Word Essentials, Word Styles

What are the 5 essential skills I should look for in a Microsoft Word expert?

(This is a Quora question I answered. Link at the bottom.)

After posting it, Sarah (a competent Word user herself) commented:

“Russ, you explained this so well. I edit books and doctoral dissertations, and my secret weapon is my ability to create unique styles, and then create a document template with those styles and attach it to the document. Of course, that is on top of my editing skills.”

Sarah Madden

So, back to the question…

The ‘problem’ with Word is that there is so much functionality ‘under the bonnet’ (or under the hood if you’re American) that you can ask 10 Word users and you’ll get 10 different answers.

Some might mention ‘beginner’ topics, others ‘intermediate’, and some even ‘advanced’. But other than Microsoft’s exam topics, who gets to determine what goes into what category?

Sure, there are some functions that I would class as being quite complicated, but it’s all relative.

What’s definite, though, is the level of Word education ‘out there’ in the world today isn’t much better than it was two decades ago.

I’m still seeing the same mistakes that I saw over 25-years ago.

The same mistakes that are because of what is a fundamentally wrong approach to Word training and education.

(I mean, look at the Home tab in Word:

I don’t know what you feel about it or whether you can remember the size of the <gulp> in your throat when you saw it for the first time, but I can.

Unlike Excel and PowerPoint, Word is overwhelming.

It was on Word 3.0 back in 1994 and there were far fewer options and buttons than there are today. Yet even then, it seemed so overwhelming.

Of course, Microsoft must take the flak for this… but I get how they’ve tried to unify the design and functionality across Excel, PowerPoint, and the other Office apps.

However, though the latter are quite forgiving with formatting and design, Word most definitely isn’t.

That’s because,

With Word, presentation is EVERYTHING.

It’s a little mindset shift, but when you understand that, it makes everything you do in Word much easier.

Word is presentation: design, layout, easy on the eye, etc.

If it wasn’t, then you’d use Notepad++, or Notepad, or the myriad of other applications or programmes out there.

Sure, Word also gives us a lot of other nifty features. Features that improve our workflow, enhance our efficiency, and just make Word a helluva good package to work with…

…but we use it primarily because of how easy it makes designing great looking, consistent, and professional documents. (Though I get why you might think, at this point, ‘easy’ is also subjective.)

All of Word’s features and functionality stand for nothing if all that you end up with isn’t fit for purpose.

Whether you’re a student doing your dissertation or thesis, or a businessman creating a proposal for a multi-million dollar contract, you’re not struggling with Word’s features and functions…

…you’re struggling with layout, design, and formatting, i.e., presentation.

And circling back on our original question, the essential features that make up a ‘Word expert’ aren’t understanding templates, document setup, how to use tables, section breaks, mail merge, ‘advanced formatting’ (there is no such thing as advanced formatting: it’s just formatting),etc…

…it’s presentation.

In Word, presentation means styles.

So, you don’t need to know what the 5 essential features you need to look for in an expert are:

All you need to know is have they mastered styles?

Quite simply, because if they haven’t mastered styles, then don’t bother or worry about anything else—they’re not a Word expert.

Master styles and you master Word

If they have mastered styles, then aside from VBA and maybe digging into the deepest aspects of mail merging (if… then…, etc.) and master/sub-documents (which can take some getting used to), they’ll know pretty much everything else in Word.

However, if they don’t know what it is or how to use it, then it’s because Microsoft has introduced a new feature and they’ve not seen it before.

But don’t worry, they’ll be able to work it out in a few minutes because all features and functions in Word eventually lead us to some form of document output—and that means presentation and styles.

Document design and setup

Okay, they do need to know how to set up a document correctly, but if you don’t know how to click on a button to apply A4, Letter, etc., then you haven’t reached ‘competent user’ yet, let alone reaching for, and tugging at, the ‘I wannabee an expert’ strings.

Section breaks, what they are and how they function in Word, are really the only other complex aspect of using Word, once you’ve mastered styles.

Deleting and relinking landscape to portrait pages and not accidentally deleting the headers and footers is as complicated as it gets, but Microsoft seem to have the handle on that now, too. (I recorded video training on exactly how to do it the other day, and it was as easy as eating pie—it used to require extra steps, but now it’s a doddle).

Everything else, Tables of Contents, field codes, building blocks, cover pages, etc., are all there for you: you click and insert them in your document. You right-click and update, or you modify.

However, there’s nothing complicated about them when you understand how they interlink with, and are related to, styles.

Styles are everything in Word.

Styles are why we use Word in the first place.

Again, if you don’t want to use styles, then you might as well use Notepad, Notepad++, or some other inferior product like Google docs.

(Google docs is great for collaboration and, in that regards, compared to Word, they’re not in the same ballpark. But that’s about it. For the rest, Google docs isn’t up to Word’s standard. Not by a long shot.)

