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Monday, May 9, 2022

Word is here to stay, at least for now

Whether we like it or hate it, Microsoft Word is here to stay. (At least, for the foreseeable future.) After all these years, I've realized beyond doing basic stuff and slightly beyond that, I would avoid using Word when creating very intricate technical documents. But, I don't let that be the case anymore.

Long ago, when I was younger and stupidly dogmatic, I got into a heated argument at a meeting because someone suggested we use Word instead of Adobe FrameMaker for our manuals. Mind you, the documents were an average of hundreds or thousands pages long. I rebuffed the guy who suggested it and said in an exasperated manner Word would screw up our documents because of the sheer size and everywhere else with it. I dogmatically told Adobe FrameMaker was the tool powerful enough to handle this. 

Oh, silly, silly me. Where is FrameMaker now? It still exists but it's not as widespread as it once was in technical writing circles. The claims I made about Word no longer hold water because it continues to evolve. Word can handle immense docs. I have done them in Word, cross-references and all. (My book was done in Word eventually. I first wrote it in a flavor of Markdown.)

If you want to see how intricate Word can get, try opening the Developer tab. I barely scratched the surface with this function, but I can see how robust this is.

I'm not slighting FrameMaker. I still think it's a great tool, especially with complex technical documents. I used it for many years. But who wants to use a tool that's very overwhelming at first and not very accessible to the average user. (Yes, this can include technical writers.)

Word allows for more collaboration with SMEs and others with comments. Word has an easier learning curve. It's those like me who overthink on how to use it. 

And regarding sheer size of documents, I could have avocating breaking them in smaller documents. Or, if the audience didn't need to know more detailed technical information, I could avocated in removing big swaths of material to what was important to know. Looking back, I would have things differently. But it's not good perserverate over things. I did what I thought was best at the time. The important thing is learning from it and move on to make better choices.

I've learned to appreciate Word. Slowly but surely, I feel more at ease creating documentation in it. What's the secret?

The key is to work with the tool, not against it. We need to accept Word for what it is and not try make it something that's not.

I have seen technical writer conferences advocating for other more highfalutin tools. Something the average person isn't to use. Nor is it cost effective to purchase something like this. To me, it's seems like they're avoiding this simple tool. But what do I know? I'm just some schlub who types words on a screen. 

Now, Word falls short. But so do all other tools on this planet. You just have to decide what's most accessible to use. Word happens to one of the most ubiquitous. So, make the most of it. Why fight against something that's easily available?

But, tools shouldn't make up your technical writing prowess. It should be skills. So, if you only had a stick to write with and the earth is your canvas to create a document, then it shouldn't be a problem.