4 Word Processing Sins

by Kendall Callas

You are headed for trouble if these words might be yours:

• “We don't really do backups. What are they again?”

Successful computing requires keeping safety copies of your documents. Typically, data is copied to tape daily or weekly.

Backups don't prevent problems, but reduce the cost and inconvenience of recovery from data loss due to virus, theft, accidental deletion, earthquake, fire, flood, sprinkler malfunction, hardware failure, power spike or failure, static electricity, disgruntled employee, etc.

Backup frequently. Keep several snapshots (“full backups”) of your data — a year ago, a month ago, a week ago, and yesterday. Store some backups offsite. Don't forget laptops.

• “Why provide training? Obviously, they already know enough to get the job done.”

Features change. Users forget. Most users figure out enough to get the job done, then stop exploring. If you don't sponsor training, you really can't be sure what your users know and don't know. Too many firms assume that new employees learned enough in their last job. And you don't know how much time they waste, how often they have to redo work, or the big “oops” nobody ever hears about. Training saves time and reduces stress — it's an investment in productivity and morale.

• “Date codes are so convenient.”

The date on a letter or memo is an important detail recorded in the computer files you keep for future reference. Unfortunately, date codes are very convenient to use in automating letters and memos (especially when using templates) and they allow easy re-use of the document at a later date.

You have a problem if your documents contain date codes, however. A date code floats to keep current, always showing the current date (as opposed to date text). (You can tell a date is a date code if you can't edit it, for example, to change just the day.) Date codes don't fix the date in the document, so they defeat an important part of the recordkeeping function.

Some of my clients who use date codes (contrary to my recommendation) argue that even if the date isn't text in a document, you can still tell it's date by looking at the “as of” date shown on the FileOpen screen. Unfortunately, this doesn't help much if you need to reprint the document, and this date will be inaccurate if later:
- a user opens the document to view or print it then saves it again;
- the document's text is corrected for next use, such as a change of address.

Bottom line: Don't use date codes except in documents you don't save, like fax cover sheets, transmittal letters, etc. If you insist on using date codes, users must be provided with a way to store addresses, such as the Address Book or a rolodex function of some kind.

A tool that makes it easy to re-use letters is a macro I call “Update”. It provides the convenience of date codes but still records the date in the document. With an existing letter on-screen, it automatically updates the date as text (on page 1 and in any header or footer); depending on how your letters are setup, it could replace all date codes, or find dates by searching for the Center code or bookmarks. The macro in my kit also offers to change the addressee and signer.

• “Our system works, why improve it?”

Usually computer decision-makers are fast and knowledgeable users. Unfortunately, this means they often underestimate the amount of time it takes typical users to accomplish computer tasks. Underestimating the amount of time automation can save often leads to underinvestment in time-saving tools — macros, templates, and forms.

Automate daily tasks. A basic recommendation is to have a macro or template for each standard type of document created daily. At the very least, you should have a function for:

Make tools accessible. Each task should be assigned to a keystroke (Alt+X), placed as a button on the toolbar, or included under a customized menu entry (“Macros”). Some styles containing your letterhead format or frequently used snippets of text (like the firm name, address, phone and fax number) are handy too. Also a set of QuickCorrect abbreviations (“Personal and Confidential”, “Request for Production of Documents”, ...) and rules is helpful.

Standardize the environment. All the above items (buttons, menu, styles, abbreviations) are stored in the default template (in WordPerfect for Windows: WP8US.WPT, WP9US.WPT, WP10US.WPT ...). Once perfected, the default template file is then easily copied to every other PC. Once disseminated throughout the office, this serves to standardize the tools used throughout the firm and create a common vocabulary for users to support one-another.

Copyright (C) 2002 by microCounsel. All rights reserved.

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