So, why are styles important?

Because they give us layout, formatting, and design. They also give us look-and-feel, ease-of-use, and quick application.

It’s fair to say that styles give us efficiency, proficiency, and consistency. In fact, styles give us pretty much everything in Word.

That’s why, if you don’t understand them and their importance, then you shouldn’t be labelling yourself (if indeed you are) as an expert.

I note other answers to this question have understanding templates, table management, ‘advanced formatting’ (there is no advanced formatting, it’s just formatting) but a lot of what they list comes down to styles.

  • Want to create a template? Save docx to dotx (or dotm or docm). Now you have a template.
  • What’s the difference between a dotx, a dotm and a docm? Nothing that 2 minutes on Google won’t solve.
  • Want to insert and format a table? If you’ve got the design right (styles), it’s 3-clicks.
  • Got the wrong page size, that’s 3-clicks to change. But won’t it mess my document and pagination? Not if you’ve setup and used styles correctly.
  • I want to change my report into a book to be self-published, how difficult is that? If you’ve setup and used styles, it’s just repagination and adding some front matter.
  • What about VBA? Ah, now we’re talking. VBA is an entirely different skillset. But guess what the outcome or output of VBA relies upon? Yep, you guessed it, styles.

Styles are why we use Word.

Think I’m talking horsecr*p?

I help clients to fix (plus redesign, rebrand, and teach their team how to use) their Word templates.

Again, I’m still seeing the same mistakes today I first saw last century.

It’s how clients like Bonita write, “Russ was awesome. Our issue in Word has driven us crazy for about 2 years and Russ fixed it overnight.”

That fix took me 8 minutes.

The problem?

Page layout and styles.

It’s how Paul writes,

Paul’s one took me 13-minutes. It was down to the incorrect application of a heading style. (It took that long because it was a long document and fault-finding and fixing requires a systematic approach.)

Online goorooos

Do you think the level of Word knowledge and training has improved in the last 20-years?

I know for a fact it hasn’t, but let me prove it to you…

  1. Go to Udemy and search for Microsoft Word training.
  2. Pick any 5 or more courses, open them in new tabs and look at their curriculum.
  3. If you can find it, look how much time do they devote to styles?

I did see one course with about 20 minutes on styles, but the average is only about 5 minutes.

And all these Word ‘experts’ are preaching from the same hymn-sheet.

I think it stems from someone somewhere writing a report about how you only need to be 2-steps ahead of your prospect.

Expert positioning

So what these goorooos do is they buy a $5 Word course on Udemy that was created by another gooroooo who bought a $5 course on Udemy from someone who bought a course…, and go through it themselves, make some notes, and then redo it in their own words.

They then publish it on Udemy, and they’re now positioned as an expert.

Yet they’ve never worked with an organization to analyse, fault-find and fix a Word template in their lives.

That’s why the level of Word knowledge, skills, and education is still in the Doldrums.

If it wasn’t then:

  • Why am I still seeing the same mistakes now as I was 2 decades ago?
  • Why do so many organizations still struggle with the basics of using Word?
  • Why can’t businesses design consistent, solid, and reliable Word templates?
  • Why, through no fault of their own, do so many authors struggle to use these provided Word templates? (If you have 10 authors working on a report, they’ll all be using Word ‘how they were taught’.)
  • As a business owner, surely you will want to train your team on how to use your own custom-designed, consistent, solid, and reliable Word templates? That way, everyone’s pulling together with a collective and common goal? (Sadly, there’s no way you will ever be able to get an off-the-shelf, generic course to help.)

Working with Russ answers once and for all, “what’s the difference between working with a professional/specialist vs an amateur/generalist?”

As Steve Pinckney said,

Steve’s “problems” were all style-related (IME, 99% of Word problems are down to styles).

Makes me reconsider what 5 stars means for eveyone else I’ve worked with.

As Colby said,

Whizz with Word

Paul said,

Many freelancers claim to be able to assist with a client’s problem but he not only address the issue but also ensures you understand why and how he applied the solution.

And Tim at Innovatory Consulting,

Want to know what the 5 essential skills for a Microsoft Word expert are?

Word mastery begins and ends with styles.

It always has done.

Want to learn how to use Microsoft Word styles?

If you want to learn how to use styles correctly in Word, then check out my Word Fundamentals course. I built this entire 7.5 hour course with a focus on styles: learning, applying, modifying, and creating your own.

In this course, we walk through creating 2 documents: a letter and a business proposal.

The letter is something you will enjoy creating and, with this design, you’ll use features like text boxes, images, etc., building slowly up to the business proposal.

This second exercise takes a simple brief, and we walkthrough designing a client’s business proposal—something that I’ve done many times for many clients.

Check out the course at: https://wordforbusinesses.com/courses/microsoft-word-fundamentals/

Link to Quora answer.

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