Re: word templates vs. layout/design

Subject: Re: word templates vs. layout/design
From: Tom Murrell <trmurrell -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 13 Feb 2001 06:33:54 -0800 (PST)

--- Cayenne Woods <cwoods -at- purplevoice -dot- com> wrote:
> Hello all, perspective requested
> We are trying to create document templates, and a couple things have come up
> that don't seem right to me. I'd appreciate feedback, reality checks, related
> experience, etc
> 1 - Sales wants to create templates that require all our docs that go out to
> look _exactly_ the same - and I mean _exactly_! I thought _I_ was anal, but
> this seems over the top to me. There's a big difference between
> sales/marketing docs and help docs, for one, but also my preference is that
> it should be like templates and styles for Web sites, more or less - meaning
> define fairly loosely, but don't try and control people's browsers, if they
> really want to change the font, let 'em, etc. That way things don't fall
> apart as easily, and still look good if they do.

I think there are two issues here, maybe more. I'm not sure you can make one
template work effectively for both online documents and printed material. Yes,
you can do a template and use its results (probably with some hand tweaking)
for both environments, but it seems to me that you will end up making
compromises that effect both. So, rather than try to make the needs of Sales
fit your template for online documents on Web site, why not give them their own
template for these documents?

Second issue I see is that templates only assist you in generating a common
look if they are properly used. Losts of people take a template and begin to
add their text to it, and the first thing you know they have everything
formatted off the Normal style (I'm using Word as my example, but this problem
also crops up in other WPs and DTPs). So, you give people some training in the
template and its styles and what to do and what NOT to do so you keep that
sameness you want, but despite all of the training, suggestions, meetings, and
memos, some people will continue to develop documents IN the template but not
using the features OF the template. I predict that Sales will have a lot of
trouble with this one, especially if they're as, uh, fixated as you say they
> 2 - This person also wants to change the leading and kerning in body text as
> part of the template. To me, this seems something you'd do for display text,
> in a proper dtp program, but not in Word. It'll fall apart as soon as someone
> copies and pastes from another doc, for one, and Word is so buggy and
> unreliable it seems like the loose definitions work best. Also it just seems
> over the top.

I might suggest that part of the perceived "bugginess" of Word is not in the
program but in each user's "Normal" template. It seems to take about 2.37
nanoseconds for a user to effect a change to the "Normal" template that renders
that template unique to the user. I suppose we could argue about whether or not
this constitutes a bug in Word, but I don't think so. (I'm not sticking up for
Word, but I think fair is fair.)

It might be useful to consider letting the whoevers develop their draft
documents in Word and the Writing/Publications Group (or whatever you are) set
the document into the proper, approved format using a more robust DTP package.
This is a compromise to be sure, but it beats trying to teach people who don't
have the training or inclination to use styles and templates how to do so or
how to use something more complex that Word when they aren't interested in
using Word's features. I've seen this work to positive effect, though it does
give the writers a bit more editing and layout work that may crowd their
schedules. (As always, your mileage may vary; I'm just trying to throw out
ideas for you to consider.)
> Apart from using two sizes of body text and terribly mismatched headlines,
> and making a heading style into a bulleted list, the suggestions might work
> spite of themselves. However, my experience so far with this indicates that
> best bet is to define 4 header levels (necessary for toc creation in both
> Word and PDFs), a couple body texts, a couple bullet types, and stop there.
> What's the consensus?

I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that you may get a lot of ideas, some of
them passionately expressed, but you won't get a "consensus." Many of us have
very firm ideas of what should and should not be done, and how it should be
done. One example I'll give you from me: I would resist PDFs for a variety of
reasons that I think are quite sound. Shortly someone else on the list will
write a response indicating how stupid my sound ideas are, and if projects are
slow this week, people will choose up sides for and against PDFs.

I think you'll end up having to work this one out with the Sales folks. You'll
need to determine what is absolutely essential in how you layout and format
documents and what you can compromise on, then work hard at achieving an
agreement with your Sales customer.

Good Luck,

Tom Murrell
Lead Technical Writer
Alliance Data Systems
Columbus, Ohio
mailto:trmurrell -at- yahoo -dot- com
Personal Web Page -

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