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A voyage of discovery
Ali Turnbull picks up her safari helmet and machete and invites you to explore the darker reaches of your software.
Some people swear by their word processing software. Some swear at it. Many never travel beyond a few simple tasks. For many years I’ve been exploring in the darker reaches of Microsoft Word and found it packed with great shortcuts and ways to improve productivity.
Maybe you’ve been on a software training day. In the morning, the trainer showed you something really cool that could speed things up for you. But by the afternoon session, several samosas later, you’ve scribbled down more new stuff and you’ve forgotten the cool shortcut. Six months later, it’s but a vague memory and you have to shuffle back through your notes and start all over again.
I’m inviting you to set aside a little time each week to look at the menus in your software – whether it’s Word or something developed specially for your organisation – and find something new. Open an old document that doesn’t matter if you tinker around with it, and play with your menus.
Back in Word, my favourite productivity tool is Tables, which in Word 2010 you’ll find in the Insert menu. If you find yourself hitting tab and space bar a lot, but your document doesn’t print as you expect, tables can help you organise your ideas on the page.
Take this sentence.
You should review your accounts carefully and only confirm your approval when you are happy that no changes are required, as any changes requested after you have confirmed the accounts will be charged at £100.
Is it clear what I’m to do? The penalty for making a mistake is very clear, thanks – my eye went straight down to the £100. But I’m not so sure how to do things properly.
I’ll use a two-column ‘if-then’ table to make it clearer. You start with a list of all the questions your readers might ask that begin with ‘What do I do if…? For example:
• I am happy with my accounts and I do not want to change anything
• I want to make a change
• I make a change after I have approved my accounts
Highlight your list and make it into a table. (Insert>Table>Convert text to table>Separate text at paragraphs). This is your ‘If’ column.
Add a second column to the right – this is your ‘Then’ column. In this column, answer your reader’s questions as clearly and concisely as you can, for example:
• Click the [Approve] button
• Click the [Change] button
• We will charge you £100.
So go on, have a go. Find some uncharted software and have a go. Oh, but don’t waste time in Word’s Help area – your best bet for answers to the question ‘How do I…? in Word is Allen Wyatt’s http://word.tips.net/. Or contact me – if I’ve been there, I’ll show you the quickest way.
Fit to Print’s Ali Turnbull creates clear step-by step instructions for training, websites and manuals. She asks the questions your readers ask. And then answers them in clear language that they can read, understand and act upon. Her website is www.fit-to-print.co.uk and you can follow her on www.twitter.com/fit_to_print
Sally Seed is a Director of Stoneleigh Communications Limited, based in Orton and her website is www.stoneleighcomms.co.uk. She isn’t so hot on the software but sticks to the basics and focuses on the right words for her clients.