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Essential Resources for Word Users

by Keith Soltys

Note: This article was originally published on the Official TECHWR-L web site.

Although most technical writers would probably agree that FrameMaker is the tool of choice, there are times when you might have to use Microsoft Word. "Everyone else uses it" is a an all too commonly heard refrain. Or you might have to use Word files created by SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) or product managers. Or the company might not want to spend the money for FrameMaker. So you end up having to use Word to do things its designers never intended.

Fortunately, others have been there too, and you can rely on their experience. This article describes some essential Internet resources for Microsoft Word users--resources that will help you untangle the inner workings of Word and avoid the many pitfalls that can snare the unwary writer.

The first place to turn is the Microsoft Word MVP FAQ Site. In Microsoft parlance, MVP stands for "Most Valued Professional." MVPs are volunteers in Microsoft peer-to-peer support areas; they're chosen by Microsoft personnel who monitor the support areas, such as newsgroups.

The Microsoft Word MVP FAQ Site is one of the largest of the MVP FAQ sites, and it's a treasure trove of information about Word. There's a lot of information on this site. The place to start is the FAQ page, which is laid out like the tabbed dialog boxes familiar to all Windows users.

The FAQ page has sections on application errors, customization, drawing/graphics, formatting/layout, general, macros/VBA, mail merge, numbering, office inter-development, tables, field, and forms, user forms, and WordMac. Each of these topics contains many articles of varying length and complexity. Some are simple and short explanations of a single topic, as in, "How to remove manually typed numbering from a document." Others are lengthy and very detailed; "Word's numbering explained" is the article to read if you've ever found yourself frustrated by Word's demonic list numbering.

The MVP site also contains an extensive series of tutorials (the ones on VBA are particularly good) and a good list of links to other useful Word-related sites. The site is searchable, although it's organized well enough that you may not need to search it.

Microsoft's own FAQ site contains a list of answers to commonly asked questions culled from Microsoft's extensive knowledgebase. In comparison with the MVP FAQ site, most of the articles are shorter and narrower in scope. The articles are organized first by Word version, so if you're still using an older version of Word, you can find articles specific to that version's features.

Microsoft also maintains a Usenet news server, msnews.microsoft.com. There are 29 newsgroups in the microsoft.public.word hierarchy and five devoted to VBA under microsoft.public.word.vba. (See a view of some Microsoft Word specific newsgroups.) If you intend to visit these groups regularly, consider using a dedicated newsreader with good filtering capabilities, such as Agent or Gravity. For some tips on using these newsgroups, and a detailed list of the topics that they cover, see the Find Help page on the MVP FAQ site.

Woody Leonhard's name will be familiar to many long-time users of Word. His Hacker's Guide to Word for Windows is fondly remembered by those of us who struggled to learn macro programming in the first releases of Word for Windows, and his Word 97 Annoyances is still one of the best books written about Microsoft Word. Woody is now the publisher of several Windows-related newsletters, among them Woody's Office Watch and Woody's Windows Watch. While these aren't Word specific, there's enough useful content in them to make them essential reading for any Word user. You can subscribe to Woody's newsletters (they're free) at http://woodyswatch.com/, as well as search the archive of back issues.

Woody also maintains a Web-based message board devoted to MS Office-related topics, including a Word forum. If you don't have access to a news feed (many companies prohibit Usenet access because of concerns over porn and warez), this is a good alternative to the official Microsoft newsgroups.

Jean Weber, the publisher of the Technical Editors' Eyrie Newsletter, has written Taming Microsoft Word, and no one who uses Word for anything longer than a letter or memo should be without this book. A listing of few of the chapters: "Setting up Word to work your way," "Using templates and styles effectively," "Getting the most from fields," and "Working with large or complex documents" gives an idea of the focus of this book; it's aimed at technical writers who have to use Word in a production environment. The price of $8 (US) is eminently reasonable; the chapter on long and complex documents is worth the price of the book alone. You can view the table of contents and download a PDF version of the book or order a printed copy from her Web site.

With the aid of the resources listed in this article, you should be able to get Word to do just about anything you want with a minimum of hassle and solve most of the problems that you'll encounter.

 

© Copyright 2001 by Keith Soltys

 

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