 2016 By

According to Wikipedia (as of November 27, 2016), a “best practice” is

a method or technique that has been generally accepted as superior to any alternatives because it produces results that are superior to those achieved by other means…

For example, the best practice for recharging your Tesla Model S is to plug it into the electrical outlet. This is generally accepted as superior compared to affixing a coat hanger to the antenna and waiting for a lightning bolt to strike it. It’s the same way with templates and styles. (more…)

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Clearing Out Style Overrides and Unhealthy Partnerships

Posted on November 8, 2016 By

Today’s editors get paid to fix formatting, not just wording. In fact, I’ve been paid a princely sum to search and destroy formatting overrides over the years. (“Princely sum” in this case means I’ve been able to recoup a small portion of the massive losses I incurred while indexing books for underfunded publishers, but that’s another story.)

Suppose you are in one of the ugly scenarios we described in How Styles Impact Your Career, Marriage, and Temperament. Your parter sends you the last five pages of a proposal that was supposed to be the deal-clinching summary to a detailed winning presentation about your company’s proficiency at making donut holes. You paste your partner’s text into your proposal body, and then everything goes wrong. The pasted text looks different, it extends beyond the page count, the headings don’t appear in the table of contents, and you can’t drown you sorrows in a caffeine-charged latte because a) you have no time and b) you have no money. What can you do to save the situation? (more…)

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Avoiding Black Holes, Plague, Vampires, and Style Overrides

Posted on October 30, 2016 By

We’ve emphasized several times in this blog the headaches style overrides engender and how to purge them. Obviously, following the maxim “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” a better approach is to avoid style overrides altogether—the subject of this post.

Generally speaking, if you apply formatting by clicking on the toolbar, ribbon, ruler, the Font and Paragraph dialog boxes, pasting, or using the Format Painter, you are introducing style overrides. Let’s explore each one individually. (more…)

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Exposing Your Style Overrides

Posted on October 16, 2016 By

Previous posts in this blog have presented good arguments for using styles and equally good arguments for avoiding style overrides. The reality is, of course, that most documents include style overrides, and addressing them is a cost-benefit trade-off. Finding them, and then either eliminating or fixing them, requires effort that may not be worthwhile. One class of letters in which style overrides are excusable is personal letters to family and friends. Because personalized text is not copy-pasted from one file to another, there is no need for styles. (Although I tend to boost my productivity when writing holiday letters by either using mail merge or, in the case of announcing weddings and births, using the salutation “To whom it may concern.”)


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We Work So Hard to Make Our Word Processing Lives So Complicated

Posted on October 10, 2016 By

Of all the applications writers of non-fiction use (database programs, spreadsheets, statistical analysis, bibliographical software, etc.), word processors are arguably the most complex. Product designers spend hours and hours haggling over features to include or exclude, programmers agonize about how to write the optimal code, and forty years into the information age we have word processors that do quite a lot of work for us.

Using style overrides, you can defeat all of that progress. (more…)

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How Styles Impact Your Career, Marriage, and Temperament

Posted on September 25, 2016 By

For the past few weeks we’ve been discussing what styles are and how they can help maintain your hands’ health. Let’s be honest: telling people they need to change behavior in order to protect their health isn’t very effective. Gambling, drugs, junk food, television, social media—all are appropriate in measured amounts, but destructive in excess. Dedicating blog posts to the health benefits of styles will get through to a few people, but not to the millions of non-fiction writers out there.

Let’s take another angle. Using styles can save your business career, consulting career, legal career, academic career, or marriage. Depending on where you are in your life, none of those may be a desirable outcome. (more…)

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Suffering Consequences in Style

Posted on September 18, 2016 By

Prior to a recent flight from Washington’s Reagan National Airport, I entered the gate area in Terminal B. The wall across from me was emblazoned with the following maxim:

Health is everything

This is difficult to deny. Without solid physical, mental, and emotional health, it’s difficult to get much done. (Although some unbelievably courageous and motivated people manage to accomplish quite a bit with little of all three.) What struck me about that maxim was its ineffectiveness. For right under those timeless and easily comprehensible words were hordes of early morning travelers seemingly volunteering to do instant damage to their health by standing in line to purchase doughnuts, pizzas, alcoholic beverages, and pretzels—not to mention placing gamma-ray cell phones next to their heads, not to mention undergoing irradiation by TSA body scanners, and not to mention listening to the high-decibel background noise articulated by gate agents, aircraft engines, and recorded security announcements. Generally, if you’re looking for health, look for it somewhere other than an airport.

Similarly, many articles on the Internet and many books about word processors extol the benefits of using styles. For some reason this corpus of readable, well edited, and well formatted text has not percolated into the general population’s consciousness. (more…)

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Style Overrides: Seduction on the Ribbon

Posted on September 12, 2016 By

Enablers. They are everywhere. The drug dealers, the prescription writers, the person you send to the grocery store to buy “food” and comes back with a frozen pie full of toxic ingredients that you can’t pronounce. The problem with enablers is that they are fickle: when you hit bottom, will they be there for you, or will you be in recovery all by yourself?

The same thing applies to the buttons on Word’s ribbon. If you need to apply boldface or underlining to a word, there’s nothing easier than to click those buttons—at least that’s what they want you to think. You have a problem, and they provide a quick solution. However, when you undergo open carpal-tunnel surgery because you’ve been clicking on the ribbon your entire working life, will those buttons be there when the local anesthetic wears off? (more…)

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Even Bogart Didn’t Have This Kind of Style

Posted on September 7, 2016 By

In one form of parlance, “style” pertains to fashion. What is this year’s style? Who has style? When offered free candy that was stolen from a defenseless three-year-old, you would probably reply, “Thanks, but that’s not my style.” In this context, “style” has the connotation of individuality, distinctness, discernability.

In word processing, “style” means just the opposite: conformance, consistency, harmony to the point of suffocation. Word processors use styles to ensure text looks the same, smells the same, and even tastes the same. When a high schooler pining for acceptance or love takes a fashion magazine to a hair salon, points to the cover-page model, and says, “Make me look like that,” she is using styles with the same connotation as a word processor. Apply that model’s style to me, she is thinking, so that she and I can look the same. (more…)