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Best Practices






“Best Practices.” Now, there’s a term that is almost bound to start a heated discussion in techie circles. Well, this article isn’t really about technical best practices but rather it is about tips and pointers I have picked up over the years as guides for the efficient use of desktop applications.


Write Now – Format Later

You may be tempted, as I often am, to change DaylightSavings_tnbthe appearance of your document ‘on the fly,’ just to see how it is shaping up. The instant feedback can be gratifying but constantly stopping to format quickly adds up to a great deal of wasted time and energy.

Learn and Use Keyboard Shortcuts

Saving keystrokes and mouse clicks is what is all about. Getting to where you want to be as quickly as possible is what it is all about. One keystroke doesn’t take much time but the time spend on unnecessary keystrokes quickly adds up to minute an hours. Sure, using the mouse seems quite intuitive but, you have to take your hand off the keyboard to use the mouse and then return to the keyboard. Again tiny bits of saved time quickly add up, increasing the total time to create and finish a document.

In addition to saved time, getting there as quickly as possible has an added advantage: it reduces the risk of losing your train of thought. Occasional brief distractions don’t raise much of a risks, but the longer and more involved the distraction, the greater the risk of your forgetting what you wanted to say or how you wanted to say it.

Customize the Quick Access Toolbar

Generally speaking, the Quick Access Toolbar requires using your mouse. (Well that’s not entirely true because there are even keyboard shortcuts for the Quick Access Toolbar and Ribbon in Office 2007 and 2010.) Again, it is all about reducing keystrokes and reducing the time required to manage a document in favour of time available for document creation and completion. Identify the tasks you do most frequently and add  shortcuts for them to the Quick Access Toolbar. For example, adding the New Document shortcut to the Quick Access Toolbar will let you create a new standard document with a single click. Without the shortcut, creating a new document requires four mouse click.

Limit Font Variety

The general guideline is that any document should only use a maximum of two font families, one for headings and one for body text. Following this rule reduces the risk that the reader will start paying attention to appearance at the expense of attention to content. Your content will have a better chance of being well-received and understood, if you avoid the temptation to use every font that you have available.

Keep in mind also that some readers with whom you may share your document may not have the same collection of fonts that you have. There is a common core of fonts that everyone has but some applications may install specialized fonts used only by the application. If the person with whom you are sharing the document does not have the application in question installed, he or she will not have that font avaialable.

Use Styles and Themes

How a document looks plays a significant role in how well the document serves its purpose. The best content in the world can be utterly obscured by a cluttered and inconsistent appearance. Styles are named collections of format settings. If you are working even with a moderately large document, if is far easier to maintain consistent formatting if you apply named styles to the content. Certainly you can apply the individual settings (font, size, colour, etc.) for the various parts of the document but this is inefficient because:

  • it takes several steps to apply the settings individually vs. one step to apply a named style
  • you have to remember all of the settings that apply to each part of the document vs. remembering a named style
  • modifying a style changes all content to which the style has been applied

Create and Use Templates

A template is like a blueprint for a document. If you create similar documents repeatedly, using a template will give you a head start to ensuring that you have the same styles and themes available from document to document.

Using a previously created document as a model for a current one is not the same thing as using a template. First of all, you have remember to remove all content from the earlier document. Second, you risk overwriting and losing the original document if you forget to save the new one under a different name. A template gives you a clean starting place. All you need to do is add content.

Use the Application designed for the Task

This is a tough one. There is an old saying that, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Most computer users have but a few of the possible applications that are readily available. It’s natural to try to make a tool you are familiar with do the job that you have at hand. Abraham Maslow said, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

You don’t have to look far to find people trying to do data management using spreadsheet software, or people using word processing to do calculated reports. The resulting inefficiencies quickly add up to hours and hours of wasted time. There may be a learning term involved in coming to terms with using the right tool for the job but the time required to learn the application will be repaid a hundred-fold in a very short time.

Share Your Insight

These are but a few points to keep in mind when you are creating new documents. Do you have some suggestions to share with the world? Join OfficeTipsAndMethods and share your insight in a Comment. You must be a member to comment; all comments are moderated before being published. Membership is free and we would never share your personal information with anyone. Use this link to register your free membership.


Cartoons ©Ron Leishman

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