Boston Broadside
May/June 2002
Vol. 59,  No. 5
    Newsletter of the Boston Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication

Contents


Copyright © STC Boston 2002

Tools and Techniques

Microsoft Word 2002: A Review

By Peter Bates

It's inevitable. Many of us will be using Microsoft Word version 2002 in the near future. How does it compare with its previous incarnation, Microsoft Word 2000? It's a fairly hefty update. There's an 11-page list of improvements on Microsoft's Web site. How do these improvements impact our profession?

For my last contract job, I wrote documentation for HTML Web pages. The manager suggested that I compose in Word 2000. She'd heard that you could save Word files as HTML text. Well, yes and no. Word 2000's Save As command produced a file that was filled with Word-specific code that was a nightmare to clean up, when I required straight HTML. Word 2002 has fixed that situation with its "Web Page Filtered" option. If you select it while saving, then your resulting file excludes all Word-specific HTML tags. Of course you may want to think twice before using Word as your only HTML editor. It's good for a quick edit, but consider other applications (such as Dreamweaver), which are more intuitive for handling links and embedded JavaScript.

Remember what it was like to work with multiple tables in previous versions of Word? If you had to create another custom table in a chapter, then you had to copy the first table, paste it to the new location, and empty its contents before reusing it. Now you can create a style for a table in the same way that you create styles for other Word components, such as paragraphs. For example, you can define the cell size and color. When you create a second table, you apply the new style to it. An elegant improvement!

You can also create styles for multilevel bullets. Tired of seeing a diamond bullet for your third-level bullet? Change it to an unfilled bullet or, better still, a flashy graphic bullet if you're writing a fancy brochure. While you're at it, change the default indent, too. Style creation works great for numbered lists too.

Realizing that more people are finally using Word's document revision mode, Microsoft has improved some groupware features. For example, if you send a document for review and receive comments back, you can select whose comments to merge into your original document. You can also use the new Reviewing toolbar to filter the document for viewing changes only by specific reviewers, discarding the others. Microsoft has also implemented a feature called "multiuser documents." This means that multiple users can edit one document at the same time on a file server. Not quite the same as simultaneous editing, the multiuser documents feature allows users to work on a file before the owner unlocks it. When the first user is finished editing and closes the file, other users who have edited the file can see the first user's changes and merge their changes into the file. It sounds complicated, and because I wasn't able to test this feature, I cannot verify its effectiveness. But I suspect that the main problem would be getting everyone to agree to use it.

What about document recovery? Microsoft hasn't exactly stopped Word from crashingthat still happens with annoying regularitybut it has made recovery a bit easier. If an "error" appears while you're working, you're sometimes given the option of saving the file before exiting (if you're lucky). Otherwise, you're on your own. If Word hangs, you can try the Microsoft Office Application Recovery application, then choose which version of the document that you want (either the last one that you saved or the auto-saved version). This happened to me while writing this article, and it worked as well as could be expected.

There are other bells and whistles that make this a worthy upgrade. They may even speed up your work.

  • A word count toolbar simplifies the process of counting words, but still doesn't dynamically count words as you type.
  • A language translator translates one word at a time, but alas, not a whole document.
  • The "multiselection" feature allows you to select several parts of a document at once to apply the same formatting to all of the parts.
  • Paste options allow activation of a little drop-down box that provides choices such as "Keep Source Formatting" and "Keep Text Only."

There are other notable changes, but they're too detailed to discuss here. If you're interested, see Microsoft's Web site, http://www.microsoft.com, for details.

Peter Bates can be reached at or via his Web site, http://www.channel1.com/users/pbates/writingsamples.htm.

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