MS Word Template
A custom MS Word template provides a consistent image for documentation and streamlines mundane, repetitive tasks.
Tools Used: MS Word for Windows and Mac
The company, a start-up that provides sophisticated drilling telemetry equipment to oil companies, had a stack of documentation in various states of completion. Styles, formats, and overall presentation varied widely from one document to another and even within a single document. There was no consistent branding or presentation, and the documentation made the company look unprofessional.
All this existing documentation needed to be revised and compiled into comprehensive, professional-looking documentation for the company's customers. Consquently, the company asked me to developed a skeleton Word template that would make it easier for them to present a clean, consistent look for all their customer-facing documents.
Create a clean, branded presentation
The first step was to create a title page that shows all the required information about the document and reflects the company's branding. Putting the company logo on the title page is an obvious step: it reinforces the company's brand image and helps users easily associate this document with the company's product.
The interior pages of the template also feature a smaller version of the company logo in the header.
Automate tedious manual tasks
Several pieces of information appear in multiple locations in a document. For example, the title, document number, issue number and date appear on the title page, the sign-off page, and in the headers and footers of each interior page. Updating all those instances manually can be a chore and is prone to errors.
In this template, I inserted these pieces of information as field codes and created a macro to make them easy to update. Authors simply click a button to enter the information into a form. When they save their entries, the title, document number, issue number and date are automatically updated throughout the document.
Provide custom tools on the ribbon
The template features a custom ribbon tab with a variety of tools that automate tedious manual tasks. One of these buttons allows authors to easily update the document information, as described above.
Another button allows authors to update cross-references and generated reference material (e.g., table of contents or list of figures) with a single click.
A later version includes a button for inserting a single landscape-oriented page in a document that otherwise uses portrait orientation, including setting up headers, footers, and margins for landscape orientation.
Automating these tasks saves time, eliminates human errors, and helps avoid some of Word's notorious tendencies to corrupt documents.
For example, the macro associated with the "Update all References" button automatically turns off change-tracking before it updates the cross-references, then turns it back on again (if need be) once the update is complete. This eliminates a common cause of bloating, numbering problems, and document corruption.
Make consistent formatting easy
The Select a Style button on the custom tab drops down a menu of pre-designed styles for headings, paragraphs,
Authors select the style they want from the list; built-in macros ensure that every item of that type is formatted in exactly the same way.
The Insert a Table and Insert a Figure buttons insert formatted, captioned tables and figures.
For tables, the author can select the size of the table from a drop-down menu.
For figures, the author selects the required figure from images stored on the computer or in a cloud storage system.
This Can Work for You, Too
Producing clean, consistently styled documentation (be it print or electronic) can be tedious and frustrating. It takes a lot of time to go through a document to make sure that all the section headings are numbered properly, or that all the tables are formatted consistently. Not doing it, however, leaves your organization looking sloppy and unprofessional, and can actually make your documentation harder to read.
Unfortunately, many people don't have the time to deal with myriad formatting issues, or sufficient knowledge of the authoring tool (Word, for example) to do what they need to do.
Templates can help. Customized style menus impose consistent formatting for paragraphs, headers, lists, etc., without requiring your technical authors to fiddle around with the formatting. Macros can insert captioned tables and figures with the same formatting every time, or add pages with specialized layouts with one click.
If you and your staff are struggling to make your organization's documentation look consistent and professional, give me a call. I can help.