Tag Archives: Word Processing

Word Processors can be different

I had a contract once that involved a very large law office. The thing about law offices is that documents are, to a great extent, their stock-in-trade. Legal practice can be very productively analysed as an assembly line for the production of documents. So technologies designed to help manage and produce documents are at the heart of the business. In the dim mists of time, this meant large numbers of secretaries to type up documents, massive file cabinets to hold them, and file clerks to store and retrieve these paper documents. In the 21st century (or as close to it as legal practices can manage) these functions have been mostly taken over by computerized systems. There are still secretaries, but not as many, because many lawyers are finding that word processing technology lets them create documents directly on the computer more efficiently than trying to write out instructions for a secretary to type up. And in place of the file clerks and banks of file cabinets, there are document management systems.

This large practice had purchased such a document management system, and then discovered that it would not work properly with their standard for word processing, WordPerfect. They decided, not without howls of protest, to convert to Microsoft Word, and I was brought in to help with that transition. Trust me, the howls of protest did not stop after the decision was made. There are three groups that epitomize passive-aggressive resistance to change: doctors, lawyers, and college professors. I have worked with all of them, and I don’t think I could pick any one group as worse than the rest. They are all horrible to deal with in their own unique way, and one trait they have in common is the conviction that regardless of the topic at hand, they know more than you do. In fact, they are convinced they are generally more intelligent than you, and are somewhat dismayed that they even have to spend time talking to you.

Nonetheless the conversion proceeded. The biggest howl from all of them was “I cannot find “reveal codes”? I need reveal codes. How can I edit without reveal codes?” And the answer, which they did not like, was “There is no “reveal codes” in Microsoft Word. It does not work that way. Learn to use Microsoft Word in its own terms.” Now with the secretaries this went fairly well. Many of them were even happy to discover things they could do in Word that they could not do so easily in WordPerfect. And I was able to bring around at least a few of the lawyers to a grudging acceptance that Word could in fact do the job they needed.

The lesson here is that 90% of what a word processor does, every word processor does, and in pretty much the same way. If you want to make something bold, or change the font, save document, open a document, etc., you are going to be doing all of these things the same way no matter what program you choose. In some cases, how you do something will be slightly different from one program to the next, but you can generally get the job done if you ask the right question. In this case, instead of looking for “reveal codes” the real question is “How do I find the things that are affecting how my text displays?” And there are excellent tools for doing that in Word.