Regarding Word Numbering and templates

Subject: Regarding Word Numbering and templates
From: "Eddie VanArsdall" <evanarsdall -at- comcast -dot- net>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 2 Feb 2007 08:42:00 -0500

Hi, all, and happy weekend:

I have been following the discussion on Word templates and Word numbering
with much interest. I didn't weigh in before now, because I was trying to
get the various perspectives.

There's no doubt that Word can be a beast, but I have been creating custom
Word templates for my clients for years, and I have had much success.
Although I have used a lot of VBA in my work, I have established many best
practices with styles and formatting that have worked very well.

Here are some things to explore:

There's no perfect solution. But with Word 2003 (the best and most stable
version to date, IMO, though I haven't yet bought Office 2007), turn on the
Task Pane (Ctrl + F1), and check out the Show menu at the bottom of the
pane. If you select the "Custom" option, you'll open a Format Settings
dialog box that enables you to show and hide specific styles. There's also a
"Save settings in template" option that I use a lot. This ensures that when
users open documents based on your template, they'll see only the styles you
have selected. This also keeps the Styles and Formatting Task Pane
uncluttered and doesn't overwhelm users so much.

Although I create many custom styles, I rarely create custom styles for
numbering. I don't recommend it, in fact. Word actually behaves much better
when you use and modify its built-in styles--especially the ones that use
numbering schemes. Mind you, I'm not defending Microsoft's implementation of
auto numbering (it sucks, in fact), but Word creates internal objects called
list templates whenever you add numbering to styles, and the more variations
you create, the more list templates you accrue. You can't get rid of them,
even if you delete the styles that created them. This problem can lead to
big, bloated documents that eventually become corrupted.

For simple procedural steps, I have always used Word's built-in List Number
style. I customize the style to modify indents and spacing to suit the task.
For second level numbering (say, (a), (b), etc.), I use List Number 2. I use
List Continue for explanatory paragraphs that line up beneath numbers. I
urge you to try this. I don't understand why anyone would suggest that you
use outline numbering for procedural steps. Outline numbering is best
preserved for a heading structure that uses a legal numbering scheme (adored
by the feds and law firms). I don't connect numbered styles for procedural
steps to headings at all. I keep them separate. I also recommend staying
away from the new outline-numbered schemes that Microsoft created for Word
XP and 2003. I just use the Format Setting dialog described above to hide

Sequence fields can be useful, but they're simply not practical, and they
really require macros to fully extend them. I have used them before, but
there's always a maintenance issue. That's not how Word works by default,
and once you invest in such a customized solution, client will have trouble
maintaining that solution once your work is done.

I do understand the frustrations of working with Word, and for industrial
strength publishing, I prefer FrameMaker. But I do appreciate how
customizable Word is. And really, I have created templates for many clients,
and though they call me occasionally with a questions, for the most part
they're still using the templates with few problems.

As Geoff and others pointed out, there's no substitute for educating users.
When you introduce a new template, provide instructions for using it, even
if you build the instructions into the template itself. Provide a short
training session, or give some desk side assistance.

I hope this helps!


Edward VanArsdall
Information Design and Development
Technical Writing and Editing | Training | Instructional Design |
Informational Analysis
Senior Member, Society for Technical Communication
evanarsdall -at- comcast -dot- net
H: 703-486-2952
C: 703-201-6433


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