Short guide on how to use styles and other tips for being effective in word processing. Applies both to OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Word.
There are only a few rules involved in order to be effective when using common word processing applications such as OpenOffice.org: use styles, don’t use blank lines, avoid page breaks, never type two or more successive spaces. If you violate one or more of these rules, your documents suck. Here’s how to fix them.
I’m not going to explain to you styles in detail; you can find tutorials in the help pages and on the web; for example, Chapter 6 of the OpenOffice.org Writer’s Guide and Microsoft’s Format your document with styles.
The rule is: never apply any formatting to your text except through styles. If you select all text and choose a font, you are doing it wrong. If you select all text and choose double-spacing, you are doing it wrong. If you select an entire paragraph and make it bold, you are doing it wrong. The only exception is if you are formatting less than a paragraph: for example, if you want a phrase, but not an entire paragraph, to be italic, you could do it by selecting the phrase and clicking the italic button (you can also do that with character styles, if you like, but I don’t). But doing this for an entire paragraph, or for the entire text, is wrong.
So, how to do it: If it is an existing text that you need to fix, clear the formatting:
- In OpenOffice.org, select all text, then right-click on the text, and choose “Default Formatting”.
Microsoft Word, choose “Format, Styles and Formatting” from the menu,
then select all text, then choose “Clear Formatting” from the Styles and
You can choose the style for each paragraph by the drop down that is on the left of the formatting toolbar. Specify that your headings are style “Heading 1”, your subheadings “Heading 2”, and so on. Your text body should be style “Text body” or “Body text” or so. At this stage, only worry about what style each paragraph should be, and ignore how your paragraphs look. We’ll fix those later.
To change the line spacing, modify style “Text body” or “Body text” or whatever it is. To modify a style, choose “Format, Styles and formatting” from the menu, then right-click on the style that you wish to modify, and choose “Modify”.
To change the font and font size for all text, edit the style “Default” in OpenOffice.org, or the style “Normal” in Microsoft Word. Styles inherit the properties of other styles, because each style can be based on another style. “Text body”, for example, is based on “Default”/”Normal”. If you specify something, like the line spacing, in “Text Body”, then all Text Body paragraphs will use that spacing. If “Text Body” does not specify the font, then all Text Body paragraphs will have the font specified by the “Default”/”Normal” style, because “Text Body”, in that case, will inherit the font from “Default”/”Normal”.
Therefore, to fix the looks of your text, modify the styles. Do not directly modify the formatting of your text. You can also create new styles. Do not name these styles based on the formatting you want to have, but based on the semantics their paragraphs have. For example, if you frequently use paragraphs all in bold whenever you have warnings, do not use “Bold Paragraph” as the style name; use “Warning” instead. In the future, you might decide that you want warnings to show with a frame rather than as bold, and you’d do this by modifying the “Warning” style.
I don’t expect you to become an expert in styles after reading this extremely short introduction. Read another guide, such as the Chapter 6 of the OpenOffice.org Writer’s Guide or Microsoft’s Format your document with styles.
Avoid spaces and page breaks
You should avoid typing empty lines. Whenever you do that, usually what you need to do is change the formatting of the paragraph (through its style, of course) so that it has a little space before or after. The only case when I’m using an empty line is after a table.
Sometimes there is no need for you to insert page breaks. If you want each chapter to begin on a new page, simply modify the “Heading 1” style so that it has a page break before.
Never type two or more successive space characters. If you ever do that, your document will look very wrong when you try to change the font, for example. You can achieve what you want in another way, depending on the case. Examples of features that might help you are tables and right-aligned tabs.