Thursday, March 23, 2006

Tool training and a few tips

How did you learn how to use the word processor and spreadsheet you use? If you're like most people I know, you type many of your own documents yourself, and you create many of your own spreadsheets. Did you take a class? Did your company give you a book about the software when they gave you the computer to use (and did you study it)?

I'm guessing that most of you, just like I, didn't get a class to accompany most of the software you use. That's a bit of a shame, for there are ways to be more productive that don't take much effort. Take word processing, for example. I seem to recall reading estimates that the overwhelming percentage (>90%?) of Word users use "direct formatting" to format a document. That is, they click on the "bold" button to make text bold, they click on the "list" button to create a list, and so forth. While that often works, it can lead you into real trouble, and it takes longer when you have to make changes (even in short, one- or two-page documents).

There is a better way, and it has to do with using styles. For some reason, I've always found Word styles and templates a bit harder to use that direct formatting, and I've found OpenOffice.org's approach much more intuitive. If you want a quick introduction, see Solveig Haugland's All About Styles in OpenOffice.org Writer and Templates: Making Them, and Making New Documents Based on Them (Writer, Calc and Impress); she makes it seem easy.

For those of you who make documents other ways and use Emacs as your text editor, check out Emacs' templates. I've been using templates mode and finding it saves me time and makes my work more consistent in appearance.



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